Lay minister questions benefit cuts

Terry Drummond, an Anglican lay minister visiting from England, is concerned about potential adverse effects in Presbyterian Support Otago's recent loss of a $5.5 million contract to provide home-based support for older people. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Terry Drummond, an Anglican lay minister visiting from England, is concerned about potential adverse effects in Presbyterian Support Otago's recent loss of a $5.5 million contract to provide home-based support for older people. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
New Zealand should avoid taking a leaf out of the British Government's book when it comes to social welfare benefits and poverty, London-based Anglican lay minister Terry Drummond says.

Mr Drummond has been an adviser on urban and public policy to the Anglican Bishop of Southwark in London since 2011.

And, since last month, he has also been Harold Turner Visiting Fellow at the University of Otago Centre for Theology and Public Issues.

This week he gave an open lecture on ''Priests, Sex and Money, Ten years in the life of the Church of England, 2002-12'', in association with the centre.

Mr Drummond said former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher had been heavily criticised for the negative effect of some of her policies on the poor. And some of her policies were ''not good''.

But it was ironic the present British coalition Government, led by David Cameron, had often been somewhat less strident in its rhetoric about beneficiaries and the unemployed, but had actually inflicted much more harm on disadvantaged people, he said in an interview.

The present UK Government was ''far more radically right wing'' than Mrs Thatcher's, but was ''more smooth in its approach''.

The Cameron Government claimed the cuts were being made for overall national economic benefit, given high national debt, but the cost was being borne disproportionately by the poor and the vulnerable.

Some benefits, including housing support, had been cut, a training allowance for some young people had been removed and several public libraries had been closed by local councils after Government block grants were reduced.

A library was ''more than a set of books'' - it was a valuable community resource, connecting people with ''the wider world'' and enabling to dream of other possibilities.

He noted that New Zealand was also considering future benefit cuts.

''If we're a society, we need to invest in people,'' he said.

Investing in helping disadvantaged people, both financially and socially, helped reduce unemployment and produced ''far better human beings''.

Vulnerable people, including the elderly, could be badly affected by any changes in service provision, irrespective of the cause.

There was also a risk some people could also be adversely affected by the Southern District Health Board's decision to end its home care funding contract with Presbyterian Support Otago.

A longstanding provider such as Presbyterian Support built up a great deal of local knowledge, and that should be retained, he said. Mr Drummond also took part in a 5.15pm panel discussion on ''new models of leadership'' in the 21st century church, also run by the centre, at Otago University yesterday.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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