A 21 per cent drop in the number of benefit sanctions imposed since Labour took office and a worrying increase in the number of people receiving main benefit is a warning to the Government, Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“These numbers are incredibly concerning given over 70,000 moved off benefit and into work between 2011 and last year under National’s watch, and the number of children living in benefit-dependent households reduced by 60,000.
“But New Zealanders will be rightly concerned at this uptick in dependence on the state and a reduction in the obligations on beneficiaries to help themselves. With unemployment still falling and jobs being created there are plenty of opportunities for people who are looking for work.
“National believes people are better off in paid work so they can live independent lives and provide a better future for themselves and their children. We believe in supporting our most vulnerable while ensuring they work with us to improve their lives but we also believe people should work to help themselves and be held accountable if they don’t.
“If the Government decides that mutual obligations shouldn’t exist, or shouldn’t be enforced, the incentives to get into work reduce significantly. That’s not fair on hardworking New Zealanders who want to help others but want to see those people do their bit.
“Today’s numbers should be a warning to the Government a softening of mutual obligations will mean fewer people in work and an increase in the servicing of misery.
“National believes that welfare rolls should be continuing to drop, not climbing. Now is not the time to stop the important work of getting people off benefits, into meaningful work and improving their lives.”
The Government has confirmed that it’s handing out tens of thousands of dollars to some of New Zealand’s worst criminals with no checks and balances to ensure that money isn’t used to further a life of crime, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“National had plan to ensure that compensation payments for offenders who were abused in state care were placed in a trust and used only for rehabilitative and integrative purposes.
“Victims and their families are right to be upset that Labour has scrapped this plan and is instead handing out blank cheques to some of the worst murderers and sex offenders with no caveats on how the money can be spent.
“Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni today could not explain how the Government will be able to ensure that offenders who receive compensation payments cannot use the money to further their criminal offending and create more victims.
“She continued to hide behind the Government’s legal obligation to compensate, but the fact is National came up with a solution that ensured there were checks and balances on the payments and there’s no reason why the Government could not have adopted that solution.
“This Government has forgotten about the victims, who should have been taken into consideration when it made the irresponsible decision to hand out blank cheques to some of our worst offenders.
“The highest payment that the Labour-NZ First Government has handed out so far is worth $50,000 and there’s nothing stopping the offender who received this money from using it to support more criminal activity.
“Now that the check and balances have been scrapped by the Government, there is no telling what these serious criminals will spend the large sums of taxpayers’ money on.”
No consideration has been given to victims of crime as the Government writes blank cheques for tens of thousands of dollars to some of New Zealand’s worst criminals, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“Victims and their families are right to feel outraged and shunned by this Government which has begun paying out some of our worst murderers and sex offenders for abuse they suffered while in state care as children, with no caveats on how they can use that money.
“The issue of compensation payments for offenders is one that National grappled with and we put plans in place to restrict how the large sums of money could be used.
“Victims were always at the heart of our plans. We took care to balance their needs, with the need to acknowledge and compensate for the abuse suffered by offenders.
“But this Government has tossed victims’ feelings aside and is instead handing out tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to these very serious offenders with no safeguards in place.
“National wanted to ensure that the money didn’t go towards furthering a life of crime so after first being used to settle any claims from victims, the money was to go into a trust which the offenders could then apply to for rehabilitation and reintegrative purposes.
“But by ignoring this solution and handing out payments with no strings attached, the Government not only given no thought to the needs of victims and their families, it has also washed its hands of the offenders.
“Giving these offenders thousands of dollars to spend how they like does them a disservice and removes the ability to ensure the money is spent on things that will help them reintegrate, like mental health support or a car to get to work.
“Victims and their families will never stop paying the price for the crimes committed against them by these offenders. They deserve better than this.”
Labour needs to be upfront about its welfare agenda instead of hiding behind yet another working group, National Party spokesperson for Social Development Louise Upston says.
“The Government has announced an expensive eleven person working group to tell them what to do with the welfare system,” Ms Upston says.
“Looking at the list of names does anyone believe the group will tell the Government anything other than what it wants to hear?
“The group’s membership does not represent a balanced range of views and experience and will not provide recommendations that will result in a welfare system that supports those that need it while reducing welfare dependency.
