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Alternative welfare group concerned at looming changes

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Catherine Delahunty
Catherine Delahunty

By Chris Ormond of NZPA

Wellington, July 8 NZPA - Concerns about what might come out of the Government's Welfare Working Group (WWG) have sparked a drive from a group of welfare organisations and academics so that those affected will get to have a say.

Launched in Wellington this morning, Welfare Justice was established by Caritas, the Anglican Social Justice Commission and the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation of New Zealand, and includes university professors and researchers who will work over the next few months to come up with an alternative welfare report by December.

Former Green MP Sue Bradford is also a member but was absent today following the death of her mother overnight.

The Government announced in March plans to reduce the number of people receiving benefits by supporting them back into work and tightening rules around eligibility for state support.

The WWG was established to review New Zealand's welfare system and specifically identify how to reduce long-term welfare dependency, and is due to report back to the Government in December.

However, the Welfare Justice group said it had concerns the report would involve little consultation with the people it targeted and affected the most.

Caritas deputy chairman Mark Richards said today all voices needed to be heard in any debate about the future of the welfare system and Welfare Justice would provide a platform for such debate.

"We are deeply concerned, however, that the Government in appointing its Welfare Working Group seems to be in its composition somewhat lacking in people who have experience on the beneficiary side of the counter," he said.

Massey University Associate Professor of social policy and social work Mike O'Brien said Social Development Minister Paula Bennett had talked about having a debate about reforms. "Let's have the debate, but let's ensure that everybody has a chance to participate in it," he said.

The Labour and Green Parties both welcomed the new group. Labour deputy-leader Annette King said the WWG was unbalanced and was a "Trojan horse for failed right-wing policies".

Green MP Catherine Delahunty said the WWG had not taken an inclusive approach.

"John Key's Welfare Working Group is solely focused on cost cutting and is promoting a culture of beneficiary bashing which isn't helpful or fair."

A spokeswoman for Ms Bennett said the minister was satisfied there had been plenty of opportunities for all groups to engage and have input on reforms through submissions and public meetings.

While it was still unknown what initiatives the alternative group was going to come up with, there was no reason they wouldn't be taken on board.

She said the WWG had invited representation from a diverse range of people with welfare expertise but in some cases the people chosen were not available.

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