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Catholic social justice agency Caritas warns that children are being endangered by the speed of legislative change – just as children are put at risk by excessive speed on our roads.
In its written submission on the Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, Caritas says the speed of consideration was unreasonable and unrealistic. Only 11 working days were provided between the first reading of the Bill on 27 March and the close of submissions on 13 April. Now hearing dates for the Social Services Select Committee considering the Bill are being condensed to only two days in Wellington this week.
Caritas Director Julianne Hickey says that despite the Bill being introduced shortly after the consultation period on the Government’s Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, there is no coherence or integration of government social policy. ‘There is insufficient time to consult and consider how people and communities, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society may be impacted by this legislation.’
New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines ‘children’ as being under the age of 18. Three groups of vulnerable children are targeted by the new welfare Bill: 16-17 year-old beneficiaries, the children of 16-18 year-old parents on benefits, and subsequent children born to parents receiving a benefit. Despite this, no specific child impact analysis has been included in Regulatory Impact Statements prepared for the legislation.
Caritas is also critical of the level of information provided with the consultation. Sections of the Regulatory Impact Statements (intended to show a thorough assessment of the impacts, costs, benefits, and risks of new legislation) have been withdrawn from public release. Caritas requested full copies of the Statements under the Official Information Act – but only two more small sections were released. Further information continues to be withheld as ‘Budget sensitive’ under OIA Section 9 (f) concerning the constitutional convention of confidentiality between Ministers and public servants.
‘The purpose of Regulatory Impact Statements is to assist open and transparent processes,’ says Mrs Hickey. ‘However, the process of this legislation is neither clear nor transparent, as it appears that significant information has been withheld from public release.’
While acknowledging some aspects of the legislation are potentially positive, including the investment approach in beneficiaries and the recognition of the need for wrap-around services, Caritas does not believe that the punitive aspects of the policy are necessary to achieve this.
‘The Bill imposes a form of money management on a group of vulnerable young people. Many of these have already had a great deal of state intervention in their short lives. Such moves would be strongly resisted by other groups of beneficiaries, such as superannuitants.
‘The Bill proposes reducing benefit receipt among young people through services that include setting a work plan and gaining financial management skills. However, the supporting documents for the legislation show that there is currently no realistic work plan to implement the legislation, nor clear financial cost and benefit analysis.
‘Other indicators in the Regulatory Impact Statements, such as the acknowledgement that additional allowances will not be taxed because there has been insufficient time to arrange this, point to a speedy and ill-thought through implementation plan, indicating a high risk of project failure. If this happens, it will increase the vulnerability of some of our most vulnerable children.’
Caritas will address the Social Services Select Committee on Thursday 19 April about 12.45pm.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 168 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.
For more information contact Martin de Jong +64-4-496 1782 or +64-21-909 688.