Tough new benefit rules
By NATHAN BEAUMONT - The Dominion Post | Friday, 26 September 2008

Thousands of long-term beneficiaries are targets of a crackdown that threatens to cancel payments if they shun jobs or training opportunities.

The Government plans to send a "clear signal" to about 6000 benefit recipients that being "inactive is not an option", Cabinet papers released to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act reveal.

Those unemployed for more than two years will be targets because many face significant barriers to finding a job - such as drug and alcohol problems, poor work habits, poor literacy and numeracy or health problems, the papers say.

There is strong evidence that long periods of unemployment can result in weakened work habits and a lack of confidence, the papers, which went to the Cabinet last October, say. "Despite the reduction in unemployment numbers, there are still too many people who have been on unemployed-related benefits for too long."

Under the "intensified approach" the long-term unemployed will be required to attend a specially designed interview at Work and Income. It will focus on work-testing, needs assessment, training requirements and putting clients into subsidised employment.

Work and Income also plans to increase the "intensity" of its contact with those approaching two years on the benefit to tell them of the new hardline stance.

The papers highlight substance abuse problems for some long-term unemployed: "Anecdotal evidence also suggests that drug and alcohol-related addictions are a significant issue for many of these clients.

"This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We do, and will continue to, recognise people's individual circumstances and needs."

Tough regulations introduced last year also mean all unemployed are required to accept "any offer of suitable employment", including fulltime or part-time, temporary, seasonal or subsidised work - on any days, including weekends.

If beneficiaries fail to comply with the work-test obligation "without good and sufficient reason" the benefit can be suspended till they conform. If they fail a third time to comply, the benefit will be cancelled for 13 weeks, after which they will have to reapply.

Social Development Ministry chief executive Peter Hughes said the reduction in overall unemployment rates had freed up staff to focus on the long-term unemployed.

"Most people want to work and can with the right support. People who are long-term unemployed have significant and complex needs. They often face additional barriers to employment, such as having few skills, little employment history, and lack confidence and everyday work habits."

At the end of June 18,000 people were receiving the unemployment benefit, compared with 150,000 in 1999.

About 64 per cent were male and they were most likely to be New Zealand European (47.2 per cent) or Maori (27.6 per cent).

From here.