The National Party's welfare plan for young jobseekers has been met with fierce criticism from its political opponents. The problem is most of what National is proposing already happens. 

WHAT IS CURIOUS about the National Party's proposed welfare policy to further police the young and the jobless is that most of what it is proposing is already happening. The irony is that while National's political opponents might be attacking the plan as regressive they largely haven't been critical of the welfare regime that is already in place - a regime that this Labour Government has failed to overhaul like it promised. In the case of the Green Party it has meekly supported the Government's decision to maintain the welfare status quo.

As former Green MP Catherine Delahunty has pointed out Work and Income can already sanction jobseekers who miss such things as 'job seminars'. 

As for the claim that National aims to privatise welfare by farming out work to private contractors, that already occurs. Jobseekers are routinely referred to one of the Ministry of Social Development's contracted private social providers. Jobseekers are advised they have 'an obligation to co-operate with them and to attend and participate in any interview with them, report to them on how you're meeting your obligations, complete assessments with them.' The very real threat of being sanctioned remains.

The only difference between National's proposed policy and the present model is that National doesn't believe that the present sanctions are being enforced vigorously enough, resulting in young jobseekers staying on a benefit longer. It would tighten the screws just a little bit more, which can only add to the country's already chronic levels of mental ill-health. Its quite an achievement though for National to make Labour appear as if its the defender of beneficiaries and the poor.

None of this might have become an issue if the Labour Government had accepted the recommendations of its own Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) in May 2019 to overhaul the welfare system, including the dismantling of the sanctions regime. 

But the present punitive welfare model remains largely intact with the Labour Government declining to implement the key recommendations of WEAG. According to the Child Action Poverty Group (CAPG) none of the 42 key recommendations of WEAG have been implemented.

In December CAPG said that 'the Government’s vision - for a welfare system where people have an adequate income and standard of living is not being realised'. It said that progress in improving the welfare system was 'slow, patchy and piecemeal'.

The Green Party, despite its attack on the National Party's proposed new welfare policy, has been complicit in its support of the Labour Government's timid approach to welfare reform.

After WEAG issued its report in May 2019  Tim Watkin of RNZ observed; 'Welfare Minister Carmel Sepuloni agrees the welfare system is not working. Marama Davidson agrees the welfare system is not working. And then they commit to ignore the report's big recommendations...The call for "urgent change" is rejected. Remarkably, Ms Davidson has put her quotes into the same press release, tying the Greens to this approach, when they could have been dissenting from the rafters.'

What has been illustrated is that beneficiaries and the poor, as the general election draws ever closer, will remain the convenient political football of the two major parties, still committed to a punitive and toxic welfare model. The Green's are also implicated. Its opposition to National's welfare plans for young New Zealanders is undermined by its continued support of a Labour Government that has done little to improve the lot of beneficiaries and the poor. 

As former Green MP Sue Bradford observed in 2019 : 'Labour appears to remain bedevilled by the deep-seated prejudices middle-class people hold about beneficiaries, the kind of people who have never had to face the reality of extended periods of life at the mercy of the state’s grim benevolence.'


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