Hon Anne Tolley, MP for East Coast
LAST week Parliament passed extremely important legislation, the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill.
Long-term welfare dependency is placing too many Kiwis in a life of limited choices — as a country, we can’t allow our young people to fall into this trap.
We started last term with Future Focus changes, which introduced greater expectations for young offenders and more flexibility for the Youth Court.
Currently there are 3000 16 to 17-year-olds and 16 to 18-year-old parents on a benefit. Nationally, there are also around 14,000 young people aged 16 and 17 who are classified as being not in education, employment or training (NEET) and they are on a collision course with the welfare system. The national rate for 15 to 24-year-old NEETs is 13 percent, and in our East Coast electorate we have a slightly higher rate. We’re wrapping support around these young people and ensuring they get the education and training they need to be independent.
The Act introduces financial support in the form of a new Youth Payment and Young Parent Payment for 16 and 17-year-olds, and teen parents aged 16 to 19. With help from dedicated youth service providers, money management will mean their bills are paid direct, with payment cards for living costs and a small in-hand allowance. The payment card will not be able to be used to pay for cigarettes or alcohol.
Currently, our welfare system simply pays benefits to young people and teen parents, effectively leaving them to it.
This will now change — we will provide more support for young people and insist they be in education or training if they want to get a benefit.
The youth support changes will take effect from August and the work obligations initiatives will come into effect in October this year.
The next step will be the second phase of major welfare reforms, which introduce new benefit categories and a greater focus on work for more people on benefits.
National believes welfare should always be there to support those who genuinely need it. But we also think those people who can work, should work, or be looking for employment.
Getting off welfare and into work means a better life, better opportunities, and a brighter future for individuals and their families. Work is the path to higher incomes and better living standards.
The new law also provides for greater flexibility in the hours of work for part-time and full-time work tests for beneficiaries subject to work test obligations. It introduces work obligations and preparation for sole parents, widows, women alone and partners. For those beneficiaries who have more children while on welfare, they will have one year before previous applicable work obligations resume.
National campaigned on these changes, and they are changes which New Zealanders voted for.
Our comprehensive reform of the welfare system will bring it into the 21st Century, but more importantly it makes sure we don’t abandon some of the most vulnerable people to a life trapped on welfare.
National is taking an active approach because we have greater hopes and dreams for New Zealanders and their children, achieved through work, not welfare.