Work and Income has quietly started bumping dozens of people off the invalids benefit, months before tough new work tests officially come into force, say beneficiary advocates...
... Beneficiary Advocacy Federation spokeswoman Kay Brereton said there had been a dramatic shift in the past few months in the way the regional health advisers worked.
"Initially [in 2007] we saw people who were on the sickness benefit being picked up and put on an invalids benefit because their conditions were long-term and severe. Now we are seeing a dramatic shift the other way...
...North Shore advocate Pam Apera said she had seen a huge increase in people being bumped off the invalids benefit in the past four months, with an average of 10 cases a week this year."
I asked for the relevant data under the OIA and here it is graphed;
There's a trend but it is hardly "dramatic" and an average of "ten cases a week" in one area is highly unlikely.
However, there were 767 people transferred from an invalid's benefit onto a sickness benefit in 2009. This is considerably higher than the average annual total for the period 1998 to 2005 of 262. (I don't have data for the interim period.) So it would appear that the instruction to apply eligibility criteria more rigorously has been followed. The Auditor General should be pleased. From last year's report;
As part of the Working New Zealand: Work-Focused Support Programme, the Ministry put into practice a number of changes in September 2007 to improve how it determined eligibility for sickness and invalids' benefits, and to actively manage cases through regular and effective contact with people receiving those benefits...
We recommend that the Ministry of Social Development:
7. Broaden the criteria used to refer benefit applications to regional health advisors and regional disability advisors so that, as resources allow, more cases can be reviewed for ongoing entitlement to the sickness benefit or invalid's benefit
9. Review the circumstances of longer-term sickness and invalids' beneficiaries to better identify those for whom work is an option, and provide them with appropriate case management and employment-focused services;
The changes happened under Labour. Not National. And the advocates that want to take a class action against WINZ for anticipating the Future Focus legislation wouldn't, in my opinion, have a leg to stand on.