BIG NEWS: Key's speech to the National Party conference

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Key's speech to the National Party conference

At today’s National Party conference, John Key flagged some changes (some of which weren't changes) he hopes will prevent 16-17 year old's going onto the unemployment benefit. Instead they will have jobs, education or training – and receive a copy of “Playground Battle” from the feelers, as it has the song “Stand Up”, the theme song from the conference.

Actually, they`ll miss out on the feelers – and the training incentive allowance. Some will miss out on most of their benefit too, as it will be put on payment cards that can't be used on cigarettes and alcohol( which they can't legally buy anyway). If they study part time, perhaps if they get accepted in a tertiary institute in a few years, they won’t get $1000 course-related costs, like I did when I was studying.

The Government is going to amend the Privacy Act and the Education Act to require schools to reveal when 16- and 17-year-olds leave during the year, and share this information between the Ministries of Education and Social Development. That is because it has no idea where 16-17 year olds have come from – mind you the MSD has no idea when people leave the country either and are paying thousands each week to ex-pats who they think are in NZ, but have never checked.

The government will also fund community and other organisations to provide comprehensive and concentrated support.

In fact the Government has been doing this for years through programmes like Training Opportunites – but while funded for training, it is measured on employment outcomes, so the policy design wasn’t the best as if they were fully trained and didn’t get work the outcome was less positive. But it is very similar to what Key announced today. Government funding would go to organisations to 'transition' in to work or training, perhaps by building skills or training, but assessed on employment outcomes.

The implication is that these teens do not have a competent adult in their lives to manage their money and to assist them to get ahead in life. So these support providers in community groups will be these competent adults, and in some cases will pay their bills from their benefits and help them get into education, training and work – or the Ministry of Social Development will do it.

Actually, the MSD can pay money for bills for young people directly out of benefits - So why isn’t it?

Further, young people who are receiving these payments will have clear obligations, for example; to attend budgeting or parenting programmes.

WINZ offers budgeting advice. Why aren’t these young people being referred to it? Why is National announcing policy that, in part, it can implement now, but isn’t to a significant degree?

Key says “you measure a society by how it looks after its most vulnerable. You also measure a society by how many vulnerable people it creates”.

Obviously, the more vulnerable people a society creates, the harder that society has to work to look after its most vulnerable. But if “competent adults” are to be place alongside vulnerable teens, God help us if these people are WINZ case managers or similar.

Key said we can’t continue to give young beneficiaries money and trust they will do the right things with it. That approach has not worked.

So can we trust WINZ case managers to do the right thing for all vulnerable teens on benefits, and offer budgeting advice, training opportunities, and bill payments out of benefits?

No policy or legislative change is necessary – just the ability to implement and evaluate it - and tweak it further. It appears they are doing the latter only.

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