PM Christopher Luxon defends crackdown on beneficiaries, says extra staff won't be needed for checks

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is defending the Government's move to crackdown on beneficiaries despite fierce criticism from many, including the Opposition.   

From June, people who've been on the jobseeker benefit for more than six months will be signed up for check-ins to ensure they're applying for jobs.  

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.  

The Government claims there will be consequences if they do not fulfil their obligations to try and find employment.  

These include people losing 50 percent of their benefit and having their benefit suspended or cancelled.  

But despite questions being raised over how much it will cost, the Prime Minister believes you can have one person checking in on many people.   

Luxon joined AM on Tuesday morning and told the show beneficiaries would get lots of graduated warnings about what they need to do. 

"What we are saying here is New Zealand's society is predicated on rights and responsibilities," Luxon told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.  

"Today there are people watching your show that have got up early, got the kids to school, they're paying their taxes, working really hard, that money comes into the government and we as New Zealanders say we want to help people who desperately need it during tough times and as a result, you have a responsibility to hold your end up."      

But some people believe what the Government is doing is cruel and getting a job is actually worse for their life situation.  

AM viewers have emailed the show in previous days talking about their situation. One person, called Megan, said she is on a benefit looking after her disabled child. She has to pick a bill each week she doesn't pay so that she can put food on the table. Megan says it costs $35 an hour for someone to look after her child because of her kid's complex needs and $22 an hour for an entry-level job.   

Another viewer emailed in saying she has a granddaughter with children aged eight and four with medical issues and she has been asked to go and get a job.   

However, the viewer questions how long she will be able to keep a job if kindergarten or school calls her to pick up her children because of their medical issues.   

"The Government is over-looking that kids need their mums at home. It brings stability into their lives and they're less likely to go off the rails," the viewer said.   

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: AM

The Prime Minister was asked about these scenarios and if he would make these people go and get a job. 

"Let's be really clear, there are going to be valid reasons for why they weren't compliant with the obligation and that would be considered by the MSD and there is a legitimate process for dealing with valid reasons for it," Luxon replied.  

When asked if the viewer's examples were valid, Luxon said, "It may well be the case".   

"I would also say to you, actually having a parent in work is also really good for children," Luxon told AM.  

"We know that children in benefit-dependent homes don't do as well and have the same opportunities as those with one or both parents actually out there working. 

"Let's be clear... we are just talking about those who are deemed capable and able to work by the Government and that is why they're receiving the jobseeker unemployment benefit... but what we are not up for is you cannot have a situation where there has been a 57 percent increase in jobseeker benefit and they're existing sanctions, it's already what's available in the law today."  

Opposition slam Govt

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 would be problematic for getting people into work. 

"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."  

Watch the full interview above.