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“What will be the impact of proposals on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society”

Getting Brash over welfare reform

2005. Christian-based organisations are calling National Party leader Don Brash’s proposals for welfare reform backward measures.

The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace, and Development (Caritas) and the Child Poverty Action Group are concerned Dr Brash would put welfare back into the 1990s.

Dr Brash’s said in his welfare-themed speech to the Orewa Rotary Club last month that a National Government would cut taxes for those in the workforce, implement more thorough medical examinations for sickness and invalids’ beneficiaries, introduce work for the dole schemes, and those on the DPB would be required to take up part time work, retraining or community service.

Caritas research and advocacy officer Lisa Beech says church agencies are in the frontline dealing with the poverty, ill-health, overcrowding, and misery caused by the 1991 benefit cuts.

Caritas feels welfare reform suggested by Mr Brash would see greater responsibility for the needy and vulnerable passed from the state to church and community agencies, “as was the case in the 1990s”.

Ms Beech says between 1982 and 1996 the incomes of the poorest in the country were cut while the incomes of the wealthiest increased by over 30 per cent.

“We ask always: what will be the impact of proposals on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society,” she says. “Debates around the shape of benefit assistance are necessary and on-going. However, it is noticeable that Mr Brash does not address those who receive benefits, but those he believes resent contributing taxes towards community welfare.”

Caritas particularly opposes Dr Brash’s introduction of “family caps”, policies that would see no further assistance paid to women who have another child while on a benefit already.

“We cannot support any policy that would increase the pressure on women to have abortions,” says Ms Beech, pointing to studies in the United States which show family cap policies either increase abortion rates among welfare recipients or that people who do not have children experience greater hardship.

The Child Poverty Action Group says Dr Brash’s welfare proposals have already been tried and failed.

“Work for the dole and compulsory work for sole parents were tried by the National Government in the 1990s,” says spokesman Mike O’Brien. “It seems odd to try and reintroduce policy that has already failed.”

By Peter Veugelaers.

Published 2005, Challenge Weekly

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