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Kiwis Could Learn From British Welfare Reform Plan

Posted on 07 Mar 2007

New Zealand should examine a new British report into welfare reform, which recommends allowing firms and charities to contract for providing social services and offers beneficiaries more help to get back into the workforce in exchange for a greater effort in job seeking, says ACT Social Services Spokesman Heather Roy.

"Tony Blair has a record of tackling welfare reform head-on, and this report provides answers to the questions that Helen Clark's government fears to ask", Mrs Roy said.

The three main features of the British Labour Government's report are:

  • Greater use of the private and voluntary sector so claimants receive more support, with a new focus on long term mentoring once people are in work; 
  • Greater personalisation of support, with financial incentives for organisations to target resources at the hardest-to-help;
  • And matching increased support with greater obligations on claimants

"Real kindness for those in need isn't about the level of our welfare spending - it's about the personal, compassionate connection between givers and receivers of help", Mrs Roy said.

"The public, private, voluntary and community sectors all have expertise in tackling the challenge of extending employment opportunities - they could be funded to play a greater role in helping the long-term unemployed.  Community groups have a better knowledge of those they're helping, and the local job market, than any enormous State bureaucracy.

"Paying non-government organisations to prepare job seekers for work also opens the door for a wider range of help to be provided - from childcare to assistance with a C.V. or coaching for interviews.

"While a strong economy keeps unemployment figures down, the number of Kiwis on the Sickness Benefit rose more than 34% between December 2001 and December 2006, while those on the Invalid's Benefit increased by 25%.

"The case for welfare reform is urgent - but is considered politically tough when more than 280,000 Kiwis depend on one of the four main benefits.  Yet beneficiaries themselves want to escape from a system where government simply gives them a cheque and expects them to go away.

"Labour may balk at embracing charities and companies for help, but it's a better alternative than keeping hundreds of thousands of Kiwis on welfare, which robs people of their dignity and stands in the way of developing their full potential.

"Helen Clark's Labour government should take British Labour's lead and consider any change which lifts people back to independence - even if it involves forming partnerships with traditional Labour foes in the private sector", Mrs Roy said.