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.”
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.”