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Social development minister maintains her approach

As the number of people on the Jobseeker benefit in Wairarapa rises, Social Development Minister Louise Upston says she will be “unapologetic” in getting beneficiaries into employment. MARLEE PARTRIDGE reports.

* This story has been edited on March 20 to accurately reflect the number of jobseeker benefit clients who were placed into employment by a work broker. 

Minister Louise Upston visited Wairarapa this week during a tour of the regions that she told the Times-Age was for the purpose of getting a feel for the different communities and an understanding of what’s different in each area.

During her time in the region, Upston checked out Featherston School’s bike track, and stopped in at the Ministry of Social Development and REAP offices in Masterton, before continuing on to Palmerston North.

She also found time to sit down with the Times-Age to discuss her Social Development and Employment and Child Poverty Reduction portfolios and outline the approach she intends to take when tackling the number of people on the Jobseeker Support payment and children living in poverty.

Employment

Statistics provided by the minister’s office highlight that the number of people in Wairarapa on the Jobseeker Support payment has risen from 1266 as of February 2023, to 1443 in February 2024 – an increase of 177, or 13.9 per cent.

The number of jobseeker benefit ‘clients’ in Wairarapa who were placed into employment by a work broker in the month of February 2023 came to 21, while 27 jobseeker beneficiaries were placed into work by a work broker in the month of February 2024.

The government has announced benefit sanctions will become stricter from June this year, with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon saying that the “free ride” is over for beneficiaries, and Upston said she will be “unapologetic about focusing on supporting people off welfare and into work”.

“It’s what I came into this job to do.”

Upston believes there is a misconception around the sanctions and claimed that they have been widely misinterpreted, saying sanctions will only apply if Jobseeker beneficiaries aren’t “taking the steps they need to take”.

Having a CV, going to interviews, and accepting job offers when presented with them are the basics of what a person on the Jobseeker Support payment should be doing, she said.

“There are some that can work, and should work, and don’t,” Upston said.

“And there’s some that do need some assistance and support and then they’ll be on their way.

“And then there’ll be others that actually have some quite complex needs, and they need a lot of support.”

Upston believes the ‘Welfare that works’ policy set out by the National Party will help to create a needs-based system that will work to help those that need it, especially younger people.

Statistics have shown that people who start receiving a benefit under the age of 20 will spend 18.9 years on average on welfare.

The ‘Welfare that works’ programme means that people will have a job coach and an individual job plan – and then “you hold that young person accountable to that plan”, Upston said.

She explained that in some instances this programme could take four weeks, while in others that involve more complex needs, it could take up to 18 months.

“It’s about recognising that we’re not giving up on young people.”

Upston said reducing the number of people on Jobseeker benefits isn’t just a job for Work and Income – employers also have to “do their bit” and community organisations need to provide “appropriate support and assistance”.

The Treasury has forecast an increase in the number of people on Jobseeker and Upston said she won’t “just sit back and watch”.

“I want to be seeing better connections with employers and community organisations working together,” she said.

Some job seekers might need to “alter their expectations about what sort of work they can do”.

“The welfare state has to support people in their time of need, but also, taxpayers shouldn’t be funding those who aren’t taking steps to help themselves.”

Cost of living
and child poverty

Upston noted that the cost of living crisis is contributing to the rates of child poverty in the country but she could not provide specific child poverty statistics for Wairarapa.

She said her primary aim as Minister for Child Poverty will be “reducing the number of children in benefit dependent homes”.

“If we can get someone in a household or family into work, then we start breaking those cycles of intergenerational dependency”.

There has also been an increase in the number of working households with children in material hardship, which Upston attributed to “the depth and the impact of the cost of living crisis”.

The government is “starting to see material hardship permeating a much wider group of households and families”, she said, noting that increases in the cost of mortgages, rent, petrol, power, and food are all contributing factors.

“Cost of living will be a major focus for the government; getting the economy back into a position where we are rebuilding it so there are more employment opportunities available,” Upston said.

The government has also announced its intention to reduce the number of families and children living in emergency housing.

There are currently 12 families in Masterton that have been placed in emergency housing in motels, something Upston noted this could also have a negative impact on Wairarapa’s tourism economy.

“The challenge with having your motel spaces taken up with emergency housing is it’s potentially constraining your tourism growth,” she said.

 

 

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