332,000 people are on benefits, up by 60,000 under National. Coincidentally, there are 250,000 Kiwis who want work but can’t find it, up 82,000 under National. Probably a lot of cross-over between those two groups, eh? So, you can understand why National’s solution is to take a few bucks off a few thousand women.
Paula Bennett’s due to announce the first tranche of National’s welfare reforms today and it’s meant to include canning the widow’s benefit.
The widow’s benefit is for women whose partner has died after a long relationship and they either have a kid to raise or are over 50. The widow’s benefit may seem antiquated – only women can get it – but if they couldn’t they would be eligible for the DPB or dole instead. Actually, for a widow with kids the payment is the same as the DPB. The only practical effect of the widow’s benefit is basically a tiny $8 a week top up to the dole for a woman alone. There are only 6,200 women on this benefit (up 200 under National).
I suspect they might move to can the ‘DPB – woman alone’ benefit too. It’s pretty similar to the widow’s benefit – for women over 50 who have split with their partner or finished raising their children alone. Again, it’s $8 a week more than the dole. There are 3,500 women on this benefit (up 650 under National).
If you’re a woman over 50 and you suddenly find yourself without your husband and with no job, the widows and woman alone benefits give you $209 a week as opposed to the $201 you would get on the dole.
It’s all very well for the Nats to say ‘ha, we kicked a few thousand middle-aged widows and divorcees off the benefit!’ but if they all come back on via the dole, all they’ve done is save $400 per head a year.
‘Hey, that adds up to a million or two a year saved for the government by making some poor women’s lives a little harder!’ But this is a government which borrowed $1.1 billion in nine months for supposedly ‘fiscally neutral’ tax cuts, so I think there are bigger fish to fry if you’re looking to balance the books.
Along with a few miserly changes to work requirements around the DPB, these changes will only save a small amount of money and make the lives of people who are already in poverty just a little bit harder. The elephant in the room, the lack of jobs, is simply something that National is ideologically incapable of fixing. The Nats can beat up on the poor till the cows come home, but ask them for an economy that actually provides opportunities for the quarter of a million jobless to work, and they’ve got nothing.