Campaigner slams Prime Minister Christopher Luxon's comments about welfare system

People using New Zealand's welfare system say they don't feel valued after hearing the Prime Minister's State of the Nation speech.  

Christopher Luxon addressed welfare dependency several times during his first State of the Nation speech on Sunday in Auckland.  

He pointed out the additional 70,000 Kiwis now on a Jobseeker unemployment benefit compared to 2017. He described the system as "catastrophic" and "fragile" and admitted conditions were "tough". 

"MSD has told us that for the 2000 young people receiving a youth payment or young parent payment, they are now expected to spend an average of 24 years of their working life on a benefit - 24 years. Up almost 50 percent in just three years," Luxon said in his speech.  

"Well, that's got to change. We'll do everything we can to help people into work, but if they don't play ball the free ride is over."

The Prime Minister delivered his first State of the Nation speech in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland on Sunday.
The Prime Minister delivered his first State of the Nation speech in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland on Sunday. Photo credit: Newshub

Fairer Future campaigner Max Harris joined AM on Monday morning to give his view on Luxon's speech. 

Harris told AM when Luxon said "My team has your back", the people he works with didn't believe him.  

"I was pretty concerned by some of what I heard and I talked to some of the people in our team who are on income support, they felt like this was a speech that didn't value them, that wanted them to be something that they weren't," he said.  

"They were pretty frustrated as well and said, if Christopher Luxon wants people to get into work, he needs to create a much more supportive environment at WINZ and MSD that actually helps people get into jobs rather than piling people with paperwork and leaving people with lots of delays. 

"I think we should be really careful about the language that we're using. So I talked to one person, who's an amazing woman who has a disability, and she said, 'I heard that speech, it felt like, there were arrows being sent into me, it felt like I wasn't being valued for who I am'." 

Harris believes the Government has taken a step back to the 1990s and described parts of Luxon's speech as "beneficiary bashing". 

"I thought we were past this as a society. I don't think we do have a problem, I think we've had extreme hardship in the last few years," he told AM co-host Lloyd Burr.  

"I think we've had an increase in population growth. We've had a pandemic with people approaching sickness in new ways, some people with long COVID and I think it would be understandable that you'd see an uptick in the number of people on benefits." 

Questions in the interview then turned to young people with Harris grilled on why there were so many of them on the benefit. There are 34,000 under-25-year-olds on the jobseeker benefit. 

Harris was quick to defend young people, putting that statistic down to them "really struggling" in recent years due to COVID. He added some people have had to leave school to go to work to support their family. 

"To be on the youth payment, you have to be in a really difficult position and I think it's important that we understand that. So you have to essentially have had a family breakdown, not be able to have any support from a family member or a parent and the people that I've known in that position are people that are in really desperate circumstances," he said. 

Fairer Future campaigner Max Harris told AM parts of Christopher Luxon's speech was "beneficiary bashing".
Fairer Future campaigner Max Harris told AM parts of Christopher Luxon's speech was "beneficiary bashing". Photo credit: AM

But the questions didn't end there on young people, with AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green asking just because a young person lacks family support doesn't mean they can't get a job.  

"When we talk about people and the benefit generally, first of all, paid work isn't a very enticing option at the moment for people," he replied. 

"National is also, unfortunately, reintroducing 90-day trials, scrapping fair pay agreements but beyond that, actually a lot of these people are doing work that might not be paid that is valuable to the community. Raising a child in this country is one of the most important, valuable things people can be doing. Raising a child without the support of another partner, without the support of a parent is extremely difficult. I think we should be supporting those people, providing a safety net where we need it and not tearing them down."

Watch the full interview above.