Nats accused of going after 'the Brash trash'

National has admitted its proposed new benefit sanctions would only affect a fraction of the 90,000 young people who aren't working or getting an education.

It's led to accusations the party is going after the "Brash trash" and beneficiary bashing for votes.

On Wednesday, Social Development spokesperson Anne Tolley announced a plan to guarantee work experience, training or drug rehab to under-25s once they've spent six months on a jobseeker's benefit.

The new support comes with a catch - anyone who turns it down or fails an employer drug test will have their benefit cut in half.

"Most of the young people who come onto a benefit, 90 percent of them, actually get a job within six months, which is terrific," Ms Tolley told The AM Show on Thursday.

"Six months is really the indicator there's something holding them back."

Ms Tolley says around 16,000 under-25s have been on a jobseeker's benefit for six months or longer. Ms Tolley said the new policy would affect around 3000 to 4000 of them - less than 20 percent of the total number under 25 on the jobseeker's benefit, which Ministry of Social Development statistics in June put at nearly 23,000. 

"We're picking off all of these barriers with these guys to make sure that there is no reason why they can't get a job... If we don't get them into work, we know now they will be on a benefit for at least 10 years."

Statistics show only 0.4 percent of beneficiaries who get drug-tested by employers fail. Ms Tolley says that's because Work and Income (WINZ) doesn't bother sending people who admit using drugs to job interviews.

"It's factual for the ones who reported back, but there's a whole lot who earlier said to their case manager, or said at WINZ, 'I won't apply for that job because they require a drug test and I won't pass it.'"

But Ms Tolley's claim is contradicted by WINZ, which states refusing to apply for a job because the employer requires a drug test counts as a failure - and can already result in the complete stoppage of benefit payments.

The new policy extends that sanction regime to youngsters who turn down work experience or drug rehabilitation.

'Beneficiary bashing'

Catriona McLennan has worked as a duty lawyer in Manukau for 11 years. She says there is "absolutely no evidence that drugs are a problem among beneficiaries as a whole, or among young beneficiaries".

"I've seen young men sitting in cells who can't read and write, who don't have a driver's licence, who don't have anywhere to live. That's the sort of things you need to sort out if you're genuinely going to tackle this.

"By the time I see a young person in the cells at 17, frankly, it's almost too late for them."

Cutting off an unemployed young person's benefit she says will only lead to a life of crime.

"If you cut off their money, how are they going to eat? How are they going to get anywhere to live?"

She says $1 billion-plus National wants to put into prisons and police would be better spent "on mums and babies" to reduce youth offending and stop them ending up unemployable in the first place.

Going for the 'Brash trash'

TOP leader Gareth Morgan told The AM Show National, at serious risk of losing its first election in more than a decade, is getting "hugely desperate".

"They've got it completely wrong. They're abandoning the centre now, they're off out to the right after the redneck vote, Winston's vote, and now it's for the Brash trash. Just look at it - boot camps, removing constitutional rights from prisoners - a politician can't remove constitutional rights. And now this thing of targeting nothing just to appeal to you know, people's reactionary, you know. It's awful."

The "Brash trash" comment is in reference to former National Party leader Don Brash, whom in 2005 suggested young mothers adopt their kids out rather than take the "career option" of going on a benefit.

National says around 95 percent of beneficiaries who get sanctioned after failing to meet their obligations get back on track.

It estimates the new policy will cost around $18 million a year - about $4500 for each of the 4000 or so young people Ms Tolley says it will affect.