Bennett accused of 'cheap publicity stunt'

Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett
Beneficiary advocates say Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is unfairly trying to paint beneficiaries as extravagant after she disclosed how many had benefits suspended for unapproved trips abroad.

Ms Bennett said more than 21,000 beneficiaries had their benefits cut in the past nine months for trips abroad that did not meet the rules.

Although there have long been penalties for those on the unemployment benefit who travelled other than for health or compassionate reasons, they were further tightened as part of the welfare reforms last July. The restrictions now cover a wider range of people, and also allow Work and Income to immediately cut off the benefit if it was not told of the trip.

Ms Bennett said the numbers were "staggering".

"Every day we hear stories of how people cannot live on the benefit. Today you're hearing that literally thousands can not only live on it but can afford to travel overseas as well."

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesman Alastair Russell said Ms Bennett's comments were "a cheap publicity stunt trying to vilify beneficiaries".

Labour's social development spokeswoman, Sue Moroney, said there had always been penalties for travelling without valid reason, but Ms Bennett was wrong to claim beneficiaries could clearly afford to travel. Often the money was scraped together by other family members or was a gift.

"I think Paula Bennett's attempts to paint this picture of beneficiaries off living the high life at Club Med is not accurate. If Paula Bennett thinks it's easy to live on a benefit and somehow have money left over to go travelling, she needs to have a go at living on a benefit for a while and see how she gets on. Might have been the case in her day, but it's not the case now."

Ms Bennett, who was on the domestic purposes benefit in her 20s, said she did not believe she had travelled overseas while on the benefit. She denied she was "beneficiary bashing" and said the policy was fair.

"It proves nearly 10 per cent who have been job tested can afford to go overseas. I think a lot of the time someone else has paid, but it's still what many New Zealanders would consider a luxury."

There was also provision to appeal against the decision - as happened in 38 cases in January. Ms Bennett said in most of those cases the person had to travel at short notice because of an emergency and had not notified Work and Income, but had their benefit paid back after it was reviewed.

Under the rules, beneficiaries in the "Jobseeker" category can go overseas only for compassionate or health reasons or for approved travel for job interviews. The maximum allowed is 28 days in any one year. If Work and Income is not told of an overseas trip, the person's benefit will be stopped.

- Claire Trevett, NZ Herald


Of course there has to be rules around benefits, like everything else. However, sometimes Ms Bennett depresses me.  Those on benefits are NZ citizens - they are not the 'other'.  Plenty of people try hard to find work and co-operate fully with MSD, but Ms Bennett never mentions them.  I think that most benficiaries these days are far more responsible a group than those on benefits in Ms Bennett's time on the DPB.  

Time to stop bashing this sector

Having once been on a unemployment benefit myself I think all this proves is that a percentage of those on benefits either have good friends/family members or have a another income coming in. Paula Bennett it would seem has forgotten what it was like for honest people when she was on a benefit. Maybe its time for her to put her lifestyle on hold for 3 months and try and live on what she would be entitled to now if she was unemployed.  But I cant see her putting her money where her mouth is.

It's time for our government to stop bashing this sector of our community, and help them to gain their self respect back. Why not offer them minimum wage for the hours they work if they go out into their communities and seek out the old, sick disabled and offer to mow their lawns, weed their gardens, clean their windows etc? They could work out in community vegetable gardens and then deliver the veggies to those in their communities who can least afford to buy fresh greens.

It's just an idea but it is inspired by my 21 year old autistic son who, because of his autism, is unable to find an employer will to give him a chance. He goes out in the community each morning and helps the people in our community by doing the above. He has asked for nothing in return apart from a chance to feel good about himself in a world the put people like him down. I think a lot of people could learn from what he does. [Abridged]

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