Labour, Green Party react to Government's crackdown on beneficiaries

  • 19/02/2024

The Opposition has come out swinging against the National-led Government's instructions to the Ministry of Social Development to make use of "all obligations and sanctions" it has available against beneficiaries who fail to fulfil their requirements.

National campaigned on a 'traffic light system' policy, where the consequences of beneficiaries not fulfilling their obligations to try and find employment would be made clear, but this will take some time to develop.

In the meantime, Minister for Social Development Louise Upston told the Ministry she expects them to apply "the obligations and sanctions that already exist".  

Labour's spokesperson for social development, Carmel Sepuloni, accused the Government of "unfairly assuming jobseekers are not wanting to embark on employment education or training pathways".  

"Rather than being stingy on the minimum wage and bashing beneficiaries, the Coalition Government should be focused on lifting incomes for the poorest New Zealanders."  

Sepuloni argued that the sanctions will be problematic for getting people into work, instead of encouraging as is hoped.   

"The Government today pointed to evidence more than a decade old. The most recent research which MSD trusts comes from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group and suggests obligations and sanctions are problematic," she said.   

"Today was just a new round in the ring for Luxon and New Zealand's poor."

Social development spokesperson for the Green Party, Ricardo Menéndez March, claimed the announcement "confirms the Government's goal of pushing more people into poverty via benefit sanctions".

Similarly to Sepuloni, Menéndez March emphasised "sanctions do not work".  

"They do not support people into meaningful employment, nor support them to participate fully in their communities. Taking away people's incomes only makes it harder for people to get by."  

Menéndez March cited work-readiness workshops as an example of similar ineffective efforts to get people into work.  

"After more than a decade of running work-readiness workshops, there is no decisive evidence to show they actually support people into good employment. Penalising people who are struggling does nothing to create decent jobs."   

He accused the Government of "quickly building a legacy of cruelty" and instead suggested "lifting income support, adequately supporting families who transition into employment and ensuring disabled people are treated with respect and dignity".  

However the ACT Party was fully supportive of the move by their coalition partner.   

ACT spokesperson for social development Dr Parmjeet Parmar said benefit sanctions are a "crucial lever to deal with the persistent minority of people who opt to remain on a benefit long-term even when they are in a position to work".  

Dr Parmar cited figures that showed 351,000 working-age New Zealanders were receiving a main benefit as of June 2023.   

"Pre-COVID, 71 percent of main benefit recipients had been on welfare continuously for more than a year," she said.

"Greater use of existing sanctions is a first step toward a wider package of more substantial consequences for healthy long-term beneficiaries who evade work.   

"ACT's coalition agreement secured the commitment to implement sanctions, including electronic money management, for beneficiaries who can work but refuse to take agreed steps to find a job."