The annual Salvation Army State of the Nation report shows that a Government which claims to make the wellbeing of children and families its top priority is failing them miserably, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“The list makes for grim reading.
“The number of children in benefit dependent households is up, the number of care and protection reports is up, the number of family violence referrals for child abuse and neglect is up, the number of recorded offences against children under the age of 15 for serious assault resulting in injury is up, young people not in education, employment or training (NEETS) is up, the number of people on jobseeker benefit is up, household indebtedness is up, the cost of living has risen faster for low income families and the number of total ECE enrolments down.
“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern once said that ‘children are at the heart of everything we do’. And yet the consequences of their poor decision making is clear in this report.
“Once again the rhetoric is not matching the reality and this Government is failing children and vulnerable New Zealanders.
“This Government talks about supporting the most vulnerable and improving wellbeing, but it’s the results that matter. National’s social investment approach which set targets, measured progress and meant the Government was accountable for the improvements it was making to peoples’ lives because it’s improving lives that matters.
“Now we have a Government that talks a lot about aspiration, but this report makes it clear that good intentions don’t make for good policy, or good outcomes.”
With unemployment rising and the number of young Kiwis not in employment, education or training (NEETs) soaring to the highest in almost a decade, the young are doing it harder under the Labour-led Government, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“Figures out from Statistics NZ today should be a warning sign to the Government that it needs to do more to ensure young people are in employment, education or training.
“For the first time since 2012, the NEETs rate is above 14 per cent. That represents almost 100,000 young people aged between 15 and 24.
“While the NEETs rate is volatile, Statistics NZ hasn’t measured a bigger quarterly change since their records began in 2004. This is the single biggest number of young New Zealanders out of work or not learning on record.
“These numbers are staggering and New Zealanders will be wondering why the Government is so complacent. If Shane Jones has $3 billion to spray around in his slush fund on programmes to reduce unemployment, he should be using it to help create opportunities for young people in the regions – not more bureaucrats in Wellington.
“This is on the back of last month’s figures showing the number of 18-24-year-olds receiving a benefit has increased by 10 per cent. We know that young people are more likely to stay on benefits for longer if they get stuck in the cycle earlier. This can only mean the Government has given up on young New Zealanders.
“If the Government had kept our Better Public Service targets and continued to measure outcomes like reducing the number of people on main benefits, they would know where to invest taxpayers’ money to get the best outcomes and reduce youth unemployment.
“National wants all New Zealanders to be in the driving seat of their own lives. Young New Zealanders should be given the most encouragement to get into work to avoid a lifetime of benefit dependency.”
The number of people claiming the job seeker benefit has increased by 11,000 because the Government is going soft on benefit sanctions and those who don’t want to work, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“Over the past year there has been a 42 per cent decline in the number of people who have been sanctioned for failing to meet the basic criteria which goes with receiving taxpayer’s money. That includes simply turning up to appointments.
“Given that unemployment has decreased, it’s inexplicable that the number of people on a jobseeker benefit would increase so rapidly and that the Government would make it easier for people to avoid work.
“The Minister needs to explain why so many more people are lining up for benefit, while at the same time there aren’t enough people to plant Shane Jones’ ‘billion’ trees or to pick fruit from our orchards.
“For the past ten years the total number of people on benefit has been decreasing because the National Government was focused on creating jobs and getting people into work, and making sure people met their obligations.
“Now for the first time in a decade with unemployment at record lows the number of people on benefits has increased rapidly - by more than 9000.
“It’s especially disappointing to see that the number of 18-24 year-olds receiving a benefit has increased by 10 per cent. It’s this age group which needs the most encouraging to get into work to avoid a lifetime of benefit dependency.
“For the first time in a long time food hardship grants has also overtaken housing grants. This shows the cost of living increases imposed by this Government are having a real impact on our most vulnerable.
“National is aspirational for all New Zealanders. We believe that people deserve a fair go, but not a free ride. Employment is the best way to lift families out of poverty.”
A new Bill from the National Party would ensure that the victims of legally insane offenders are treated the same as other victims of crime, Taupō MP Louise Upston says.
“My Bill, which will be put into the Ballot this month, will rename the verdict of ‘not guilty on account of insanity.’ The new verdict would acknowledge that the offender did commit the criminal act.
