• Roger Sowry
Social Services, Work and Income

The passing of the Social Security Amendment Bill (No. 5) today will give New Zealanders a work-focused welfare system that offers incentives and encouragement to help people into work, while matching financial support with obligations to look for work, says Minister of Social Welfare, Mr Sowry.

"It signals a radical change in the direction of welfare delivery, the major focus shifting from asking people what they can't do to asking people what they can do and working alongside them during the transition from welfare to work," says Mr Sowry.

The legislation provides for the following changes to the Social Security Act:

From 1 February 1999, new work testing obligations will apply to Domestic Purposes and Widows beneficiaries.

If your youngest child is aged 14 or over you will be expected to look for full-time work - currently you must be looking for part-time work.

If your youngest child is aged 6 to 13 you will be expected to look for part-time work - currently if your youngest child is aged 7 to 13 years you are required to come into Income Support for a yearly planning interview.

If your youngest child is aged under 6, from 1 February 1999 you will be expected to come into Income Support for a yearly planning interview.

From 1 February 1999 new work testing obligations will apply to all spouses of beneficiaries - currently only partners of those receiving the Unemployment Benefit are work tested.

From 1 July 1998 the current rates of sickness benefit will be aligned with the unemployment benefit. For example, the current sickness benefit rate for a single person with no children, aged 25 and over, will change from $153.47 per week to $147.34 per week. Rates for existing sickness beneficiaries do not change.

From 1 October 1998 the sickness benefit will become part of the Community Wage and therefore subject to the work test, which will be deferred for the duration of the person's sickness.

From 1 September 1998 the eligibility criteria for entitlement to invalids benefit will be clarified to ensure that the benefit reaches those New Zealanders who meet the current criteria of being severely and permanently incapacitated from work. Application forms and medical certificates will also be simplified. A number of changes to other benefits will come into effect from 1 July 1998.

From 1 July 1998 new migrants, other than those from Australia and the United Kingdom, must be resident in New Zealand for two years before they can access welfare benefits. Currently all new migrants must be resident for one year, apart from Australia which is six months and the UK, Jersey and Guernsey which have immediate access. The two year stand down will apply to Australians once the bilateral social security agreement is amended later this year.

From 1 July 1998 Unemployment, Training or Sickness beneficiaries aged 18 to 19 years with no dependents and living with their parents will receive a new 'at-home' rate of benefit of $98.22 per week from 1 July 1998.

Only students receiving a student allowance during the academic year will continue to have access to the emergency unemployment benefit from 1 July 1998.