Christopher Luxon has delivered his first speech as leader to an annual party conference, with a promise to help those who want to work into a job, but sanctions for those who don’t.
He made the distinction between those whose circumstances mean they’re on a benefit but are willing and able to work, and those who are getting a “free pass” from the Labour government.
“First, to young people trying to find a job: That is a hard place to be and, if there was a National Government, you’d get more support and encouragement from your own job coach,” Luxon told the conference.
“Second, to young people who don’t want to work: You might have a free ride under Labour, but under National, it ends.
“Third, to taxpayers: National is on your side.”
Of great concern, he said, was the fact there are “50,000 more New Zealanders on a Jobseeker benefit than there were under National … and disturbingly, 34,000 under-25 year olds are on it – a 49 percent increase under Labour’s watch”.
“It’s not a sign of a government that cares,” said Luxon. “It’s a sign that this government talks itself up but doesn’t know how to deliver”.
About 100,000 people who are able to work are currently receiving the Job-seeker benefit.
The numbers for the year at the end of June showed a 9.7 percent decrease in work-ready people on jobseeker support compared with the previous year.
That was 100,086 people, about 60 percent higher than the 63,030 when Labour took office in 2017, but down from the peak 2020 year when the number was 123,966.
In late July, Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said the number equated to about 3.2 percent of the working age population, which was in line with the reported unemployment rate.
Under National’s plan the government would bring “community providers into the mix… redirecting some funding from the Ministry of Social Development” and getting those organisations to do the job instead.
“We’ll contract them to provide under 25-year-olds, who’ve been on a benefit for three months or more, with a dedicated job coach to help them get into work.”
Young jobseekers would get “more support, with a proper assessment of their barriers, and an individual job plan to address those barriers, and find a job”, said Luxon.
“If we don’t do that, they’ll be on and off welfare for years.”
There will be a carrot – a $1000 bonus to a person who’s under 25, has been on the benefit for 12 months or longer, who then starts work and stays off the benefit for the next 12 months.
And a stick in the form of sanctions, for “those who blatantly do not follow their agreed plan – meaning they don’t turn up for courses, don’t apply for jobs or don’t engage with their jobs coach”.
However, Luxon gave no detail in his speech about what those sanctions would look like.