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Welfare reform debate going on in Parliament and with working group

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett

By Kate Chapman of NZPA

Wellington, June 15 NZPA - As the Welfare Working Group explores ways to improve the welfare system and get beneficiaries into work Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has had to defend the reform.

Labour deputy leader Annette King said a recent report by the Human Rights Commission showed a lack of work was the critical component of why people were not working.

Ms King also questioned Ms Bennett over her statement that the "ugly side" of New Zealand may surface in relation to welfare reform.

Ms Bennett said "let me assure the member I did not mean her or her colleagues".

She said she also expected to see "hope and aspiration, compassion and understanding".

Welfare reform was important to ensure the system remained sustainable into the future, Ms Bennett said.

Debate over the system must be done without prejudice.

About 30 percent of those on welfare had been on it for four years or more which showed "there are certainly people that when the work was available they were not taking it up".

"We want to find a way to help those people into work when jobs become available."

Other countries were also reforming their welfare systems to focus on getting people into work, Ms Bennett said.

Ireland would stop benefits for parents when their youngest child reached 14, Australia was moving to part-time work test parents with a youngest child seven or over and the new government in the United Kingdom had said it would replace existing welfare work initiatives with a single programme to get people into work.

However there was no simple solution to some welfare dependency, she said.

The working group, chaired by former Commerce Commission chairwoman Paula Rebstock, is receiving submissions, hosting forums and holding workshops.

It will present a final report to the Government by December.

Among options being considered by the group was an insurance-based welfare system.

Under such a system workers and employers pay levies, like ACC, into social insurance funds.

When a worker gets sick, disabled or becomes unemployed the funds pay out a proportion of their previous income.

The insurance payouts typically last a year or two and then drop to a flat-rate.

The group was also told about American states which set time limits on benefits for sole parents to get them back to work.

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