Some sickness beneficiaries could effectively be working for a dollar an hour under Paula Bennett's new welfare reforms.
That calculation has led Treasury to oppose the plan, but when the minister spoke to TVNZ political editor Guyon Espiner on Q+A she said she's pushing ahead.
Bennett has a message for some on the sickness benefit: working
can make you well.
"People with low level depression and low level mental illness are often better off in work and it's actually a road to recovery for them it actually helps them get better," she says.
A work test is being introduced for sickness beneficiaries: if they can work part time they will have to look for part time work or benefits could be cut.
But Cabinet papers reveal Treasury opposed the work test. They say sickness beneficiaries on the minimum wage could effectively be working for a dollar an hour. Fifteen hours of work a week would leave them $70 better off, but due to the way benefits are calculated an extra five hours work only delivers about $5 more.
Bennett was asked is it fair to have a person who is unwell
working for a dollar an hour extra gain?
"Well I actually think it is about more than the economic benefits, and that's one example. It will depend on what they're on an hour, it will depend on the add-on benefits they get. You've given an extreme example of $1 an hour," she replied."
Christine Rankin says some sickness beneficiaries aren't sick at all but pressure doctors to sign them up.
"They felt very intimidated by a lot of people. They felt forced to sign sickness benefit certificates," she says.
And there will be plenty more certificates. An extra medical
assessment will now be needed after eight weeks on the sickness
Cabinet papers show that means 49,000 extra doctor visits. That could put pressure on the health system and increase waiting times.
"For some of those areas where there aren't enough GPs or it's too hard to get in we'll certainly acknowledge that. They won't lose their benefit because they haven't been. They are just going to have to have made an appointment and be going at some time," says Bennett.
The Domestic Purposes Benefit is changing too. Forty three thousand solo parents will have to look for part-time work or their benefits could be cut in half. But the sanction may last just one day.
"They could turn up the day after that happens and say 'actually probably should have turned up, sorry I didn't, what can I do to get back on?' And we'll say attend this interview this afternoon and your benefit will be back on that night," says Bennett.
But getting people off benefits is the aim and that is yet to be tested.
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