Benefit sanctions work when people don’t

Simeon Brown

Disturbingly, since Labour came into Government, there has been a 21% drop in the number of benefit sanctions imposed, while at the same time there are almost 2000 more people on the Jobseeker benefit.

These sanctions, which lead to a beneficiary’s allowance being reduced or cancelled for not meeting certain obligations, incentivise beneficiaries to remain proactive in their search for work.

Increasing dependency

The number of people receiving this benefit should be going down, not up.

Largely due to National’s efforts to build a strong and resilient economy, New Zealand currently has some of the lowest unemployment in the OECD, so why do we see greater numbers of people applying for the Jobseeker benefit?

I find these numbers concerning given, under National’s watch, over 70,000 beneficiaries moved off the benefit and into work between 2011 and last year, and the number of children living in benefit-dependent households reduced by 60,000 over this period.

In reality, it is not easy for someone to have a penalty imposed on their benefit.

In order for someone to have their benefit cut or reduced, they must repeatedly fail to meet their obligations. Fewer sanctions isn’t a sign that more people on benefits are being compliant, it’s a sign the Government is going soft in this area.

Helpful Constituents

As the Member of Parliament for Pakuranga, I think of the hardworking taxpayers in my electorate who deserve to have their money well spent.

They are willing to lend a hand to people during times of need and who are doing their bit to help themselves. But this Government seems intent on tipping the balance too far the other way.

The aim is not to be tough on beneficiaries.

National knows that people are better off in paid work so they can live independent lives and provide a better future for themselves and their children.

We believe in supporting our most vulnerable while ensuring they work with us to improve their own lives. People should work to help themselves and be held accountable if they do not work.

Benefit with obligations

We all agree that it is important to help people in times of need by providing income support when they are out of work, and the jobseeker benefit is there to support those who need it.

But it does come with obligations, including looking for work, turning up to appointments, and staying drug-free. New Zealand prides itself on being a country that is intent on taking care of those who fall on hard times, but that doesn’t mean taxpayer money should be handed out for free.

We know benefit sanctions are an effective tool to help people into work, with 95% of people who receive a formal warning meeting their obligations within four weeks.

But if the Government decides that mutual obligations should not exist, or should not be enforced, the incentives to get into work reduce significantly.

In the end though, this hurts everyone involved.

Returning to handouts 

This signals a return to a system where the Government simply hands out cash and sends people on their way.

These latest figures should be a warning to the Government – a softening of mutual obligations will mean fewer people in work and an increase in the servicing of misery. People’s lives are improved when they get off a benefit and into work and that must continue to be encouraged.

Simeon Brown is Member of Parliament elected from Pakuranga in East Auckland and National Party’s Spokesperson for Education and Tertiary Education.

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