When it comes to the four-week wait for the dole, NZ comparisons ring hollow

Scott Morrison claims that New Zealand provides Australia with a model for welfare reform. AAP/Lukas Coch

When it comes to the four-week wait for the dole, NZ comparisons ring hollow

The Senate earlier this month rejected the government’s plan to make jobseekers under 25 wait four weeks following application before they can access welfare. But, prior to the leadership spill and a change of prime minister, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison promised to reintroduce the bill.

Speaking with reporters, Morrison compared the government’s plan to the New Zealand system. He said:

We are looking to the evidence from New Zealand, which showed that with the same measure 40% of those young people who started that four-week waiting period did not end up on welfare.

The source of the 40% claim appears to be the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development’s 2012-13 Annual Report, which states:

During 2012/2013, 40,969 out of 103,170 clients (almost 40%) who participated in pre-benefit activities did not require a benefit within 28 days.

However, it’s misleading to compare Morrison’s plan with the New Zealand system. There is no mandatory four-week wait for young people to receive benefits in New Zealand.

What takes place in New Zealand

Before getting a work-tested benefit in New Zealand, a welfare applicant is required to meet some government requirements. The requirements include providing evidence of job search, attending a seminar on finding work, creating a resume and meeting with a case manager to discuss work options.

All New Zealanders aged 18-65 applying for a work-tested welfare benefit face an identical set of obligations. Obligations do not vary with age.

Once they have met their obligations an applicant has a benefit entitlement. Meeting obligations may take only a few hours. People will then receive their benefit at the start of the next weekly benefit payment cycle.

Unlike the Australian government proposal, there is is no mandatory four-week waiting period for a benefit for anyone in New Zealand. And young people are treated no differently to older people.

Some jobseekers do wait several weeks before receiving a payment. But some jobseekers wait only a day or two before receiving a payment. Any wait depends on how rapidly welfare applicants complete their pre-benefit obligations.

Some people in New Zealand will complete pre-benefit activities, start receiving income support but then, in less than 28 days, get off income support.

But that New Zealand outcome doesn’t demonstrate that depriving young people – or anyone – of income support for 28 (or 20) days following application increases their likelihood of leaving welfare.

Sure, some New Zealanders who apply for a benefit didn’t “end up on welfare” after 28 days. But they also didn’t go through the kind of month-long wait with no income support which is promoted in the Australian government’s proposed policy. New Zealand does not offer the positive example for Australia that Morrison suggests.