“This is similar to a law in Canada which provides victims with the acknowledgement that a person was proven to have caused death, even if they lacked the intent to be guilty of murder.
“It will also require decisions about the release of legally insane defendants from secure mental health facilities be assessed by a non-clinical decision maker to ensure the community will be safe.
“Victims should be at the heart of our justice system, that’s why my Bill will also ensure that victims of legally insane offenders will be notified if the offender is being released from a secure health care facility into the community.
“As a local MP, I have dealt with constituents who feel they don’t have the same rights as other victims. It’s important to me that victims are at the heart of our justice system.”
NZTA have been forced to confirm that the new off-line four-lane Cambridge to Piarere section is not going to happen in the next 10 years and has no indication of when it will be build, local MP Louise Upston says.
“NZTA confirmed today in select committee the Cambridge to Piarere section is not in the 10 year plan and no funding has been allocated to the project.
“The local community will be very disappointed at this news when the new route had been confirmed more than a year ago and property acquisitions were already underway. The previous National Government approved a four-lane extension to the Waikato expressway from Cambridge to the Piarere turnoff.
“It’s disappointing no answers were provided about the other dangerous intersections on the route including Hydro Road, Karapiro Road by Karapiro school and Fergusson Gully Road.
“That stretch of road has seen a number of fatalities and is a concern to many members of our community, especially with the primary school nearby.
“Short terms improvements that are currently underway will continue, but we need a long term solution.
“Additional safety measures may be needed including the suggestion there may be changes to the intersection of State Highway 1 and State Highway 29, but NZTA gave no indication of what other safety measures will be carried or when.
“I’d like to thank everyone who campaigned hard on this, who signed the petition and made submissions to the Select Committee to try and save this extension. It’s disappointing to see the Government disregard the almost 4000 people who signed this petition.”
The Minister for Social Development needs to make it clear to the Government that it can’t use its departments to try to gain votes, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“Dunedin South MP Clare Curran took glossy Labour Party booklets to Ministry of Social Development sites in Dunedin and Mosgiel which stayed there for almost a month.
“It’s highly inappropriate for party political information to be distributed by public servants who are meant to be neutral. An MP like Clare Curran who has been in Parliament for ten years should have known better.
“Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni tried to make excuses and blame staff, something that’s become a common theme from this Government. MPs shouldn’t be putting Government agency staff members in the position of having to deal with political propaganda.
“I’d like to thank the Minister of State Services Chris Hipkins for today clarifying that this was not appropriate and that ‘Material that promotes a political party must not be displayed on Government agency premises, vehicles or websites’.
“I hope the Labour Party won’t make the same mistake again.”
Transport Minister Phil Twyford’s decision to strip funding from the Tauranga to Hamilton Expressway Extension project will put a dampener on the long-term economic growth in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions, local MPs for Tauranga, Taupo and Hamilton East Simon Bridges, Louise Upston and David Bennett say.
“Waikato is the fourth largest regional economy in New Zealand, and its central location makes it a nationally significant infrastructure corridor. Strengthening the link between Tauranga and Hamilton is fundamental to economic growth in the region,” Mr Bridges says.
“Over time greater freight volumes will use the road as the preferred route to and from other economic centres and the Port of Tauranga. Further investment in this stretch of road will provide economic benefits to the regions and improve safety.
“The Expressway connects our capital of commerce, Auckland, with one of our core agricultural areas, the horticulture in the Bay of Plenty and the Port in Tauranga.”
“The extension of the expressway builds on the early success and benefits the Waikato Expressway is already delivering, such as reduced congestion and travel times, as well as a safer commute,” Ms Upston says.
“The previous National Government approved a four-lane extension for the State Highway 1 Piarere turnoff, a black spot for crashes between Cambridge and Tirau.
“The planning and acquisition phase of the Cambridge to Piarere stretch is already underway. It would be ridiculous for all of this work to be wasted if the Government completely scraps this project.”
“Waikato’s central location in the upper North Island makes it a nationally significant infrastructure corridor, which is why the previous National Government announced the Waikato Expressway,” Mr Bennett says.
"The current Government hasn’t thought through its plan. The Extension is vital as it divides the traffic from Rotorua to Tauranga. There is not much good having a road that stops at Cambridge when the traffic divides at Piarere.
