This Supplementary Order Paper amends the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill (the rewrite) which is to replace the Social Security Act 1964. This Bill was introduced on the basis that it was a policy neutral rewrite; however there are significant changes which have been proposed that do not adhere to this policy neutral mandate. Therefore, this provides the opportunity for other amendments to be considered. The changes proposed in this Supplementary Order Paper take into account advice from submitters, and are aimed at ensuring a better, fairer welfare system.
Clause 4 Feedback from relevant organisations both in prior meetings, and through written and oral submissions continually argued for the overhaul of all of the principles of the Act. There was in particular strong criticism of the principal in clause 4(e) which was added in the rewrite, in addition to the overall work-focused nature of the principles. This Supplementary Order Paper updates the rewrite so it aligns with the rights of all citizens and incorporates equally those who aspire to work but are physically or mentally unable to, either temporarily or permanently.
New clause 4A Currently there is no extensive information on the overall operation of the Act. Anecdotal evidence suggests that children may be negatively affected by the current work-focus of welfare and harsh use of sanctioning. Therefore in order to ensure the principles of the Act are adhered to, more robust and extensive data collection is required.
Clause 26 Penalising individuals who choose to pursue further employment-related training does not appear to support the pursuance of better outcomes for beneficiaries. This Supplementary Order Paper allows individuals to work toward improving their circumstances and job prospects through work-related training.
Clause 30 In the rewrite, both parents in split custody care situations can receive Sole Parent Support, yet those in shared parenting arrangements cannot. This provision could place parents under financial pressure to separate children as this would be financially advantageous to the family. Therefore allowing both split and shared custody arrangements to qualify for Sole Parent Support would prevent unnecessary family break-ups. The parents in both situations would have the same work obligations to adhere to.
Clause 34 Figures released by MSD from December 2015 showed that 55,257 working-age individuals were receiving the Job Seeker Support with a health condition or disability deferral. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the Job Seeker Benefit is an inappropriate means of financial support for those with illness or injury due to the accompanying administrative requirements and obligations. This Supplementary Order Paper proposes to extend the eligibility criteria of the Supported Living Payment to ensure those unable to work are provided with proper support during a time of illness or injury.
Clause 59 This Supplementary Order Paper seeks to remove the working obligations placed on those entitled to the Exceptional Circumstances Benefit as proposed in the rewrite. The application of obligations and sanctions is inappropriate as emergency or exceptional circumstances are by definition unexpected and urgent. On top of this, the primary demographics of this financial assistance are people over 65 years old.
Clause 60 This proposed extension of the exceptional circumstances benefit to also include civil emergencies would enable citizens to be better equipped and under less immediate financial pressure during and after a state of emergency. Having this in the Bill would also ensure that legislative changes do not have to be made urgently in the event of a civil emergency.
Clause 107 Currently the rewrite continues to enforce differential work obligations for a parent that has an additional child while receiving a working-age benefit. Whilst with other children, a parent is not expected to take up part-time employment until the youngest child is 3 years old, if any additional child is born while on the benefit, work obligations for that parent come into effect when that child turns 1. This enforces a problematic undervaluing of the vital role of parenting in society and prevents the same parental bonding that was available to the older children to be given to the younger child. This Supplementary Order Paper seeks to amend this policy.
Clause 117 Concerns were raised during submissions about terms not being defined in the Bill. Regulations are not given the same public scrutiny and transparency. Defining key terms is therefore too important to leave out of the Bill. The key terms that have been defined are: core check, as defined in the rewrite itself, and registered school, based on the Education Act 1989.
Clause 131 The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions raised concerns that the current test of suitable employment is not in accordance with International Labour Organisation Convention 44, which holds that industry and local standards for terms and conditions of employment must be taken into account in deciding whether employment is suitable. Given the changing nature of work, and the rise of precarious and insecure employment, there needs to be a legal change in order to offer protection to beneficiaries, and promote quality long-term employment.
Clause 170 Concerns have been raised during submissions, and anecdotally from constituents, that individuals who are either applying to go on the benefit or are already on it are not being told what they are entitled to. As it stands, MSD must inform clients of obligations, consequences and requirements. Yet MSD is under no compulsion to provide the same level of information on entitlements. This Supplementary Order Paper aims to prevent the added difficulties for clients and reduce the likelihood of financial hardship.
Clauses 176 to 178 In the rewrite, as in the original Act, a sole parent beneficiary who is unable or unwilling to identify the other parent of their child will have a $22 to $28 sanction imposed per week. This policy is currently affecting 17.7% of working age sole parent beneficiaries, and 17,000 children. The current laws are particularly concerning when there may be a fear of violence if the other parent is identified, or the child may be the result of rape of incest. This is a discriminatory law that fails to ensure child support, and instead negatively impacts on children in hardship.
Clause 332 Anecdotal evidence suggests beneficiaries are being burdened with significant debt that they are ordered to repay, yet MSD is at times not giving information as to how this debt occurred, or is only doing so under duress, for example, when media are involved. This Supplementary Order Paper ensures clients are fully informed of their debt, which will also alert them on how to prevent building up a debt in future.
Clause 428 Based on parliamentary written questions, a majority of Work and Income (WINZ) clients do not use electronic channels as the primary means of communication with benefit related matters. This is visible in the current use of MyMSD, with only 2.7% of total WINZ clients having logged in at least once. As well as logging fluctuating working hours, this contact is still primarily being done through person to person communication. This suggests WINZ clients may not have regular access to emails, or be comfortable using computers for this, or have other language barriers. Therefore in order to ensure these clients continue to comply with WINZ regulations, it is important that they receive notifications in a way that is accessible for them.
Schedule 2 This Supplementary Order Paper is based on a previous member’s Bill from Carmel Sepuloni that was voted down in the first reading. These proposed changes are based on the importance of part-time work as an effective means of transitioning from unemployment into full-time employment. Labour wants to promote pathways into full employment for all of those supported by social security, where the persons are capable of being employed full-time. In order to do this, the disincentives to engage in part-time work need to be removed, by lifting the threshold of how much persons can earn before their benefit is reduced by abatement rates.
Schedule 4 Currently benefit rates are inconsistent for younger clients. Currently there are lowered benefit levels for those under the age of 25. Turning 25 years old does not necessarily bring bigger financial burden for a person, than it would for a person 24 years old or younger. Therefore there is no discernible reason for these benefit levels to be different.