National's benefit sanctions will result in either 'crime or hungry people', warns welfare advocate

A welfare advocate says National's proposed overhaul of the Jobseeker benefit should focus on supporting mental health needs instead of rushing people into work. 

National leader Christopher Luxon announced on Sunday a policy targeting those under 25 years old. The party would assign job coaches to young people who have been on Jobseeker for more than three months and offer $1000 to those who get off and stay off the benefit for a year.

If not, Luxon warned there would be sanctions.

But the proposed policy hasn't gone down well with beneficiary advocate Karen Pattie, who said it is a recipe for failure.

"The only outcome from sanctions is either crime or hungry people," she said.

The latest figures show there are about 13,000 18 to 24-year-olds who've been receiving the Jobseeker benefit for more than a year. Nearly 8000 of those are work-ready and the other 5500 are receiving it for health or disability reasons.

Pattie said the focus should be on supporting mental health needs instead of rushing people into work. 

"That's what needs to be addressed to enable these young people to feel confident enough to go back into a job," she said.

Luxon said there will be support for those on the Jobseeker benefit with health conditions.

"For those with health conditions, we're going to get an individualised plan for you," he said.

One organisation offering beneficiary wrap-around services does see the value in bolstering them.

"Look I really support the community-led support … and the individualised, tailored response to young people," said Brook Turner from Vision West.

But when it comes to Luxon's comments on Sunday, there's no agreement. 

"To young people who don't want to work: You might have a free ride under Labour, but under National, it ends," he said.

Turner said he didn't believe those were terms he'd ever use.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said young people have "absolutely not" been given a free ride under Labour.

"I think any suggestion of that does a disservice to our young people."

There are a number of programmes in place to support beneficiaries into work already, which also come with cash bonuses. Advocates said not only is National's plan a reheated version of those, but it's also stigmatised beneficiaries further by coming out swinging with its sanction threats.