Facts lost in welfare debate

Paula Bennett.
Paula Bennett.
Minister for Social Development PaulaBennett defends the "investment" approach to welfare and backs the expertise on the new Work and Income Board.


Debate about welfare in this country is prone to emotive reactions and sometimes the facts get lost along the way.

I welcome informed debate, but a column run by this paper (Smoko 23.5.12) disputed the value of the Work and Income Board by impugning the members' qualifications and intentions. By repeating the criticisms of those ideologically opposed to changing the welfare system, the author incorrectly asserts board members have no relevant experience.

Paula Rebstock led the Welfare Working Group, which spent 18 months investigating the welfare system in depth.

Through the vast number of public submissions and thousands of pages of source documents from Work and Income, Ms Rebstock and her group pinpointed the strengths and weaknesses of the welfare system.

Her up-to-date understanding of the complex issues makes her an ideal board chairwoman.

Board members include those with health and disability expertise, which is directly relevant given many of those in the system have health and disability challenges.

Others have experience in social housing, Maori development and child care, as well as relevant governance, financial and IT skills. It is alarmist to claim a board has some evil corporate intent when many not-for-profit organisations also have boards in place to help guide them.

The author failed to understand the concept of the investment approach which will underpin welfare reforms. He must have missed the plethora of detailed Cabinet papers and speeches which were publicly released to explain this concept fully.

Before the National Government's focus on welfare, the vast majority of those on benefits received a weekly cheque and little else in the way of support.

The entire system was geared almost solely to those on the unemployment benefit.

Using an investment approach, the board will study the needs and challenges faced by different people, like those currently on sickness benefits, and ascertain what interventions would help them get well and back into the workforce.

More than a thousand New Zealanders have spent more than 10 years on a sickness benefit, which is supposed to be a temporary benefit. The system has failed them. Generations of sole parent families have relied on the DPB with no expectation to work until their children turned 18 years old. The system failed them and their children.

The investment approach values the potential of so many more New Zealanders currently trapped on welfare. A qualified board with broad expertise and experience will guide the investment approach to welfare reform. The chief executive and his staff will be fully engaged in implementing the biggest reforms to the welfare system in more than 30 years. Their focus will be on helping people on the front line.

I am proud of the reforms. I'm backing the board to guide the investment approach, I'm backing Work and Income to implement it and I'm backing beneficiaries to take up the opportunity to get off welfare and into work.



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