Welfare reform bill passed into law

NZ Herald 19 July 2012
A controversial welfare bill designed to cut the number of young people on benefits and toughen work tests for sole parents has been passed into law amid bitter protest from Opposition members. The major reforms meant sole mothers would be required to enter the workforce earlier in their children’s lives, and teen beneficiaries would have their welfare payments controlled by an agency. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the legislation changed the passive approach of welfare to a more work-focussed system. But Opposition members said the law change penalised beneficiaries who were keen to work but could not find jobs in tight economic times. From next month, 16 and 17-year-old beneficiaries and teen parents would not receive their welfare payment personally, but instead have it paid to a Youth Service Provider who would pay their rent and utilities and help them to budget. Mrs Bennett said: “Previously the system has paid a benefit to these groups and then effectively left them to it. This is going to change.” And beginning in October, sole parents would have to be available for part-time work when their youngest child turned five, and full-time work when their child turned 14. At present, sole parents could stay on welfare until their children turned 18. Women on the the widow’s benefit and women alone benefit would also face these tougher work tests. The bill was passed by 64 votes to 57, with National, the Maori Party, United Future and the Act Party in support and Labour, Greens, New Zealand First and Mana against.