“This is another example of a Government prepared to strip investment out of the regions in favour of a pet Tram project in Auckland. National had a carefully balanced plan that prioritised our regions was delivering on key infrastructure for all of New Zealand.”
The Social Development Minister doesn’t seem to realise how counter-productive it is to shame those on low wages while signalling to jobseekers that they don’t need to rush to find work, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“Some 164,000 New Zealanders are employed in jobs that pay around the minimum wage. These are hardworking people like cleaners, waiters, labourers and factory workers who are doing their best to support their families and get on with life.
“They will be discouraged by Carmel Sepuloni saying jobseekers could refuse to accept work that was beneath them and still claim the jobseeker benefit.
“This is no idle concern. The number of people getting Jobseeker Support jumped by about 9000 to 129,643 in the September quarter from the same quarter last year.
“Most Kiwis would find whatever work they could to put food on the table, even if it meant taking on work they’re too skilled for while they look for something suitable.
“Those already working hard in lower-wage jobs would be shocked to discover the Government thinks it is fine for someone to claim a benefit while turning up their nose at the sort of jobs they’re doing.
“Ms Sepuloni may be struggling to explain her Ministry’s newly published social outcomes investment strategy, which aims to lift the number of people in ‘sustainable’ employment, which is those that don’t return to a benefit.
“But allowing jobseekers to wait for a perfect match in a job is a lower priority in the strategy than improving the job prospects of young people, working more effectively with Maori and helping those with dependents or a disability.
“This is a Government which often appears to reneg on its responsibilities to voters and taxpayers. It has signalled higher wages are in the offing and triggered the worst year for strikes in decades.
“This Minister seems to think she is responsible for benefit payments and encouraging people to stay on them for longer, when her default should be that a job is better than no job.
A blowout in the number of people on the Jobseekers benefit and a significant reduction in sanctions imposed over the last year shows the Government has given up on getting more people into work, National’s spokesperson for Social Development Louise Upston says.
“Unemployment is the same that it was a year ago so there is no explanation for almost 9,000 more people on the Jobseeker benefits since Labour took office.
“The Labour-led Government inherited a strong, growing economy which was creating 10,000 jobs per month. In one year alone this Government has turned that around.
“It is particularly concerning that the number of 18-24 year olds on Jobseeker benefits has seen an almost 10 per cent increase in the last year. We know that the earlier someone goes on to a benefit the longer they will be stuck on a benefit and their life opportunities will be significantly reduced.
“What is also alarming is the effect that the increased pressure on the cost of living the Government is imposing on families and communities has had. There are now over 27,000 more people seeking benefit advances and almost 20,000 more people seeking hardship assistance for food under this Government.
“This is appalling and the Government cannot blame anyone but themselves. The Government also claims to be cracking down on loan sharks but is encouraging New Zealanders to use benefit advances, trapping people into debt with loans from MSD.
“The number of sanctions being imposed has reduced dramatically and is a signal that the Government has no goal of getting people off benefits and into work.
“Because of National’s strong growing economy, over 70,000 people moved off benefit and into work in the last seven years and the number of children living in benefit-dependent households reduced by 60,000.
“National believes that people need a fair go not a free ride out and that the removal of benefit sanctions will only increase reliance on Government support.”
Today’s MSD Household Incomes Report shows household incomes grew steadily over the term of the National Government, National’s Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston says.
“National’s focus on a strong economy created more than 10,000 jobs a month before the last election and meant there were fewer people on benefits.
“The report shows that household incomes across all income brackets increased strongly over the nine years that National was in Government. In the past four years alone, median household incomes rose 12 per cent in real terms, increasing by an average of three per cent a year above inflation.
“Kiwi households were much better off in 2017 than they were in 2008.
“Despite a lot of noise from a few people, the report shows that income inequality has been flat to falling over the past two decades.
“National worked hard to support all households. We increased benefits for the first time in 40 years, increased the accommodation supplement as part of our $2 billion Family Incomes package in Budget 2017 and would have allowed Kiwis to keep more of what they earn through our 2017 tax package.
“The Labour-led Government’s cancellation of our 2017 Family Incomes Package has made 1.7 million Kiwi families worse off than they would have been under National. Instead this Government is driving up the cost of living.
“The Government has the ability to take New Zealand’s hard work over the past nine years and continue to reduce the number of children in poverty, increase household incomes and give more people the opportunities to get into work and out of cycles of dependency.”