WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Welfare ideas fail to address poverty – Welfare Justice chair

Government review group presents its report

Lisa Beech
5 April 2011

The Welfare Working Group’s recommendations anticipate leaving a quarter of a million people in poverty, says Welfare Justice – Alternative Welfare Working Group chair Mike O’Brien.

The government Welfare Working Group presented its recommendations on February 22 after some six months of deliberations.

‘There is no attention to issues about poverty or the work of caring for children and dependent relatives,’ Dr O’Brien said.
‘Even if their proposals were able to achieve their stated goal of reducing benefit numbers by 100,000 over the next ten years, many will still remain living in poverty.’

Dr O’Brien chaired the eight-month long Welfare Justice − Alternative Welfare Working Group project which held public meetings and took submissions responding to the terms of reference given to the government Welfare Working Group. The group of six academics and community leaders were commissioned by church and beneficiary groups to write an alternative report which was released in December.

Despite its extensive consultation with the community sector on the alternative report, Dr O’Brien was disappointed that neither the Minister nor Welfare Working Group Chair have so far agreed to meet with the Alternative Group. ‘The Minister said last June that she wanted a welfare debate – the test of that is her willingness to hear and consider different perspectives on welfare reform.’

Some key issues in the Alternative Welfare Working Group’s December report Welfare Justice for all include:

  • There are not sufficient jobs available at adequate wages to enable beneficiaries to move into work
  • Many beneficiaries want to move into paid work, but given the uncertain nature of many jobs in the current environment, transferring from a benefit into work carries significant risks
  • All work needs to be valued. Work is not limited to paid work and the work of caring for dependants is key work in our society.
  • Benefit levels are inadequate and result in significant levels of poverty and deprivation.
  • Despite the efforts of many staff, too many beneficiaries experience the benefit system as punitive and unhelpful
  • Reform of social security needs to be integrated with other components of the welfare system, especially in the areas of health, employment, education, housing and social services.
  • Changes to Sickness and Invalids benefits need to face both the discrimination faced by disabled people and must be based on a social model of disability.
  • Welfare reform should be based on the relentless pursuit of wellbeing.

The two reports of the Alternative Welfare Working Group are available at http://welfarejustice.org.nz