Hansard and Journals
Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill — First Reading
Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development) : I move, That the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I will be moving that the bill is referred to the Social Services Committee, that the committee reports back to the House finally on or before 31 May 2012, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, and during an evening on a sitting day, and on a Friday in a sitting week, and to meet outside the Wellington region when the House is sitting, despite Standing Orders 187, 188, 190, and 191(1)(b) and (c).
The welfare system is failing many New Zealanders. It has created a cycle of dependency for many, and 13 percent of working-age New Zealanders are on benefits, directly affecting more than 220,000 children. The system, I say, is failing them. It is out of step with today’s needs, because times have changed. Today we have teenagers on welfare—teenagers—who are given a weekly sum of money, and then just left to get on with it. Many of these teenagers are parents. It is an abdication of responsibility to simply leave them to fend for themselves and their babies. We have sole parents trapped in welfare with little support, and, quite frankly, little hope. We have women consigned to a life of welfare, because over 30 years ago society said women could not support themselves without a man.
This Government is bringing the system out of the dark ages and into the light of modern-day New Zealand. We started the Future Focus changes in 2010, which proved the benefits of moving from a passive to an active approach. We are continuing with reforms, because we owe it to New Zealanders. We will provide more support, and we will expect more too. It is a fair balance, and it is about time. Young people on benefits are our most vulnerable citizens, because more than half of those who first go on to a benefit at 16 or 17 years old will spend at least 5 of the next 10 years on a benefit. The lifetime costs of paying these young people a benefit are higher than for any other group. The social cost, of course, can be devastating. More than a third of those on the DPB became parents as teenagers, and almost half of all of those on the DPB have no formal school qualifications. The long-term consequences are obvious.
But we can make a difference. The measures we are introducing will reduce the risk of long-term benefit dependency for teenagers. They are designed to balance support and obligations in a way that will improve outcomes for young people. I will be frank: we want to make welfare a less attractive proposition for many young people. We will not continue to dish out money to young people and teen parents, and just hope that they will be OK. Instead, with the youth payment for 16 and 17-year-olds, and the young parent payment for 16, 17, and 18-year-old teen parents, we will help them manage their money into their being less dependent. A youth service provider will be attached to each young person and will help them to set up redirections, so their rent and utilities are paid. After bills are paid, the provider will help them budget an amount to go on their payment card to be used for food and living essentials, with the remainder paid as a cash allowance. The payment card will work in supermarkets, much like it does at the moment for those who get hardship assistance. The money goes on that so they can go into supermarkets.
In return for this financial support, young people will have clear obligations to be in education, training, or work-based learning. The idea is that we are moving them to being less dependent on the welfare system. For some young people, they will need a lot of help first up, and they will actually have more restrictions and have a youth provider working very closely with them. With others, you can see them being further down the line, needing less of that kind of control, and able to move themselves quicker.
There are three different incentive payments. They can earn an extra $10 a week for meeting certain obligations. A 16 or 17-year-old receiving the youth payment could earn up to $20 a week by completing a budgeting programme and remaining committed to education or training. I think it is a really positive thing that for once we are incentivising the kinds of behaviours we want, instead of actually sanctioning young people like we so often do through the system. There will be incentives and obligations for teen parents too. We will no longer just assume that teenagers who are sole parents on welfare know how to look after their children without support around them. These are very young people bringing up babies, and, quite frankly, both can be vulnerable a lot of the time. These young parents will have to enrol their children with a primary health care provider and complete Tāmariki Ora Well Child checks. As an extra incentive, someone on a young parent payment could earn an extra $10 a week by completing a parenting programme, and, of course, as with the other youth payment, they can also earn extra by doing budgeting and by staying in education for a sustained period of time. It makes sense to provide these incentives to reward positive behaviour, particularly when it is just so beneficial—not just to that youth but also, for those who are parents, to their children as well. But failure to meet obligations means those incentives could be removed, as well as their cash allowance.
Education, training, and having these young people in learning are absolutely crucial. I think the key to this part of the reforms being successful is going to be the relationship with the service provider, with the contracting model that we have in place for where we put the incentives, so they are actually reaching milestones themselves, so that we can see these young people actually moving ahead, and not being in the same place that they are now in 5 or 10 years’ time, which is what we see at the moment. We recognise that for teen parents to resume or continue their education or training, childcare is vital. A guaranteed childcare assistance payment for children under 5 will remove what can be a barrier for many. A key component to the changes for young people will be the way that we really engage them. That guaranteed childcare assistance payment will be vital to seeing them move on.
Then, that wraparound support is for more than just those young people who are on benefit. It is also available to those disengaged 16 and 17-year-olds who are leaving school early. We know there have been anywhere up to 13,500 or 14,000 young people falling out of school, and not going into work or training. This Government cares enough to change the law so that Government departments can keep track of these young people, and we can help them. We hear repeatedly from organisations out there that are working or want to work with these young people that they are too hard to find. Those few months from their dropping out of school and actually being picked up by a provider on the street can be absolutely vital, so insisting that schools report in real time where those young people are will make a huge, huge difference.
Another point that has not been picked up as these reforms are being talked about is that they will extend this support to 16 and 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds with children who are the spouse or partner of an older beneficiary. We often forget them. These young people are also vulnerable at times, and not seen as individuals but actually seen just as the partner, and they can miss out on the sort of support that we think they need.
Sole parents have been let down, and we need to look at the changes that we make around them. Yes, there will be changes to the age when they are part-time work tested. That work test is at 15 hours a week, but will have some flexibility around it. The reason we are putting flexibility in is that someone who is working 12 or 13 hours a week at the moment would still be work tested. That does not make sense. Let us put a bit of flexibility around that for the numbers of hours that they work, so that it works more for them and works better for them as individuals.
There has been some talk around subsequent children, and, yes, there are certainly changes there. We are looking at those who have a baby while on a benefit. The work test will go to those when the child with whom they went on to a benefit turns 5. In the work test they will be work exempt for a year, and then after that the work test goes to the child whom they came on to a benefit with. So if they come on to a benefit with a 2-year-old, they have another one in that year, and the child that they came on to a benefit with is only 3, they will not be work tested until that child is 5 years old. But there are changes there, as well.
We are making changes to the widows benefit and women alone benefit. They are available only to women, and not to men, obviously. There is no work availability expectation, and, quite frankly, it is a very outdated concept and one that needs to change, so that will be changed in line with these reforms. I believe that is reasonable and exactly what is needed.
The fiscal costs of welfare are a serious problem, as is the waste of human potential associated with long-term benefit dependency. We can make a difference. These reforms are vital. I commend this bill to the House.
GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) : Is it not interesting that the Minister for Social Development began her speech by telling us that the welfare system is failing New Zealanders. Well, I would suggest to the Minister that what is failing New Zealanders is a Government that has not even got an economic plan to grow jobs in this country. That is what is failing New Zealanders. The culture of blame that underlies everything that the Minister is doing in this area means the Government is failing to take responsibility for actually creating the jobs, for actually being part of growing the economy. Instead, it is much, much easier for this Minister and this Government to find small groups of people in society to blame. That is the best this Government can do when it comes to a welfare policy—find people to blame.
Ms Bennett said she wants to make welfare less attractive. I will tell you what will make welfare less attractive: jobs. That is what will make welfare less attractive—that people actually have jobs they can go into. The whole premise of this piece of legislation, the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, is to find people to blame—to couch it in a culture of dependency, rather than couching it in a culture of a Government prepared to invest in New Zealanders and invest in their future.
