Social worker says National's gang policy likely to increase crime, drug abuse

Plans to penalise welfare recipients who don't vaccinate their children have experts shaking their heads. 

The proposal comes under National's latest social policy, which includes denying benefits to gang members who can't prove they don't have income from illegal sources and bringing back sanctions on sole parents who don't name the other parent.

But Lucy Sandford-Reed from the Association for Social Workers says she sighed when she heard their proposal. She says punishments don't stop poverty.

"If you're living on a benefit now, you're probably going to be struggling to make ends meet anyway. So if you then reduce benefit rates, you are simply punishing the extended family of the alleged gang members."

She says high food prices are still a major issue. 

The opposition also wants to crack down on solo parents with un-immunised children. 

"Punishment and sanctions for benefits internationally have not shown to achieve the outcomes they say they're going to achieve. All it will do is increase the levels of hardship for families."

Which will, in turn, result in more crime, says Sandford-Reed.

"If you are increasing the level of hardship you are increasing the risk of increased criminal activity simply to get by... or use of drugs [and] alcohol if life is just too tough."

She says international studies show penalties on welfare recipients don't reduce poverty. A Ministry of Social Development report in 2017 found they actually entrench it and increase hardship.

Bridges is unrepentant, saying his party "hates gangs".

"We think they provide misery and a whole lot of bad social impacts."