Nats to stop youth spending on illegal products

The National Government will stop young people using benefits to buy alcohol and cigarettes, even though it is already illegal for them to purchase those products.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday outlined welfare policy aimed at getting teenagers off the dole and into work, saying it was the first step in a comprehensive overhaul of the welfare system that would be announced before the November election.

Under the policy, 16 and 17 year-olds who leave school would be attached to a "responsible adult" who would handle payments for them like rent and power. The beneficiary would also be given cards to buy food.

Mr Key told NewstalkZB that National wanted to ensure the money was spent where it should be.

"Your rent, your power, those basic necessities will be paid directly, then the bulk of any benefit entitlement you have will go onto a payment card that can used in approved stores, but it can't be used for certain things like the purchase of alcohol and tobacco.

"That's one of the surest ways of making sure that at least those payments are made on the most critically important things."

Asked on TVNZ's Breakfast programme why the measure was necessary given it was illegal for youth to buy cigarettes or alcohol, Mr Key said it was to ensure basics were paid for.

"Quite frankly would you go give your average 16- or 17-year-old somewhere between $200-$400 a week and say 'good luck you're on your own...?'"

The current system was not working, he said. Many of those teens were young mums who were "preyed on" by unscrupulous boys who used them for cash.

"Far from being punished by the state, the state is actually caring because the previous policy's abandoned them.

"The previous policy was to say to a young person 'you are 16 years of age, you are raising a baby, you're on your own, here's some cash OK, we the state have done our job, thanks very much'."

The measure was part of a wider monitoring and mentoring regime for those aged 16 and 17 who are not in education, training or work -- put at between 8500 and 13,500 at any time.

The 1600 already on a special benefit would get the same help, along with plastic cards they could use for buying groceries, but not cigarettes and alcohol.

Schools would be required to tell the Government when 16 and 17 year-olds leave school during the year, and ministries would be able to share information.

Opposition parties reacted with a common complaint -- there weren't enough jobs for the young people to go to.

"There are 1600 young people on that benefit but there are 58,000 young people (up to age 24) not in employment, not in education, and not in training -- those are the young people John Key should have talked about," Labour employment and youth affairs spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said.

"I really want to see what kind of support they're giving to these young people to make sure that there are the jobs for them to move into, and that should have been the focus."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said no amount of information sharing between agencies would help vulnerable young people if the job opportunities weren't there.

"Without meaningful job creation and training, such changes create perverse incentives to minimise benefit numbers without ensuring that the alternative is better for the person concerned," she said.

Mr Key said there had been job creation under National.

"Of course it's our responsibility to do everything we can to try and create jobs. I am for one not of the view that Governments actually create jobs that much, I think the private sector does that, and the public sector does that when it has confidence in government policy," he told Breakfast.




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