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
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
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