New Zealanders want to work. There will always be one or two people in our society who will shirk their responsibilities. That is wrong, that is unacceptable, and the Ministry of Social Development needs to work with those people to make sure they do not shirk their responsibilities. But let us not kid ourselves that that is the majority of people. Let us not kid ourselves that New Zealanders do not want to work. People want to work. The job opportunities are simply not there, and it gets harder and harder every day. When university graduates are taking between 6 months and a year to get a job, no wonder it is hard for people who have been on benefits and who have not got qualifications to get a job. But this piece of legislation just says blame. It does not say invest, it does not say support, it does not say train, and it does not say create work opportunities. It says blame, and that is simply not good enough.
The biggest problem we have in New Zealand is that we are not creating enough jobs for our young people, and we are not creating enough training opportunities for people to develop their skills. One consequence of this bill is, effectively, the end of Youth Transition Services. Youth Transition Services has been extremely successful in supporting young New Zealanders who are struggling to find work into work opportunities. Many members of this House will have visited Youth Transition Services’ offices. There is a very successful one in Gisborne. It helped 500 people last year. Under this bill only 38 of those people will qualify for assistance. Five hundred people were assisted under Youth Transition Services. Ms Bennett comes along with her proposal and only 38 of those 500 people will still be supported. This bill is letting down young New Zealanders. It is not supporting young New Zealanders into work, and work should be the first focus. The availability of work should be the first focus, not a political dog-whistle, not an exercise in blame towards our young New Zealanders.
It is interesting that in the justification for this legislation we hear that the Government believes that there will be savings in the order of $1 billion over 4 years—savings of $1 billion. Well, it came out in the select committee process that that is, in fact, a guess. The Government is quite fond of guessing when it comes to its economic proposals. We had that with the sale of State assets, where Bill English decided to guess. But that is simply a guess.
There is an extraordinary statement in the regulatory impact statement on this bill. Once upon a time regulatory impact statements were attached to legislation. In this one, after the Government suggests that there will be savings of around $1 billion, it goes on to say that Treasury and the Ministry of Social Development have isolated the impact of the policy changes that are in this particular piece of legislation. As it goes on to describe what the impact of the changes in this legislation will be, there is a sentence withheld. I think that is possibly the first time I have ever seen a regulatory impact statement—the statement provided to this House to allow us to debate a piece of legislation properly—with a sentence withheld in it. That is extraordinary. It means that the Minister and the Government do not want us to know what the actual projections of the impacts of this bill are. I regard that as a major issue for this House. The fact is that the regulatory impact statement, which we as Opposition members rely upon to tell us about the impact of the Government’s legislative programme, has a sentence withheld in it about how much money the Government thinks it is going to save. No wonder the officials at the select committee did not want to talk about it. They did not want to confirm what the so-called savings would be, because now the Government is withholding the information. I think that is unacceptable. It means that we go into debating this legislation unaware of what the Government actually thinks the impacts of these changes will be, and I do not think it should be proceeding with them with that kind of situation taking place.
When we look at the issue of the changes around those on the domestic purposes benefit, we need to be absolutely clear about whether the Government is focusing on the correct problem here. Between January 2009 and January 2012 the number of people on the DPB rose by 13 percent, but between January 2009 and January 2012 the number of people on the unemployment benefit rose by 82 percent. So are we really addressing the biggest problem in terms of people who are relying on welfare today by doing what the Government is doing? If we were focusing on jobs, if we were focusing on legislation that was providing training opportunities for people who were on benefits, then perhaps we would be addressing that 82 percent increase in the number of people on the unemployment benefit. But instead what we have from the Minister is more of the culture of blame, the culture of so-called long-term welfare dependency, when many of those people would just like to find a job. They would just like to find a job.
The other element that always confuses me about these kinds of proposals—particularly the changes around the age someone’s children are when that person is asked to go out and work—is what are the costs involved in finding some of these mythical jobs that happily exist in the middle of the day, between 9 and 3. How much do we actually know about those sorts of jobs out there, and how much do we know about the cost and accessibility of childcare? We know that in many cases getting to and from these jobs and the cost of childcare will actually make it worthless to be in those jobs. What is the point of that? What is the point of putting that much pressure and stress upon young families by doing that, by putting on those obligations? Yes, let us make sure that where people can work, they will. But let us not put obligations on them that are impossible to deliver and that actually end up putting them in a worse economic situation.
The Labour Party is opposing this bill. We are opposing this bill, because it does nothing to actually create job opportunities. It focuses on the wrong issues. It, in fact, does not support childcare costs, and it does not support the kinds of training opportunities that we want New Zealanders to have.
Hon Paula Bennett: Read the bill.
GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, the Minister chips in, but once again we have the issue that this Government cut the training incentive allowance for people to get qualifications that are beyond the basic qualifications. It cut that allowance, and, therefore, said to those people: “We don’t want you to go on and succeed. We don’t want you to actually go and be part of the workforce in the future. We’re going to limit your opportunities.”
There needs to be far greater investment in training for people on benefits—far greater. There needs to be far greater investment in training generally, because at the moment we know that over 48 percent of people on the DPB have no formal educational qualifications. Every member of this House knows that if we invest in people in their training, in their skills, they will make a greater contribution to New Zealand. We know that if we invest in helping to create jobs, we will provide the economic environment in which all New Zealanders will flourish.
This piece of legislation is nothing more than a political dog-whistle. It is not going to help New Zealanders get into work. It is not going to ensure that the future of New Zealand is offering itself up to be the future of New Zealand, to have the potential of New Zealanders realised. This bill is not addressing the issues that New Zealanders want addressed. It needs to focus on jobs, it needs to focus on training, it needs to focus on skills, and it needs to support New Zealanders, not blame them.
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Associate Minister of Social Development) : This Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill is part of a step change in the way we do social welfare in this country. No longer will we just give people a handout and then leave them to fend for themselves as the previous Government did. Instead, this Government wants welfare to be an active and focused system—a system that supports people towards making better choices, and a system that lifts them out of dependency rather than trapping them in it. New Zealand has one of the most comprehensive welfare systems in the world, but, in spite of the good intentions of its architects, it no longer works in the way that they thought it would. All too often it traps people on a low income into a life of poverty, and right now around 330,000 working-age people receive benefits—that is about 12 percent of our entire working-age population. Times have been difficult lately, but even back in 2007, following years of good economic times, we still had 270,000 beneficiaries, and that was as good as it got. Welfare costs $8 billion a year to the New Zealand taxpayer; the lifetime costs are much, much higher; and New Zealand cannot afford to have one in eight working-age people on a benefit, or over 220,000 children growing up in benefit-dependent homes, not to mention the accompanying social costs: poverty, crime, illness, child abuse and neglect, underachievement, poor health, and lost opportunities.
That is why National campaigned on making some big changes to the way we think about welfare. That is one of the reasons New Zealanders returned a John Key - led Government with one of the largest single-party results in recent history. The changes in this bill will help people get off welfare and into work, and that means a better life for New Zealand families and better opportunities for their children. The current system hands out benefits and leaves two-thirds of beneficiaries to their own devices. Most are not expected to work, even if work is offered to them. There is little focus on personal responsibility or independence. Our system, founded in the 1930s, is based on an old-fashioned assumption about who can and cannot earn a living, especially when it comes to sole parents, widows, and single women.
I was pleased to hear the previous speaker, the deputy leader of Labour, say that if you can work, you should work. He agrees with us. He agrees with us, because that is exactly the point of this legislation: you must be work-ready. You must be able to present yourself for work, and if there is a job that you can do for some of the time, you should go and do it. Well, welcome to National Party philosophy, Grant Robertson! Society has changed, and attitudes are different, and, given that speech, they are certainly different on that side of the House.
This Government will not accept a system that writes off tens of thousands of New Zealanders like this. The success of our Future Focus reforms proves that a more active approach to welfare results in more people with jobs. Year 1 of Future Focus resulted in 13,000 people going off the domestic purposes benefit and into work, and that is a 16 percent increase. This bill builds on those successes that place a much stronger focus on work for sole parents with school-age children, and it also values the capacity of widows and single women to work. Our welfare system will always be there to support those in genuine need, but in the main we expect that more people will be available and looking for work, and we will be actively supporting people to do that with work preparation activities, training, budgeting, and parenting programmes.
