Government scraps controversial contraceptive grants for beneficiaries

Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development.
Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Government is ending a controversial grant that helped fund the cost of accessing contraception for beneficiaries or their teenaged daughters.

The scheme, which was introduced in 2012, allowed women access to grants for costs associated with long-term reversible contraception through Work and Income (WINZ).

Up-take of the grant has been low. The Government set aside funding for 16,000 grants between 2012 and 2016, but just 819 were granted in that timeframe.

The grants were initially targeted only at beneficiaries' daughters aged 16 to 18, before rolling out to all other beneficiaries months later. Then-Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said at the time there were concerns about the number of children being born to those on welfare. 

"What we are saying is if the cost is a barrier, let's help you overcome that cost so you've got choices," Ms Bennett said when the grant was announced.

While the Ministry of Health already subsidises the cost of long-acting reversible contraceptives, the grants through WINZ could be used to help pay for associated costs, like transport, the consultation fee and any prescription fees.

The grants could only be used to help cover costs associated with long-acting reversible contraceptives, like the Depo-Provera injection which lasts three-months, an intra-uterine device (IUD) which is inserted in the uterus and can be left for up to 10 years, or the implant, which is two matchstick-sized "rods" that are inserted in the arm and slowly release hormones.

But critics called the grants 'intrusive' and Labour's position at the time was that contraceptives are better accessed through the health system.

Now, Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says the grants are ceasing because they simply didn't work - partly because WINZ was the wrong place for discussions about contraceptives.

"The decision whether to use contraceptives or not and the type of contraception to use is an entirely personal decision in consultation with a doctor or health organisation," Ms Sepuloni told Newshub.

"The public health system is the safest and most reliable means for New Zealand women to access contraceptive support."

National Party spokesperson for social development Louise Upston says it's petty and unfair for the Government to withdraw the funding.

"For those 819 women [who accessed a grant], it's a good idea.

"Yes, they could promote it more. Yes, there's often a problem where women don't know what assistance is available," Ms Upston told Newshub.

"The minister's been talking about how wonderful case managers are and making sure beneficiaries know what they are entitled to. Surely this is one of them."

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says the lack of take-up of the grant shows it wasn't the best.

"CPAG believed that the strategy was too targeted, especially with having to apply through WINZ and not through their health practitioners, resulting in stigmatisation of beneficiary women," a spokesperson told Newshub.

"Generally we think that in New Zealand there should be much broader access to long-acting contraceptives for all women."

That sentiment was echoed by Sarah Donovan from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago.

"A better approach would be for the Government to apply a more general subsidy to make these items more affordable to women in the general population, who could access subsidised prescriptions through GP visits, Family Planning and youth health clinics," she told Newshub.


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