“We know what Carmel Sepuloni and the Greens want to do, why don’t they just announce it and save taxpayers this expensive charade? They have had years to formulate their plan. Why don’t they just tell us what it is and get on with it?
“It’s obvious the group is essentially there to soften the public up – without informing them what the actual plans are ‘til the last minute.
“In short it seems pre-programmed to recommend removing welfare obligations, making it easier to rort the system.
“National believes that welfare rolls should be continuing to drop, not flattening out or climbing. Now is not the time to remove obligations and stop the drive to get people into meaningful work.
“With a strong economy and more job creation as result of the previous Government’s economic policies, the opportunity to achieve more with the welfare system is now.
“Hardworking New Zealanders that pay for welfare with their taxes will be worried.
“It’s not a good start to announce a working group that will largely rubberstamp the Government’s own ill-conceived ideas.”
Serious concerns about the Government’s attitude towards legislation have prompted the National Party to vote against the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“For quite some time, updating this piece of legislation was put into the too-hard basket, but the National-led Government rolled up its sleeves for the enormous task of updating the law to make it easier to understand, and to reflect how social security assistance is delivered in the 21st century,” Ms Upston says.
“This work was never about reforming the welfare system – it’s about making the law clear and user-friendly.
“We recognised that welfare is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and the Bill in its original state addressed some of those areas. We need to ensure those with the greatest need get targeted support.
“Unfortunately though, the Government has introduced a 501-page Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) with significant changes and is refusing to send it back to Select Committee.
“Updating the legislation was a chance to make practical changes, but this is a lost opportunity to support those who need it most.
“There is no opportunity for members of the public to have their say on further changes to the most significant piece of legislation which underpins our social security system.
“But more than that, the changes proposed by the Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, have undone the improvements made by former minister Anne Tolley, and remove the flexibility for case workers in dealing with the individual needs of New Zealanders seeking assistance.
“Carmel Sepuloni talks about building a fairer welfare system but her proposed changes go against providing the best possible services for families in need,” Ms Upston says.
MP for Taupo Louise Upston says she is deeply concerned at today’s confirmation that cattle on a farm in her electorate have tested positive for the disease Mycoplasma Bovis.
“The Waikato region is the heartland of New Zealand’s dairy industry and this could have a significant impact.
“This is very concerning for Waikato famers, especially with Gypsy Day approaching on 1 June where thousands of cows change farms. People working between properties need to take extra care, clean their boots and farm equipment.
“Until the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) can provide more detail and confirm that these cases have been contained, I urge all landholders to act with vigilance.
“MPI needs to give certainty so that farmers across the country know what is going on and what needs to be done.
“The expert advice is to limit livestock movements and ensure boundary fences are secure. It’s important that everyone maintains up-to-date animal movement records via the NAIT system.
“Farmers across the region need to know what is happening so that they can take proactive measures to protect their animals. The Government response to date has been lacking and it’s just not good enough,” Ms Upston says.
The Government needs to think a lot smarter if it is serious about building on National’s strong record of tackling family violence, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell and Social Development Spokesperson Louise Upston say.
“Family violence is one of the most insidious and entrenched social issues in our country, and to break the cycle of offending we need to try new things,” Mr Mitchell says.
“That’s why in 2016 National introduced a $132 million package of reforms, which overhaul family violence laws and the way the system prevents and responds to family violence.
“On top of that, in last year’s Budget we invested $37.2 million into targeted family violence services, including the Integrated Safety Response pilot and the Gang Action Plan pilot.
“As a result of our changes, we’ve seen more people coming forward to report family violence incidents, and Police and courts taking the issue much more seriously. We don’t want to go back to the old days where people would turn a blind eye to family violence.”
Ms Upston says investing in initiatives to combat family violence has always been a priority for National but it was about ensuring that the services were targeted and had proven outcomes to ensure money was always well-spent and to maximum effectiveness.
“This was to ensure that the people who were most in need of our support got it.
“The Government’s Budget announcement today, while headline-grabbing, contains very little detail about where the money will go - other than to 150 service providers. But that’s where the lack of detail is worrying, because we can only assume that each will get a fair distribution – and on that assumption that equates to $140,000 each – so by that definition, the funding isn’t targeted and isn’t going to be spent where it’s needed the most.
“Family violence is a serious issue that we are focussed on resolving but it needs to be recognised that complex intergenerational hardship is often the cause of violence.