We are targeting our resources. The current system does not step in early enough with support and resources to help those most at risk of becoming long-term beneficiaries. It channels the vast majority of resources into the people who are likely to be on a short-term benefit like the unemployment benefit. Not any more. Employment and training services in support will be more flexible with an investment approach that focuses more resources up front where the returns are the greatest. That means we will be focusing resources on people who, without the right support, are most likely to remain on welfare for a long time. We are helping young people because we care enough to intervene in their lives and give them a hand exactly when they need it, and to place a budget mentor alongside of them, teaching them how to spend their money and how to direct the funds that come their way. That is why this bill targets the young people on a collision course with long-life welfare dependence. It is vital that we intervene early and help young people at risk. The younger that young people join the welfare system, the more likely they are to remain there as they move on into adulthood. That is going to change. The changes in the bill will give young people at risk the hands-on support they need to move from school into work or further training.
This Government is determined to deliver a brighter future for all New Zealanders, and we are so pleased that the leader of the Labour Party agrees with us in achieving that brighter future for all New Zealanders—that means, helping those who are in need. More important, it means helping those Kiwis who help themselves. This Government is standing alongside those New Zealanders, not standing by as they fall through the cracks, as the Labour did when it was in Government. That is what this bill is about. I am proud to commend it to the House.
Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) : I also am pleased to take a call on the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill. I say as strongly as one possibly can that Labour will be opposing this bill because it is a bad bill. It starts on the wrong principles and ends up in the wrong place.
The member who just took his seat, Chester Borrows, works the trick again that National Governments have worked for a long time: link beneficiaries with poverty, with abuse, and with crime, and then create the space to do whatever you want to do, whatever the members want to do, whatever the Government wants to do. But there are members in this House who have been beneficiaries. They have taken the largesse of the State, have used it appropriately, have brought up children properly, and have moved on. That is the purpose of the benefit system. But the last speaker did not acknowledge that. The Minister for Social Development herself does not acknowledge that.
I remember when the National Minister Ruth Richardson tried something similar about beneficiaries with children being given, in a sense, negative treatment. That did not survive; that Government was kicked out. I remember when the Hon Jenny Shipley came up with a social responsibility bill. Where did it go? Nowhere. Our society turned against those approaches, and it will turn against this approach as well, because it is a negative approach.
It is very interesting that members opposite talked about the nanny State when this side was in Government. If this is not nanny State, I wonder what is. This Government is going to tell young people how to manage their life and how to spend their money, but where is the training? The Government wants to talk about parenting, yet it will not give parents the opportunity to parent. I will return to those in a minute.
In a sense, the question I ask fundamentally is this: where is this Government’s detailed plan for welfare reform? We have not seen it. It is coming through in pieces. Why does the Government not do the decent thing, if it is absolutely intellectually honest about trying to create a better, more effective system? Because it is not. If it was intellectually honest, it would bring the whole plan, it would put it together, it would bring the bills to the House, we would debate that, we might even support some of that, and the select committee could do its work. No, what it is doing is really itching the sores that are in society. It is itching those prejudices that exist in society for its own political advantage. This is not designed to make the lives of our beneficiaries any better. If it was, I would be the first to support it. This is not. This is designed to be punitive. There is no comprehensive plan. This approach is just another one of those piecemeal approaches, which go just so far as to give the sense to the public out there that the Government is doing a lot.
Let us look at the technique. The technique is that the Prime Minister comes out—and the Minister did it again in her introductory speech—and says that 328,000 are receiving a benefit, which is around 12 percent of the entire workforce. The Government creates this image that there is a huge group out there and the Government is now ready to address it. What does it pick on? It picks on domestic purposes beneficiaries—mums who are doing, by and large, a great job. And what percentage is that? Four percent—four percent. So what happened to the rest? What will the Government do about the rest? There is no plan about that. Nothing changes but subtly Government members do their darnedest to create this sense of fear and concern in our society.
How did the Government get here? The Government got here by creating this myth of dependence—this myth of dependence. I do not hear members from that side talk about the dependence of businesses on the largesse of the State. Are they dependent, and is it therefore negative? No, they are all right, because they are somehow great! Of course, I am not impugning businesses, but they are dependent as well. That is good dependence. But if a beneficiary bringing up children—
Tim Macindoe: How are you making that link?
Dr RAJEN PRASAD: Mr Macindoe, they are bringing up children to the best of their ability, like that Minister did. That Minister brought up her daughter with a benefit and did well, and good on her. I knew her then, and good on her. That is what these parents are doing. But here we are creating this notion of welfare dependency in the most negative way possible, and then using that as the whipping boy, whipping any beneficiary with that, and almost disregarding that many of them are doing a great job under very, very trying conditions. Yet the Government is not doing the very thing it ought to do.
Members opposite asked about what Labour did when it was in Government. Well, let me tell members opposite, and I hope they are listening, it was the Labour Government that introduced under Work and Income the most intensive triaging programme imaginable for anybody who walked in through the front door of Work and Income. They were triaged right at the beginning—so much so that they got jobs, and unemployment was the lowest in the world. It was under 4 percent. That is what happened. That is what the Labour Government did, because it believed that the best way out of poverty, the best way out of this, is through work. But you cannot do it by creating an image that there is work out there, because this Government has not created work. In fact, it is going to put thousands more into this programme of work testing, and they will have nowhere to go. They will probably have people with a lot of CVs but nowhere to go. That is unfair. That is leading people up a garden path, and that betrays the lack of interest that this Government really has in the lives and outcomes of beneficiaries in this country. This is what this bill is trying to do. It is a punitive approach. It is a negative approach.
Why does the Government not realise that this is mean-spirited? This is really mean-spirited. These are the families that produce the workers that partner capital to produce and enhance this country’s social development. They have always done so. I do not believe there ought to be a big divide between workers and capital. There ought to be a synergy amongst them. Our families produce the workers. They work day and night to bring these children into the world and give them the best start possible, sometimes on their own and sometimes with some assistance. For the period those children are growing up, that is the best investment the State can make. Yet the Government here is discounting that.
If it believed in that, it would design the most effective system possible, but the Government is devoid of ideas on how to design an effective, comprehensive system with solutions for contemporary social issues and problems—the very issues the Government members articulate. But they do not show any passion, any smarts, to actually design 21st century ideas. They use those words, they talk about backing these people, but they go nowhere. There is so much that is wrong about this bill.
I want to focus on parenting for the last 2 minutes of my speech. Why is the Government trying to make it so difficult for sole parents trying to bring up their children? Parenting is difficult. The Government ought to be supporting them, but the Government is trying to create a punitive system, and in the same way it does not understand the needs of youth. Why are we not training our youth to use the money that they are given? No, the Government is going to create a nasty system whereby people are watching them and telling them what they can spend. Why is that not nanny State? I am asking the Minister, and I am asking Mr Macindoe, who will speak next for National. Why is that not nanny State? Members on that side pilloried us when we were designing this system, and said it was nanny State.
The Government has no ideas for job creation, but it thinks the jobs will be there. I predict that there will be a treadmill that will make many of our young people turn against this Government and turn against the State, and that will create more problems. There will be a treadmill of people coming in, finding themselves in a situation where they are going through the system in this really negative way, and really beginning to doubt themselves, their ability to bring up their children, and the very State they desire to be a part of.
The perverse effects of this programme are going to be felt long term. This is discounting a generation. It does not put any value on our families, and it does not value our youth, yet it is couched in the language of valuing our parenting and valuing our youth. This is about cuts. This is about reduction. This is about trying to pay for those tax cuts.
