Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lindsay Mitchell: The distortion of the DPB

Yesterday beneficiary advocate Paul Blair was back in the news claiming the Ministry of Social Development is acting illegally. He is trying to get people who have been relegated from an invalid's benefit to a sickness benefit to come forward and form a body that will take the department to court. Mr Blair describes himself as a qualified barrister. Listening to him interviewed by Sean Plunket this morning he lacks the discipline and gravitas one might associate with that of a practitioner of the law.

Mr Blair has nevertheless succeeded in his past endeavours to bend MSD policy to his will. In 2004 he and two other fathers took a case against the department described by the NZ Herald as follows;

Three Rotorua beneficiaries have forced a law change for single parents with split custody of their children through an out-of-court settlement with the Social Development Ministry.

On October 1, 1991, a law was introduced to stop two parents living apart, but who had split custody of their children, from both getting the Domestic Purposes Benefit.

One was eligible for the sole-parent benefit and all the benefits that went with it, while the other was entitled to the unemployment benefit.

Rotorua beneficiaries advocate and sole parent Paul Blair argued that this was not fair as the parent receiving the DPB was entitled to earn more when working than the parent on the dole.

Parents on the DPB were also entitled to childcare subsidies, a non-recoverable training incentive allowance if attending a course, and did not have to be work-tested.

Rotorua sole parents Leon Broughton, Richard Amoroa and Mr Blair started legal proceedings in the High Court at Rotorua against the chief executive of the ministry more than a year ago.

In the out-of-court settlement, the ministry agreed the second parent in split-custody cases would be entitled to the emergency maintenance allowance, paid at the same rate as the DPB and with similar advantages.

Justice Alan McKenzie ordered the ministry to review the plaintiffs' benefits, pay any arrears, treat all similar cases in the same way and review cases as far back as December 12, 2000.
This is an utter distortion of how the DPB was intended to operate; the state paying for the mother (or father) to care for the dependent children while the liable parent contributes to this payment through earned income.

Another Court of Appeal case, the Ruka Case, also saw the original intention of the DPB distorted by a ruling that stated where a women was living in a relationship with a man who was abusive and not financially or emotionally supportive she could not be legally described as 'living in the nature of a marriage'. Therefore she could continue to receive the DPB. Thousands of past decisions were scrutinised under the new ruling, overturned and financially recompensed. Note now that as long as a man is violent and doesn't support his partner she can stay on welfare. A bitter irony given an original aim of the DPB was to enable women to leave abusive relationships.

Of course there are many other ways in which eligibility for the DPB has been distorted. These are just two of the more counter-productive examples.

No comments: