The Government has made tentative steps towards assessing and addressing deficiencies in the New Zealand benefit system by tweaking some aspects and establishing a Working Group to examine various issues.
The Group’s recently released first report highlighted “the phenomenon of many people entering the benefit system and remaining there for long.”
The report has been criticised as limited in scope, but the problems it presented warrant serious attention.
The Group has suggested that the current benefit system contains disincentives to paid work and does not adequately support people to move from the benefit to work.
It said that as a consequence, people become dependent on the welfare system and do not benefit from the social, mental, financial and physical benefits of work.
Lifelong benefits would be appropriate for some, such as those with permanent disabilities but for many others, benefits should provide short-term assistance before they move into paid work.
It is easy to collectively pat ourselves on the back for providing benefits that keep people afloat, without providing more holistic support that would assist people in not just surviving, but flourishing.
For example, those who have been dependent on welfare long term may lack the habits, knowledge or inner resources to hunt for work and remain employed.
Getting out of their rut requires more than a benefit cheque or paperwork.
It requires significant personal support, to help people build the skills that will help them gain and retain work.
Government review is important to make sure appropriate support goes to the needy, while clearing the unintended drawbacks in the system like high abatement rates.
But the benefit system alone cannot ensure a person’s well-being.
No matter how tight and well incentivised, a benefit system can only provide a framework, resources and possibly a nudge in the right direction.
Human relationships are crucial; people doing what they can to help each other. This would include a neighbour practising a job interview with the young man next door, or an employer willing to give an inexperienced person a chance to prove his or her aptitude.