Tim Macindoe: This is about hope.
Dr RAJEN PRASAD: They are selling our State assets to do it. Why is there one line missing, Mr Macindoe? Answer that question—why is the one line missing from the regulatory impact statement? That is holding this House in contempt. That is not telling us as legislators the whole truth. This is an awful bill, and I look forward to debating it throughout the Social Services Committee. Thank you.
HOLLY WALKER (Green) : I am a new member of this House. I am new enough to remember why I got into politics and whom I am here to represent. When I decided to stand for Parliament I said I wanted to defend our welfare and education systems, which served me so well as a child, to ensure that they continue to provide every child in New Zealand with the essentials at the start of their lives so that they can grow up and have the same opportunities I did. So it is with some sadness that I find I have to stand and defend the welfare system from attack so soon after entering this House. But I am also very proud to do so. I am proud to defend our welfare system from this cynical attack, and I am proud to represent the parents, the young people, and the children who will suffer if we allow the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill to pass.
Despite the title, this bill is not about work focus. It does not create any new jobs or any new training opportunities. It is not about youth support. It does not help young people to take responsibility for their lives and their finances, or support them into employment. It is about dismantling the social safety net and casting vulnerable New Zealanders loose for the sake of a few votes, and it is reprehensible.
New Zealand needs jobs and training for everyone, not beneficiary bashing. Making life harder for people on benefits will not magically create jobs for them to move into. The welfare reforms in this bill will increase inequality and they will make life harder for everybody. They will compound the challenges faced by unemployed and disengaged young people, and they will undermine the ability of parents to take good care of their children. The Green Party cannot support this bill.
The Government seems to believe that if you make life tough enough for beneficiaries, if you introduce enough work tests, and if you threaten them with enough sanctions, jobs will magically appear for them to move into. Government members know it does not work like that. Their own officials have told them so, but it is the only response from a Government that seems to have zero commitment to real job creation. It seems to be the only response it can come up with.
It is actually possible to help people move off benefits and into work. Most people on benefits would cry out for the opportunity to do so, because, as many members of this House will know, trying to make ends meet on a benefit is almost impossible. But the best way to help people off benefits and into work is to invest in job creation. We know this in the Green Party; that is why before the election we proposed a job package that would have created 100,000 sustainable new jobs for New Zealanders, including many that would be appropriate for currently unemployed and young people. But the Government’s package does not create any jobs. What it will create is misery and hardship for those who are already doing it tough. I say to this Government that if you are serious about helping people move off welfare and into work, then invest in skills, training, and job creation. The Green Party will support you. But do not talk about helping young people move off welfare and into work when what you really mean is that you are forcing people off welfare and into oblivion. It might make the benefit statistics look better but it will create poverty, inequality, and desperation, and it will cost us all in the long run.
I want to focus on the impact that this bill will have on sole parents and their children. This Government seems to have forgotten something that every single parent in New Zealand knows—in fact, not every single parent, but every parent. Parenting is work. It is one of the most important jobs that there is, and if we can support parents to give their children the best start in life, we can save the country billions of dollars in future welfare, health, education, and justice spending. The changes proposed in this bill will undermine the ability of parents to take good care of their children by taking parents away from their children at key stages of their development. Perhaps even worse than that, the changes will entrench poverty for many children by sanctioning their parents.
Children have the same needs—the same needs—for food, clothing, a warm, dry house, and a secure attachment to a loving caregiver, no matter what the income status of their parents, and whether their parents are in work or not. I challenge the Minister for Social Development to explain how it is fair to punish innocent children by cutting their parents’ benefits because they cannot meet work-testing requirements. It is an inhumane and uncaring approach that undermines all the Minister’s high rhetoric about improving the situation for vulnerable children. These changes will create vulnerable children and create the conditions of poverty, financial stress, and insecurity in which child abuse and neglect are rife. So I say shame on Paula Bennett for presiding over the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children on the one hand, and introducing this bill, which will create more vulnerable children, on the other.
Sole parents want to work, and there are ways to support them to do that when they are ready. This starts with respecting those parents and respecting the fact that they almost always know what is in the best interests of their family. They are better placed than any of us in here to make a decision about when they are ready to re-enter the workforce. So it is about being flexible, creative, and supportive in helping parents find appropriate part-time work that suits their needs and the needs of their children. It is about encouraging employers to make this kind of work available.
It is also about recognising that it is not necessarily better for parents or their children for them to move off welfare and into a minimum wage job. Supporting sole parents into higher education and training is one of the most effective ways to reduce the amount of time they spend on a benefit and to increase the amount they earn when they move off it. But in the face of this evidence, the Government has cut access to the training incentive allowance for degree-level courses. The Green Party would help parents to move off benefits and into work, but we would do that by reinstating the training incentive allowance for degree-level courses and extending it to sickness beneficiaries and invalids beneficiaries.
We need a welfare system that recognises that caregiving and parenting are important and supports and empowers parents to move into work when their children are ready. Many children born into two-parent families get all the benefits associated with having a secure attachment to a full-time caregiver in the early years of their life, including being breastfed past the age of 1. We know how important these things are to child development. It is well documented, so why would we deny that start in life to a child born into a sole parent family? The message that this sends is that the child of a sole parent family is not as important as a child born into a two-parent family. That is a message that starts the moment the child is born. If this bill passes, that message will be compounded at every turn until that child itself is an unemployed and disengaged young person facing a future of insecurity. This Government talks about breaking the cycle of benefit dependence. If that is what it really wants to do, then it should not enact this flawed and uncaring bill.
This bill is also about young people. We have a massive youth unemployment problem in New Zealand, but this bill does nothing to support young people into education or employment. Young people need jobs, and this bill does not provide them. They need skills and training opportunities, and this bill does not offer those either. What it does is punish young people, especially young parents, for the tough situations they find themselves in.
The National Party purports to stand for personal responsibility, but in the provisions of this bill that relate to young people it does the complete opposite. How does income management by Work and Income or private sector providers teach young beneficiaries personal responsibility in relation to their income? It does the exact opposite: it makes them more, rather than less, dependent in terms of the way that they manage their lives. It will foster resentment and disengagement amongst those young people, and it will not help them to become independent and resilient.
The involvement of the private sector in the provision of services to young beneficiaries is also deeply disturbing. This approach has been tried in the United Kingdom and it has failed spectacularly. We should learn from these mistakes, not replicate them. In the UK we have seen similar private sector involvement in welfare as is proposed by this bill lead to the displacement of paid workers and to existing staff losing the opportunity for overtime. We have seen the exploitative use of beneficiaries as free labour, and we have seen Government funding being claimed fraudulently by private providers.
If this Government is serious about helping people off welfare and into work, it is clear what it needs to do, and it is not what is in this bill. The Government should go back to the drawing board, read the submissions to the Welfare Working Group, which it ignored, read the report of the Alternative Welfare Working Group, and come up with a set of reforms that puts children’s well-being at the heart of the welfare system. Putting children first, guaranteeing that their needs are met no matter what their family income status is, supporting their parents to develop secure attachment with their children in the early years, supporting their parents into education and training, developing young people’s potential and supporting their independence, and creating sustainable, flexible jobs that pay a living wage is how you break the cycle of benefit dependence.
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) : This Government is definitely serious about this issue, and nothing in the contributions of the two previous speakers, Dr Rajen Prasad and Holly Walker, has indicated that the Opposition members have learnt anything from the experiences of at least the previous generation. Nothing in the contributions of the two previous speakers has offered any hope to any New Zealander trapped in the cycle of welfare dependency. It is not good enough. I ask those speakers to take their blinkers off, to look at the reality of the issue that we face today, to look at the reasons why we have this problem, and to support this Government in our determination to do something about it.
The Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, which has been introduced into the House this afternoon, is not only one of the most important measures that members of the 50th Parliament will face over this 3-year period but is, in fact, one of the most significant and demanding challenges that this generation of members of Parliament will face in our lifetime. I am proud to be here to tackle the challenge, and I am absolutely determined to ensure that we make a significant difference in improving it. I sincerely hope that this bill will be enacted. The bill is not about cynicism, blame, or beneficiary bashing, as the two previous speakers have told us. This bill is about hope. It is about aspiration. It is about a conviction that every New Zealander has a right to fulfil their potential.
The parents and grandparents of this country want the best of opportunities and security for their children and grandchildren—their mokopuna. I say to the previous Green speaker that nobody has anything to fear from work-test obligations. Many have everything to fear from a Government that expects nothing of them. The teachers of our country want to see their pupils well prepared to cope in the modern workforce; successful and confident that honest employment will be available to them and fairly rewarded when their schooldays are over. And those young people themselves need, and deserve, to know that our society believes in them, wants the best for them, and will not abandon them before they have had a chance to fulfil the considerable potential that we know they have.
I care passionately about this issue, and I am 100 percent in support of this bill. I commend the Hon Paula Bennett for her vision and determination in tackling this issue head-on and in bringing this legislation before the House. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with her as we commence this work. I do so because for too long we have, as a country, sat on our hands and watched as intergenerational welfare dependency has robbed our young people of aspiration, while robbing many of those who care for them of hope and direction. For far too long, as the Minister said at the outset of this debate, our welfare system has been failing far too many New Zealanders. The Future Focus programme has already demonstrated not just the benefits of, but the essential need for, refocusing our welfare system on an active, rather than a passive, approach. The Future Focus programme has shown that targeted intervention and the imposition of work obligations make a very positive difference.
The Labour and Green Opposition speakers whom we have heard from so far this afternoon have shied away from this reality. Sadly, and predictably, they have resorted to their ideologically blinkered spin—that this bill is about beneficiary bashing and blame.
Dr Rajen Prasad: If the cap fits, wear it.
TIM MACINDOE: That, Dr Prasad, is nonsense, and I would like to think that you know it is.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order!
TIM MACINDOE: I beg your pardon, Mr Assistant Speaker. I would like to think that deep down Dr Prasad and the other speakers know that it is nonsense, but, unfortunately, they cannot bring themselves to admit that the worst examples of beneficiary bashing are those that occur where young people without qualifications are thrown on the scrap heap and left to slide into a lifetime of welfare dependency. I am absolutely confident that if Michael Joseph Savage were alive and here today, he would be 100 percent in support of this bill, and that all those who were the architects of the welfare State would say that this was never how it was meant to become. It was never about trapping people. It was always about providing them with assistance.
I return to my main point: this is a bill of vital importance to all of our society. We must not settle for the status quo any longer, if we are serious about creating a brighter future for every New Zealander. I say to the Minister “Thank you for the work you have done.” As a member of the Social Services Committee, I look forward to working on this bill, but, more important, I look forward to overcoming a problem that dogs our country.
BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) : On behalf of New Zealand First and Asenati Lole-Taylor, I rise to speak to the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill. We have heard this afternoon from the Government speakers that the purpose of this bill is to transform the benefit system into one that is modern, active, and work focused. That sounds really well and good. We could agree with that, if the economy was moving along. It would be perfectly acceptable, but in New Zealand First we have one question. Where are the jobs? The biggest incentive of all for training is a job. That is what people want. Unfortunately, the brighter future that we have all been promised has not eventuated. We need far more than the hope and aspiration that the previous speaker, Tim Macindoe, was talking about. We do want the best for our young people and our people, but we want jobs—real jobs—out there.
As the YouTube video states—there is a YouTube clip—“We don’t want your ghost jobs, John. We want real jobs.” As a result, many of our young people are heading across the Tasman because they want to work. They see a brighter future over in Australia, not here in New Zealand. Since National came to power in 2008, unemployment has absolutely soared. The National Employment Indicator published by Statistics New Zealand suggests that there are almost 40,000 fewer jobs since December 2008. This has been in spite of the vaunted Job Summit and Mr Key’s bold prediction of 171,000 new jobs.
Even Treasury does not agree with these figures. They have provided a job forecast of 1.6 percent per annum over the next 3 years. We do not know whether these are full-time jobs or part-time jobs. We know that many people are not counted in the job seeker statistics because they are married, they are working part-time, and we have got a whole group of young people who are moving from one short-term job to another. They want to work full-time but they cannot; there are no full-time jobs. We want them to have career jobs, but does this legislation look as if it is going to promise that? Unfortunately, no. The Government basically sold its voters the belief that the economic forecast was based on a whole lot of optimism around jobs, but the reality is that there is not. It is such a shame.
The cycleway alone—and I know a lot of people hung their hats on that cycleway—was supposed to create 4,000 jobs, at least. In fact, it created 70, and they were just very localised. I know that in my community five people were employed for a very short period of time. That is only five—far short of the 4,000. What did we have? We had a bobcat driver, we had a concrete truck driver and his assistant—so there is three—and we had two women to direct the traffic, one at each end saying “Stop” and “Go”. It was definitely not a career-type opportunity for a young person. It is not enough to keep them here in New Zealand for a long period of time; it is only another short-term job. In New Zealand First we believe that the benefit system should actively help and promote paid work and independence, but have we really overlooked the barriers to finding real full-time work? I think that this legislation has.
There need to be full-time jobs. The concept of a Government passing legislation to declare that beneficiaries should be work-ready is just totally ludicrous. It is offensive to those who are genuinely trying hard to find themselves full-time work. It is a hard economic time, but there are a lot of people out there looking, but there is nothing to look for. There is no lack of will to work. New Zealanders have always been keen to work, but there is simply not enough work available for men and women of all age groups. Young people especially are affected. The number of 15 to 24-year-olds out of work and training is enough to fill Ericsson Stadium to full capacity and still not have enough room for them all. Trying to shame them into work, like this bill is doing, just is not the answer. The jobs are not available. Employers are extremely choosy, and the bottom line is that they are not willing to try people out if they have not got the right experience, the right qualifications, or even if they do not know the right people, and that is the crux of the matter.
It also means that employers are taking advantage of our young people—particularly young employees—so I am waiting to see Minister Wilkinson’s bill come back into the House, because the scarcity of jobs means that employers are tough. I know of one multinational employer right in my home town who will not allow their employees to have annual leave, who will not let them have work breaks, and who lets them work unreasonable hours. It is just ludicrous. These young people work all of those hours because they want a job. A poor job like that is far better than no job.
If the Government is really serious about addressing unemployment, then it needs to propose a whole new way forward. New Zealand First said that it would support good legislation, and we intend on being very true to our word, but this is not good legislation. It would be better suited to Victorian England than 21st century New Zealand. Although there are a few measures in this bill that might go a small way to addressing some of the problems the Minister highlighted, it fails to address the root causes of welfare dependency. Our welfare system is not so much an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff at this point in time, it is more of a case of kicking somebody when they are down.
We all agree that the benefit system should actively help and promote paid work and independence, but we do need jobs. The Government believed that jobs would be available, and it is now predicting only job losses. So we can only infer that this bill is based on extreme optimism, which is far different from reality.
Finally, New Zealand First has got some very serious reservations about this increase in the use of the private sector in finding jobs. The goal is to pay private companies or organisations for every person they get off welfare. It sounds really good in principle, but we want to know what audits or safeguards are in place to ensure that these private providers actually assist young people into employment. We know about the case of A4e in the UK, and that should serve as a warning to the Government. If these sorts of schemes have resulted in systemic fraud abroad, we should be very wary about adopting them here.
The other area that we have got concerns about is women alone in the 50-plus age group. Where are the jobs for this particular group? They are not there. It is hard enough for our young people to find jobs, let alone a woman or any person over the age of 50. It is just a joke. There needs to be a lot of work done in the select committee for us to consider that this bill would be acceptable to New Zealand First. Smoke and mirrors around benefit figures and training does not mean that real jobs are available for the groups that are actually targeted by this legislation. So New Zealand First does not support this legislation at this stage. We will be looking very closely at it when it comes back into the House.
ALFRED NGARO (National) : I stand in support of the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill. I hear much of the talk from my colleagues next door who talk about the fact that we should be blamed and we should be shamed for the things that we are doing. I find it ironic that the very party that talks about a plan is in review at the moment. In fact, if you look on its website it is asking questions. It does not have a plan; it is not sure. Why? It is because the things that it said before have not worked, so it has become a one-trick pony—a one-trick pony—where it keeps saying the same things over and over and over again. If anyone should be blamed, if anyone should be shamed, it should be that party.
I stand here today and say this: my colleague talked about Mr Savage and what he talked about. When he set up the welfare systems that we are talking about now, they were set up to be a safety net. Over generations, when that party was in Government, it became a mattress for people to lie on rather than a safety net, which is what it should be. That is what this policy is doing. It is very clear that it is talking about youth support and work focus. It has a vision; it has an ability to take our people forward.
I hear all this rhetoric. I hear young people talking about what this ideology should look like. I have just recently worked with the very young people whom we are talking about—these young people who are looking for opportunities. I remember just recently talking to a number of young people—20 of them—and I asked them one question: “What is your dream?”. They could not come up with a dream. They were not sure. Why? The fact is that for many of them they saw just a life of dependency where they were heading. So over a period of time—
Dr Rajen Prasad: Rubbish!
ALFRED NGARO: That is right; it is rubbish. The fact is that the rubbish was that they lost their sight to dream. That is what this is doing: we are giving them a sense of dream. We are giving them a sense of optimism and hope to believe that they can become something, rather than be stuck, time and time again, in a form of dependency. That is what we are doing here.
Many of them said to us: “Mr Ngaro, nobody wins at WINZ.” I asked them why they said that. They said that all it does is provide them with the things that they need; it does not provide them with the opportunities that they are looking for. These young people have been saying to me: “Mr Ngaro, give us opportunities.” I want to applaud the Minister for Social Development, because this is what this bill is doing. We talk about being trapped in a cycle. We want our people to have an opportunity to be successful in the dreams that they have, to be successful in their lives.
This system has been letting our people down for years, allowing too many to become trapped in a cycle of dependency, and with this bill that has to change. We want people to participate in the workforce. The words talked about by members were “It’s about jobs.” It is more than just about jobs. What the Minister is saying to us here today through this bill is that it is about an attitude for change. That is what she is telling us. That is the vision that she is giving to us. It is not just about the jobs, the counting of jobs, and how many are out there. It is about the fact that we say: “Let us have an attitude to be work-ready, to train, and to seek out the best opportunities.” A job is just a means to an end.
Dr Rajen Prasad: You’re going to legislate for attitude, are you?
ALFRED NGARO: A job is a means to an end, Mr Prasad. That is what it is, and that is what we are talking about here. It is using the words “future focus”. We talk about hope. It has future focus. It is encouraging our families. It is encouraging our young mothers to be future-focused. That is what we are asking them to do.
Here are some of the changes we are talking about. We are introducing financial support in the form of a new youth payment and young parent payment. We are introducing greater flexibility in the hours of work for part-time and full-time work tests for beneficiaries, subject to a work test obligation. We are introducing work obligations and preparation for sole parents, widows, women alone, partners, and for parents on benefit who have additional children. We are also authorising information sharing so that we can improve the process as well.
There was a lot of talk about jobs. It amazes me that somehow the Opposition members do not take time to read some of the statistics. Let me just remind them. The household labour force survey produced by Statistics New Zealand found that 62,000 jobs were created over the past 2 years, and the ANZ Job Ads report for January showed that jobs were on offer in every region in the country, with 30,000 positions available. If you look at Work and Income, it receives 1,300 to 1,500 vacancies a week. The Department of Labour job index indicates that job vacancies will increase by 0.8 percent in January alone—and I could go on and on.
I am a strong supporter of this bill. I am a strong supporter of this bill because our Minister and this Government have taken the courage to make a stand. No longer are we one-trick ponies. No longer are we going to say “Same old, same old.” Instead, we are prepared to take courage and say that this is the day that we will make sure that the opportunities for our young people and our young parents are there for them. Thank you.
Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram) : I am happy to take a call on this bill, the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, and continue the arguments that Labour is putting forward on why we are opposing this bill. This bill does nothing to address the barriers to work for people who are seeking work. It does nothing to address the availability of work, it does nothing to address the childcare costs, and it does nothing to address whether the person has the skills required to move into the paid workforce.
What we have heard from members opposite today is a whole lot of conjecture about whether, if Mickey Savage were here today, he would be supporting the bill. We have been told by those members opposite is that if Mickey Savage, the architect of the welfare state in New Zealand, were here today, he would be supporting these reforms. I am here today to remind those members opposite that if Mickey Savage were here today, he certainly would not be supporting this bill. When Mickey Savage put in place our welfare State, he recognised several things. He saw that we needed a safety net welfare State to be there for people in the time of need. He recognised that there were obligations on those receiving welfare, but what Mickey Savage realised, and what this Government fails to realise, is that there is an obligation on the Government and the State, and that obligation is job creation. That is where this Government is failing the young people whom it claims to be seeking to help with this piece of legislation.
We are told by the Minister and by this Government that large numbers of people on benefits are a sign that the welfare system is not working. The issue is the number of people on welfare, we are told, and the system needs reforming because of this, and the system is failing those on it. The Government says that the welfare system and those using it are the problem, not its own failings in job creation, and that is what we want to draw attention to today. There are now 40,000 fewer jobs since National took office. Despite the numbers game that we have heard, trying to talk about “the 0.8 percent over several months”, the very simple fact of the matter is that today there are far fewer jobs available for people than when National took office. What is more, there is no plan from the National Government to address this.
In the last year’s Budget we were told that 170,000 jobs were going to eventuate over the next 5 years, and 36,000 of those jobs would be created by March of this year. Well, as at the end of last year we had seen 10,000, with a deficit of 26,000. This is no surprise, because these jobs were to materialise as if by magic. There was no plan to create them. In fact, John Key said that he did not see his Government as being able to have a great deal to do in this, and that he was not responsible for the global economic conditions. Labour firmly believes that it is the Government’s job, it is the Government’s role, to create jobs for people, not to resort to the kinds of things that this package we are seeing here before us today will do. This is a classic clamping down on domestic purposes benefit mums, in an effort to show action and mask inaction in the vital area of employment and creating jobs.
We have seen projections in the regulatory impact statement that these reforms will result in 84,000 people having work obligations. This will be another 84,000 people joining the 60,000 who are already out there looking for work. This will be 84,000 people looking for jobs that are not there. To tell us how many jobs are on SEEK and how many jobs there are on websites—the reality for so many individuals is that there are thousands of applications for jobs in supermarkets, when there are only hundreds of jobs available. It is not good enough to say that if you look hard enough, the jobs are there, but that is what this Government and the Prime Minister are telling people all the time, burying their heads in the sand and turning a blind eye to the fact that there are tens of thousands of people in this country who want to work but cannot work, because the jobs simply are not there.
