Sunday, August 17, 2008

National jumping at ghosts in the machine on welfare

John Armstrong, in commenting on Labours criticism of Nationals welfare policy, considers Labour is " jumping at ghosts in the mirror" . Equally it could be claimed that National is jumping at ghosts in the machine. The machine of Work and Income.

Much has been made of "personal plans produced by beneficiaries" that detail how they intend getting back into the workforce.I've seen a few of these plans. These plans are not personal plans at all - more about what beneficiaries should be doing anyway - get a CV, attend a job interview in the next six months and turn up to their next appointment. Those on the DPB are required have a PDEP - a personal development and employment plan - on their files, whereas those on other benefits who are assessed as being able to work are to have a JSA - Job Seekers Agreement. If they don't stick to these plans they get work tested - meaning that if they don't do anything about the work test they get their benefit automatically suspended. If they dont do anything once it is suspended it gets automatically cancelled.

Problem is that hardly anyone gets worktested. If beneficiaries miss an appointment as detailed on a JSA, another letter simply goes out requesting they return at another appointment date. And if they havent fulfilled their JSA requirements once they turn up to the appointment, another one is simply reprinted with a different reporting date.

But you need to be aware that the beneficiaries do not write these plans, the case managers do. And they write them based on a template with minor adjustments as a compliance issue. The plans are for no longer than a six month period and have to be renewed once they expire. They are not often renewed until months after they expire. They are not negotiated with the beneficiary, but the beneficiary has to sign them so a signature can be on the file. It is a bit similar to the ACC Independent Rehabilitation Plan. They are punitive, bureaucratic, time wasting, and legally worthless.

Under National, the PDEP's will have a work component for all whose youngest child is six or over, and those DPB beneficiaries will be registered in WINZ's SOLO system that refers beneficiaries to work-related training and vacancies. That is the only difference to the current situation. So as Labour is already doing much of National's policy, Ruth Dyson can hardly criticise National's policy towards other beneficiaries.

These plans are also disregarded by everyone at WINZ who looks for jobs for beneficiaries - who are mainly work brokers.National wants a greater job focus on these worthless plans. That is why its policy will not make a scrap of difference to the rate of those on the benefit who get full time WINZ-assisted jobs. Its simply politics, when fresh policy is needed.

Sometime, I`ll outline why there is no essentially no difference in Labour and National's policies on getting beneficiaries into job training or providing incentives to work.

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