Is National really what it seems on welfare reform? I don't know about you, but I'm getting really mixed messages. I'm also not sure the second child/one year policy will survive the election
So National's welfare policy is out. I'm not in a position to piece together much analysis, but here are some pointed thoughts:
- We asked Paula Bennett on Q+A in June about the 'going back to work when the second welfare baby is one' policy and what it might do to the mother-child bond. She pointed out:
MS BENNETT Yeah, well, what you do see in a lot of those units is the childcare centre is attached to the classroom, if you like, so the learning centre. So they are very much still bonded and still together, so it’s not about ripping the child away from the young mum. It’s about actually trying to have that relationship closer, but we can do far better with education and...
But I can't see any mention of training in National's policy. Can anyone confirm that? Can these parents go into training when the child turns one, or is it work only?
- The policy draws an interesting line: those who can be expected to look for work and those who can't. Contrary to the current system, it accepts that certain people just aren't cut out for work and are allowed to stay on benefits long-term (aka bludge).
- How many part-time jobs are there for clinically depressed folk? People on the Sickness Benefit will be expected to get work for 15 hours a week. National expects 7,000-10,000 new part time jobs in the next four years. Then there are all these mums. This policy puts a huge premium on part-time work and as many mums will tell you, there's bugger-all about.
- Bennett and the Welfare Working Group said that reform would cost the government more. Bennett's on the record saying government was happy to increase the welfare spend because "I think these people are worth it". National says its reforms will cost $130m a year but save $1 billion in four years. Which means they're spending less... That'd be good if able people are in work rather than on benefits, but I'm not clear on their intent.
- Both Peter Dunne and Pita Sharples rejected the second child/one year policy today. So two of National's potential coalition partners won't vote for it; they'll be reliant on ACT or winning a majority. This may go nowhere.
- The unemployment benefit form already says:
"You must also be looking for work and be ready tostart a job or go on a training course".
So how is the Jobseeker Support more "work focused"? How is it any "tougher"? How can John Key say the current system is too "passive"? If it is, that's a failure of leadership and management, not a failure of policy, right?
- Again on Q+A, asked about beneficiary bashing Bennett said:
MS BENNETT Yeah, I find it really offensive to think that it’s... I don’t think it’s actually beneficiaries’ fault that they’re actually sitting on benefits for long periods of time when they actually could have other opportunities. I think it’s almost government, so we need to look at where those settings are and where we’re putting the support...
So it's government' fault we have so many beneficiaries. It's not the beneficiaries fault. Is that the message in this policy? Is that what voters think National believes about welfare?
- And did National rather butcher its own launch, doing it on Melbourne Cup day? Has it hinted and leaked so much over the coming months that the media, and maybe the public, were bored by the actual release? There doesn't seem to be anywhere near the traction on this as there was for Labour's big bang last week.