We also have nothing in this package or this bill to address the issue of childcare, and how it is that we are going to ask women on the domestic purposes benefit who are responsible for the parenting of children to be back in the workforce when there is no comprehensive childcare plan to go alongside this. In fact, so little thought has been given to this that there have been musings in Cabinet papers about child-minding clubs, where we have unqualified people coming together and looking after those who we are being told are the children of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The thinking that needs to go alongside this to allow these women to enter the workforce simply has not been there. Instead, what we are seeing is the Government playing the blame game in terms of getting these people back into the workforce, without having the adequate support and planning around how we are going to do that. As for the magical notion of there suddenly being all this part-time work that fits perfectly with the school day for these women to be able to go back into the workforce, we have seen no plan that this is going to be there. There needs to be thought, and that thought needs to go a little bit deeper than floating ideas of babysitting clubs for the children who are so crucial to our future.
The other vital piece of the puzzle that is missing in this bill, and one of the many reasons why Labour cannot support this legislation, is the issue of skills training. If we are going to talk about people being prepared for work, well, first of all they need to be prepared for there to be jobs to go into. But in terms of the skills training that is in here, it is not adequate. What we have seen, and what my colleagues have talked about, is that 48 percent of women—and they largely are women—on the domestic purposes benefit have no formal educational qualification. We are seeing the route that so many women who have been in this circumstance have used, in terms of the training incentive allowance, is being closed down, and this opportunity is not available to them. We have seen changes for sole parents that saw those studying at the higher-level courses, such as nursing, miss out, and these opportunities not being there for them. This is a package that does absolutely nothing to address these issues.
We see the disappearance of the youth transition funding with this bill. This is going to be a huge problem, because we do have a disconnect between getting young people into work, into education, and into training. What we are seeing, in terms of the solution proposed in this bill, will do nothing to help the 83,000 young people who are in that position. What this legislation will do is actually remove some of the empowerment of these people. We are told that somehow we are teaching people better budgeting for the future by the State taking control of their spending. We are told that these people can earn the right to manage their own payments if they continually meet their obligation and show themselves to be financially competent. Well, I would like to ask how people get the chance to do this, because the State is going to be paying their rent, and the State is going to be paying their power bill. Why do we not put the resources into equipping these people with skills for life, into budgeting, and into learning to do this, rather than leaving it?
It is not good enough for us to stand here in this House and listen to members opposite use the rhetoric of hope and of aspiration and of the great reforms to help some of the most vulnerable in society, and claim that if Mickey Savage were here, he would support it. This legislation fails on the Government’s obligation to create jobs and it fails on the Government’s obligations to put in place the childcare, the skills, and the training needed for people to move into areas where they can have hope, where they can have aspiration, and where they can see a better life for themselves. This Government is doing nothing to achieve that. Thank you.
MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) : I am delighted to be able to speak to the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, and as a member of the Social Services Committee I also want to acknowledge the tremendous work, courage, and focus shown by the Minister for Social Development in this bill and its rhetoric of hope—rhetoric of hope.
Let us drill down a little bit into what this bill is all about. There is not a rising tide of welfare dependence; there is something of a tsunami. I have heard from the other side conversations about blame, the small number of people on benefits, and the myth of dependence. Let us peel back the layers and see what we are really talking about: 351,000 New Zealanders. That is 13 percent of the working-age population of New Zealand. Small numbers? A myth of dependence? I do not think so.
We also hear much from the other side about the fact that there are no jobs; there are no jobs for these young people. Well, Statistics New Zealand’s household labour force survey found that 62,000 jobs were created over the past 2 years, and the ANZ Job Ads report for January showed jobs were on offer in every region of the country, with 30,000 positions available—30,000 positions available. If you look at Work and Income, it receives 1,300 to 1,500 vacancies a week. On average it has some 3,500 jobs on offer. Perhaps we should turn to TradeMe. Some 10,500 jobs are available on TradeMe today as I speak. SEEK has some 15,000 jobs. I notice members on the other side are a little reluctant to provide the details on that.
Dr Megan Woods: Are they in the far north?
MIKE SABIN: Yes, the far north does come into the conversation, does it not? Far too many young people in the far north have been thrown on the scrap heap. I believe our region epitomises everything that welfare dependence has created and will continue to perpetuate.
It is a welfare trap. It is not enough that we simply throw more money at the problem and hope that it will go away. This was a tactic of the previous Government. It does not support them into work, and it comes at a cost of some $7 billion a year to the taxpayer, none of which provides the hope and the ability for these young people in particular to find their way towards the opportunities and towards their potential. Moreover, there are—
Darien Fenton: But where are the jobs?
MIKE SABIN: Do you want me to read out the jobs again? Would the member like me to tally them up? There are 30,000 positions available. I could go on.
I want to focus on one particular point that this bill is seeking to address, and that is the area of youth. This has to be a significant focus for welfare reform because there are an incredible number of people in the pipeline to a long time on welfare dependence. What we know is that there are some 14,000 teens in New Zealand who are currently not in employment, education, or training. There are another 3,000 16 to 17-year-olds or mothers between 16 and 18 years of age who are on a benefit, and 90 percent of this considerable number of people, the young people, the future of New Zealand—90 percent of them, statistically—will go on to an adult benefit at the age of 18. I say we can and must do better, and that is exactly what this bill is aimed at achieving.
What will the changes for young people do? Let us think about the support that they do not have that we are looking to put in place and that this bill will remedy. Youth support providers will work with young people to get them into education and training. That is called mentoring, and is something many of these young people have lacked. Young people will be required to attend their classes and attend budgeting and parenting courses. Again, these are skills they lack, and support they need. Youth support providers will manage young people’s benefits and help to pay those essential bills that so often get young people into trouble—their rent, their power, and so on. A payment card will be provided that will not facilitate the purchase of such things as cigarettes and alcohol. The State is not there to provide assistance in these ways.
This bill is the first step and a very necessary step in this nation’s need to reform welfare. I commend this bill to the House.
RINO TIRIKATENE (Labour—Te Tai Tonga) : We have heard a lot of scaremongering from the Government in this debate so far. In particular, the last speaker, Mike Sabin, was demonstrating his mathematical or statistical—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: This is a split call.
RINO TIRIKATENE: Kia ora, Mr Deputy Speaker. The last speaker was wanting us to drill down a little bit into the detail. We have heard the talk that there is a tsunami of welfare dependence that is actually going to swamp our country. Well, let us drill into those numbers a little bit. The previous speaker mentioned that there are 328,000 people receiving a benefit, which is around 12 percent of the entire working-age population. That is appalling—absolutely. But the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill targets only young DPB recipients, and of those 328,000 beneficiaries only 4 percent are DPB recipients. Four percent of those 328,000 are actually directly addressed by this bill. But wait for it; we can go further, if you want to go deeper into the detail. Only 3 percent of those DPB recipients are under 20 years of age. So much for all the talk about this great tsunami!
What that statistic does demonstrate is that this Government is absolutely failing in its social contract duty of creating an economy with jobs that can employ our people. It is the 96 percent of the people represented in that statistic of 328,000 whom it should be focusing on, not targeting the most vulnerable DPB recipients: young mothers and young people. The figures show for themselves that this bill does not actually address the problem; it is just picking on the most vulnerable: young mothers, and young people. Those young people, as the member would be aware—if you go up into the far north, you can see them in places like Moerewa, and if you go to Te Tai Rāwhiti, you will see them in Wairoa—are right throughout the country. They are the ones who are going be adversely prejudiced by this bill.
We have demonstrated that the numbers that the Government is bandying about really just show its own incompetence and its own economic mismanagement. All of that is just a diversion. The diversion is to cover the fact that this Government has no plans for jobs, it has no plans for growth, the economy is stagnant, it wants to sell the assets off, it is putting austerity cuts through the public sector, and now we are seeing poor standards of ministerial conduct—poor standards of ministerial conduct—and cronyism and deals for its rich mates. That is what it is all about.