“That’s why it’s extremely concerning that Jacinda Ardern and her Government hasn’t committed to retaining either the Social Investment approach or the Better Public Services targets we implemented, including around reducing child harm.
“Our drive has been – and will always be – to root out the source of the problem through sophisticated data-driven risk analysis, followed up with solutions that work for the individual on a case-by-case basis. This is what changes lives and changes futures.”
The Government’s overhaul of New Zealand’s welfare system must not lessen the incentive for beneficiaries to find work or the sanctions imposed on those who try and cheat the system, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“New Zealanders are a fair minded people who want to help those who fall on hard times. But they also believe that people should help themselves and when they can work they should.
“Anyone who needs access to welfare can get it. It’s only right that they in return they meet obligations including looking for work, turning up to appointments, staying drug free and being honest about their living arrangements.
“It’s the clear expectation of tax payers that if beneficiaries are not doing that, then there should be sanctions.
“This is not ‘beneficiary bashing’. This is simply us wanting to make sure that every New Zealander is achieving their potential and that’s done by getting out of dependency.
“The Prime Minister’s promise to overhaul the welfare system, including ‘ensuring access to entitlements’, also completely disregards the incredible fact that we currently have the lowest number of sole parents on welfare since the 1980s.
“That is representative of the bold, brave moves of so many parents across New Zealand who’ve made the decision to get off a benefit and into work.
“We know getting off benefits and into work improved the lives of parents, and their children.
“And the work is there. We have 4.5 per cent unemployment and thousands of jobs being created every month. The work is there and if people can work, then you should.
“The dignity of work is beneficial for everyone,” Ms Upston says.
A Salvation Army report highlighting the impact the cost of living is having on many families should motivate the Government to work hard to address the drivers of deprivation National Party spokesperson for Social Development Louise Upston says.
“Today’s report says that in the past calendar year, sixty per cent of families requesting help with basics from the Army were new to the organisation - an average of 336 families every week.
“It puts the blame squarely on rising rents, petrol prices and basic food costs.
“That’s why it’s imperative the Government focuses firmly on addressing the drivers of poverty by growing the economy to create more jobs and to lift incomes.
“It is therefore mind-boggling that this Ardern-Peters Government is introducing new fuel taxes that will not only increase the cost of an average tank by $15, but will also directly impact the cost of food because of increased transport costs.
“Ill thought-out policies like these are harmful to our most vulnerable families and do nothing but take New Zealand backwards by undermining an economy which is delivering for all New Zealanders.
“Contrast that with our record where in the last two years of the National Government the economy created 231,000 jobs at average of 9,600 per month.
“During our term in office we raised the minimum wage from $12 an hour in 2008 to $15.75 in 2016/17. That’s an increase of 31 per cent – more than twice the rate of inflation.
“We increased benefits for the first time in 40 years and, since 2011, reduced the number of children living in benefit-dependent households by 60,000.
“Every effort must be made to help those living in material hardship and it’s encouraging many are coming forward to receive the assistance that they need – but, in the long term, any positive impact on hardship must be underpinned by sensible policies and strong economic management,” Ms Upston says.
National is seeking Government support for a law change that would see benefits cut to offenders who don’t comply with court-ordered community service, MP Brett Hudson says.
Mr Hudson currently has a Private Member’s Bill in front of the Social Services and Community Select Committee that seeks to provide the Department of Corrections with the option to request an offender on community service have their benefit reduced for non-compliance.
“We’re very surprised NZ First isn’t backing this Bill,” Mr Hudson says.
“New Zealanders expect people to comply with their sentences and it’s right that they would expect Parliament to support that.
“It’s disappointing that Government members cannot see the benefit in having a way to respond to a person’s failure to meet those obligations other than locking them up.
“Community sentences offer opportunities to offenders other than jail time. With those opportunities come responsibilities.
National Party Social Development Spokesperson Louise Upston says the Bill offers a very simple measure to ensure offenders comply with their community sentence.
“It’s consistent with the previous National led Government approach to welfare reforms, which places social obligations on those being supported by hard working taxpayers.
“It’s effectively another tool in the toolbox for Corrections. By offering an alternative management tool, this Bill would mean not subjecting offenders to the stigma of further prosecution.
“Community sentences are an important part of the justice system, however there is an expectation from the public that those who are sentenced, they will serve their sentence,” Ms Upston says.