“Abandoning people to a life on welfare is a waste of human potential – but that’s what Labour is doing to thousands of New Zealanders right now,” says ACT Leader David Seymour. “ACT will provide hope and opportunity by helping sick and drug-addicted beneficiaries who can get off the benefit and back into work to do so.”
“Some people have a significant sickness or disability and need long-term support. It’s right that the government continues to support them. But others are either capable of some work in some circumstances or could be capable of work with the right support. ACT says if you can work, you should.
“Over 165,000 New Zealanders are on a sickness-related benefit, either Jobseeker Support - Health Condition or Disability or the Supported Living Payment. Many of these people could return to work if they got the right support.
“The numbers show welfare has become a trap for thousands of New Zealanders:
- Over 4,100 people receive a benefit because they are addicted to drugs. About 2,700 of them are on the Jobseeker benefit and almost 30 per cent of that group have continuously been on that benefit for over six years. Either they’re choosing not to comply with the obligations of their benefit, or their addiction is so far gone that they can’t comply. At a minimum, these 4,100 people cost the taxpayer about $76 million a year.
- Over 1,000 beneficiaries who are addicted to drugs have been receiving a benefit continuously for over 10 years.
- Almost 4,000 people are on the Supported Living Payment because of stress, 70 per cent of them for more than five years. Stress is a condition that can be treated over time, not a permanent incapacity.
“To help beneficiaries who can get off the benefit and back into work to do so, ACT will:
- Require MSD case managers to consider whether all reasonable treatment options have been pursued before deciding whether a medical condition should be accepted as permanent.
- Expand the roles of regional health advisors and ‘designated doctors’ to pick up on fraud and ineligibility, ensure people are on the correct benefit, and are supported to meet any job seeking obligations.
- Enable doctors to complete work capacity certificates privately to avoid having to provide advice under duress.
- Take a more proactive and systematic approach to ensuring beneficiaries whose primary incapacity is substance abuse are taking steps to become independent.
“Doctors have to confirm to Work and Income whether a beneficiary has the capacity to work. They are required to discuss the work capacity certificate with the patient and ensure they agree to the information being provided. They are put in a difficult position if the patient disagrees with their opinion. ACT will allow doctors to complete work capacity certificates privately so they can give a frank opinion.
“ACT will take a more proactive approach with drug-addicted beneficiaries. For those on the Jobseeker benefit, this will mean greater enforcement of job-seeking obligations and preparing for work. The most urgent task is ensuring beneficiaries can get clean enough to work. ACT will ensure that mental health and addiction services are available for those who choose to use them. Some communities face a shortage of rehabilitation services. ACT’s health workforce policies will increase the supply of health workers and improve access to services.
“ACT will also take a more proactive approach to ascertaining whether drug-addicted beneficiaries are responsible for their own incapacity with the intention of receiving the benefit. One way of demonstrating this would be participation in mental health and addiction services. Someone who demonstrates no intention of, or motivation to, address their incapacity and become independent may find themselves ineligible for a benefit.
“This policy will not make life harder for the people the benefit was designed to support. It will increase the number of cases that are picked up as fraud, as there will be more active inquiries into cases, and doctors will feel empowered to offer a frank opinion. It will also increase support for beneficiaries by providing contact with health professionals who have more time and specialised expertise to help them gain independence.
“ACT’s policy will provide hope and opportunity by helping sick and drug-addicted beneficiaries who can get off the benefit and back into work to do so and ensure only to those genuinely unable to work remain on sickness benefits.”
ACT's policy document is here.