What are Government members saying? They are describing it as a tsunami—a tsunami. We have a lot of scaremongering going on here—a lot of scaremongering—but it does not address the real issue. The real issue is that there are too many people out of work in this country, and now the Government is going to implement punitive measures for young mothers and their children.
I will conclude my speech right now. I just want to say that we are opposing this bill. Labour will be opposing this bill, and I join with my colleagues here in opposing this bill. Kia ora tātou.
CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) : Tēnā koutou e te Whare. I am delighted to have this opportunity. Is it not interesting how those of us who have direct experience of working, or experience of being on a benefit, have such different conclusions about that experience. I do not believe that legislation should be based on the personal experiences of people who have thrived for a variety of reasons, who then consider that they should cut the ladder out from underneath them. Beneficiaries—we are all beneficiaries. What is a beneficiary? Beneficiaries pay taxes, spend in local communities, care for families, contribute to communities, have human rights, and deserve respect.
Simon Bridges: But taxpayers pay for them.
CATHERINE DELAHUNTY: And they pay taxes. So what is a beneficiary? We are all beneficiaries of the State at some time in our lives. Some of us who do this very job here are being paid for right now by the State. Some of us when we are parents, some of us when we experience disablement from society because we experience impairment, some of us who are made unwell or made redundant need, at some time in our lives, to receive support. One day, believe it or not, any one of us in this room could wake up and need a benefit, and when we do, the stigma, judgment, and job testing proposed in the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill will fall upon our heads.
In the region where I helped to set up a beneficiary advocacy service, in Te Tai Rāwhiti, the Future Focus legislation—the past one and this current one—is known as “Future Unfocused”. Why? Because beneficiaries and beneficiary support services know exactly how many jobs are available in their region, and how many meaningless seminars run by brokers, shortly to be called youth support providers, will tell them to look at TradeMe jobs they have already looked at. Ask the advocates for disabled youth who is actually looking after their interests and who is the last cab off the rank, before you pass the judgments that we have heard in this House.
The welfare system in a decent society would be part of a broad belief system that values unpaid work. Hello? At least 50 percent of the work in the world is not paid, and we do not value it. In fact, we judge people who are not in paid work. We treat them as if they have no value. We believe a decent society would have benefits you can live on while you need them, and would invest in youth and real training, and education not punishment.
What about sole parents, especially women? Perhaps, if you are really concerned about women, how is this bill for women experiencing domestic violence? Every 7 minutes the police deal with a domestic violence incident, and one in three women will experience physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of her partner. In acknowledgment, this Future Focus has an exemption on work testing for people escaping violent relationships, yet in 2010-11 Work and Income New Zealand recorded only 54 women going on the benefit for that reason, because of domestic violence. When asked why the number was so low, it responded that it does not ask, and so some women are understandably reluctant to disclose this. It is critically important that we have a welfare system that makes leaving a violent relationship as easy as possible, and this bill will not make it easier, because women are not safe to disclose, and women are now going to be work tested if they do not disclose.
If we are going to talk about youth—and we have heard a lot just recently about young people and the thousands of jobs out there just waiting for them, not to mention the ones that work for sole parents—perhaps the Minister should talk to the Mayor of Ōtorohanga about the nil youth unemployment rate. That did not happen because of welfare, punishment, or privatisation of the welfare system as is proposed in this bill. That happened with real support, and real engagement by the community, which refused to abandon its young people, did not use the law as a stick to beat them with, and did not disempower them by giving them a plastic card and telling them where to eat or what to eat. What that community did instead was to say that these children are part of us, these children will always be part of us, let us work in the community and broker something real. That is not going to happen with Work and Income. Believe me, I have spent a lot of time in that office advocating for people, and I have never heard anyone offer them the creation of a job, let alone the kind of mentoring that has happened in Ōtorohanga.
Another rather heinous aspect of this bill is the aspect of “encouraging” contraception—somewhat controversial contraception—for women, because, of course, women are responsible for children. Women create children all by themselves! We are all immaculate conceivers! There is no role for men in this, apparently. So we will be punished. We are responsible. To incentivise contraception and effectively disincentivise women from having children—because criminal women from the lower classes should not breed while receiving a benefit—ignores the complex nature of sex and contraceptive use, and reinforces negative gender roles. To highlight this issue, we will ask the House to consider whether incentivising vasectomies for men who have relationships with women receiving a benefit or on a benefit is perhaps appropriate. Contracting out services is not opening up anything except profit for those companies.
We need to support our young people who are increasingly disconnected from their employment in the community. We need to build trust; we do not need to build punishment. So the Green Party is very happy to be opposing this bill, delighted to stand up for women, delighted to stand up for beneficiaries and young people, and to support positive models instead of the punishment model and the failure of imagination that is inherent in this bill. Kia ora tātou.
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) : Not a single person listening to this debate on the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill this afternoon will be any the wiser about what the other side thinks. We already knew that it thought the Government was bashing beneficiaries. We have heard for so long “Where are the jobs?”, and “Not a single, solitary, coherent alternative argument or plan has been put in place.” I have to say I find it very ironic that Mr Tirikatene said today “Where is the plan?”, when in this House last week all Labour could say was “There are too many plans. We are being overwhelmed by plans; stop producing so many plans. We cannot keep up with them.” There is a very good reason why that is the case, because when we came to office, Treasury was predicting that unemployment would go above 9 percent, and that we were facing 10 years of fiscal deficits. Well, I am very proud of the fact that this Government has halved those fiscal deficits, the unemployment rate never went over about 6.5 or 6.6. percent and is dropping, and we have had growth in every single one of the last 10 quarters bar one. That is a plan. That is a plan that is working.
The most disgraceful aspect of this debate was the member Holly Walker and her scaremongering for beneficiaries about what this bill will mean for them. Well, I have a reassurance for them. There is not a single person on a welfare benefit in this country who needs fear anything by this bill. But I will tell you what is bashing beneficiaries: it is leaving 16 and 17-year-old young men and women to disappear out of the education system—90 percent of them popping back up on the unemployment benefit when they turn 18. It is leaving vulnerable young women to drop kick boyfriends who are not the parents of the children those women have borne, and it is about leaving them to fend for themselves—that is bashing beneficiaries.
I am very proud of the work that is being done by this Minister and this Government to rectify that. I am very proud of the fact that this bill is being brought in at a time when it is most needed, and I strongly support it.
|Ayes 64||New Zealand National 59; Māori Party 3; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 57||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; Mana 1.|
|Bill read a first time.|
- Bill referred to the Social Services Committee.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Minister for Social Development, in her first call, indicated that there would be an instruction to the select committee, and as we are breaking new ground somewhat I thought it might be pertinent and of assistance to the House just to acquaint the House with the appropriate Standing Order in relation to the debate. It is Standing Order 286(3), if members wish to look at that: “Any debate on the question for a motion under this Standing Order is restricted to the special powers or instruction set out in the motion. It may not extend to the principles, objects, or provisions or the bill to which the motion relates.” Furthermore, the report from the Standing Orders Committee re-emphasised that very point by saying: “Relevancy should be strictly enforced by the Speaker during the debate on an instruction to a select committee.”
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development) : I move, That the Social Services Committee report finally to the House on or before 31 May 2012, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, and outside the Wellington area during a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 188, 190, and 191(1)(b) and (c). I make mention of the shortened time period for the select committee, particularly on the basis of there being a 3-week adjournment period where members will have an opportunity to hear submissions and actually hear the rest of it. This bill has been well and truly traversed. In August last year the Prime Minister made announcements and gave details around it. We had a Welfare Working Group that worked over a period of quite some months and traversed up and down the country. We believe that the public have had a great opportunity to see this. They should be able to get their submissions in on time, and that is why we advocate for the shorter select committee process.
|Ayes 64||New Zealand National 59; Māori Party 3; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 57||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; Mana 1.|
|Motion agreed to.|