Social Development Minister Paula Bennett needs to stop blaming beneficiaries and start working with them, the Green Party said today.
"Most people who go on the benefit do so for a short time during a period of major transition or upheaval. They use it as a means of support that allows them to make it through a tough time, and then they move on," Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said.
Mrs Turei was responding to the announcement of planned Government changes to the benefit system. These changes will force people to reapply for the unemployment benefit after one year, introduce work-testing for parents on the domestic purposes benefit, and make it harder to get sickness and invalids' benefits.
"Paula Bennett's announcement is incredibly harmful and unhelpful," Mrs Turei said.
"There are already strict rules about looking for work while on the benefit. Most people are not out of work for want of trying. There simply aren't enough jobs for people to go to.
"Making people reapply for the benefit after one year, and trying to move sick and disabled people into non-existent jobs will achieve nothing, and cause further harm," Mrs Turei said.
Mrs Turei said this Government's attitude towards beneficiaries was disrespectful and dehumanising.
"Beneficiaries make meaningful contributions to society. They pay taxes, volunteer in their communities, and support children and other family members. They deserve to be treated with respect, which is sorely lacking from this Government.
"Being on a benefit is not some luxury holiday. It means trying to live off as little as $161 per week. It's incredibly hard to make ends meet on such a small amount.
"Often people are not even told about their full entitlements, and claim even less than they are entitled to.
"As a former beneficiary, Paula Bennett should know that most beneficiaries use the state's support to get through a tough time - such as losing their job, following a separation, coping with an illness, or caring for a sick family member.
"At times like these people need respect and support. They will get none of that from this Government," Mrs Turei said.