Criticism of Govt's new welfare policy from Dunedin

Prime Minister John Key, facing "nanny state" criticism over the Government's new $25 million welfare policy for young people, says he is not going to apologise to anyone for intervening in their lives.

Mr Key announced on Sunday that 16 and 17-year-old beneficiaries and school dropouts would be given "wrap-around" support from an adult assigned to them who would monitor their progress and mentor them.

Their rent and power bills would be paid for them and they would have a small amount of discretionary spending, while those not on a benefit would be guided into education or training to get them ready for jobs.

Labour leader Phil Goff said yesterday the Government was not addressing the real issue.

"The focus should be on getting them skills and getting them jobs ... this is really a nanny state [policy]."

Mr Key, speaking at his post-Cabinet press conference, said 90% of the young people targeted by the policy were destined to go on the adult benefit when they reached 18.

"That's why we're going to intervene to get them back on track. I'm not going to make an apology, to anybody, for ensuring that happens ... I don't care if that offends a few people."

Methodist Mission Dunedin chief executive Laura Black said the Government funding would be better spent on early childhood education.

The reforms were "like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted", she said.

The $25 million would buy "an awful lot of prevention", such as preschool education and "investing in children and families"; initiatives that might help stop young people finding themselves in trouble later.

Ms Black also questioned whether case workers, who would control the spending, would use the policy to help mentor and bond with the young people, or use it to "rubber stamp and control" them.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who has raised concerns over the past few months about the rate of youth unemployment in the city, said the country should get behind skill training "as fast as we can" to provide the skill base that was needed.

But he questioned the Government's decision to place a cap on polytechnic places at the same time plans were in place to import workers from overseas to cover for skill shortages here.

Mr Cull said for 18 to 24-year-olds, the national average for unemployment was about 27%.

In Dunedin it was closer to 37%.

Why, in a country with skill shortages and a "whole lot" of young people out of work, was there a cap on places at "very good" polytechnics, such as the Otago Polytechnic, he asked.

Otago Polytechnic chief executive Phil Ker said if more people from the 16 and 17-year-old demographic could be provided polytechnic places, that would be positive.

"That's not what's being proposed here."

The extra places under the youth guarantee policy were not new, but had to be seen as a positive thing. But it was "quite hard" to tell exactly what it meant, Mr Ker said.

"It's one of those things where the devil is in the detail. All this stuff is good, but until we get the details released on eligibility criteria, it's hard to tell."

- additional reporting by NZPA


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