The National Party's social services discussion document is "firm but it's fair," and getting unemployed Kiwis into work is "totally doable" according to social services spokesperson Louise Upston.
Her comments come after a Ministry of Social Development report revealed around 573,000 hardship allowances were given out in the September quarter, at the cost of $167 million.
Speaking to TVNZ 1's Breakfast today Ms Upston said the Government is handing out hardship grants "more than ever before", adding that it is "very, very tough to turn up at a Work and Income office and say you can’t look after yourself and your family."
"I’ve been there, it is tough, and so, actually, we’re not doing so well in terms of serving families in need."
The National Party's social services discussion document, she said, “basically says you should be preparing and be available for work”, with “obligations and consequences” in place for failing to comply, including sanctions and incentives for New Zealanders to enter employment.
Ms Upston disagreed with criticism that the document would make life harder for people needing assistance, including one woman Breakfast spoke to who is currently on a sole parent benefit, and is left with just $100 for food and her children's needs at the end of the week after paying her bills.
“I look at that woman and I think, ‘She’s doing it tough right now.’ She’s played her part, she’s been in employment, she’s been looking after her kids, she’s seeking work, she’s doing everything she needs to, to play her part, to support herself and her family.
“In times of need, that’s when you expect the government support is there and available for you.”
She said the there are two elements to the discussion document, including how best to support people currently in the system and “finding ways for their own self-worth and their own sense of decision-making”, and ensuring the Government does not “have the next generation of welfare dependency".
One example she used was the 11 per cent of young New Zealanders leaving schools without qualifications.
“I don’t want them on the benefit for 20 or 30 years. That’s no good for them, that’s no good for their opportunity, and we want to make sure we do things differently for that group so they are not caught in the trap of a generation, so we want to break the cycle, and that’s complex and that’s hard, and we’re going to do things differently.
“I make no apologies that dignity comes from work.”
Ms Upston added that people who are struggling to find employment getting a job is “totally doable”.
“It’s intensive, you’ve got to provide wraparound support, you’ve got to deal with the individual in front of you and the problems they need support with. It’s not a one size fits approach, but it’s totally doable.
“I absolutely have confidence in the people in that line [outside the Ministry of Social Development office in Manurewa] and their ability to have some control over their lives and for me, that comes from work, whether it’s five hours a week, whether it’s 40 hours a week, whether it’s two hours a week.
“The social services discussion document is firm but it’s fair … We want every New Zealander to get ahead. We want every New Zealander to grasp hold of opportunities they’re in front of.”
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson fronted Breakfast today to talk about the welfare system but Labour's Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni declined the invitation.