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Kerre Woodham: Why are so many young people on the Jobseeker benefit?

Author
Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Jan 2024, 1:48PM
Photo / NZME | File
Photo / NZME | File

Kerre Woodham: Why are so many young people on the Jobseeker benefit?

Author
Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Jan 2024, 1:48PM

Wherever you were on holiday —if you were lucky enough to get away— did you see the ‘Staff Wanted’ signs in the windows of just about every business, North and South Islands? 

A number of business owners I spoke to were having to reduce the days they were open because they simply couldn't provide the service they wanted, because they didn't have the staff.  

Yes, they could stay open and run around like blue-arsed flies, but they wanted to give them the service, the experience, that people expect when they're paying a bit extra, and they simply did not have the staff to do that.  

And yet we have a huge pool of people who should be able to alleviate at least some of those shortages.  

According to a column written by Paula Bennett in the Herald on Sunday, former National minister and colloquially known as Paula Benefit, because she was in charge of benefits and slashed a few, she says there are 34,000 under 25s not in work, not in study, not in training.  

They're simply languishing on job seeker benefits.  

And I say languishing because if the benefit is all you're getting in the way of income and that is a big if (I well understand that there are other ways to supplement an income that are not entirely lawful, or indeed in any way lawful). But if all you've got is the benefit, it's a pretty miserable, meagre existence.  

To be eligible for the job seeker benefit, you have to be looking for work. It can go to someone who has a health condition or a disability that affects their ability to work temporarily, but predominantly it goes to people who are out of work and looking for it.  

Damningly, the number of young people (these are under 25s) on benefits has increased nearly 50% in the past five years. What are work and income staff doing? If you have got a young person who's turning up and they have to sign on, and they have to turn up to collect their benefit, what are work and income staff doing?  

Do they have the time to drill down into why a young person isn't getting work when they're supposed to be looking for it?  Is it a lack of drivers license? Is it that they don't have the people skills to be able to do an interview? Are they lacking confidence? After the years of isolation, young people in particular aren't great when it comes to meeting people, meeting new people, being able to hold conversations with strangers.  

So, what is it that work and income staff are doing to help these young people get into work? What are parents and caregivers doing? Back in the day, the antediluvian times, at 17 or 18 you're expected to make your own way in life. You went out, you trained for a job, you got a job straight out of school. You found a flat and you worked. You were responsible for paying your own bills.  

The thought of going to your parents and saying give me some cash, or let me stay at home and not work while I get my confidence up... you just wouldn't do it. It just simply was not done. There was no safe haven at home really unless you were in dire straits. Not simply because you couldn't face getting a job.  

So, what are parents and caregivers doing to give young people the confidence to get out there?  

What about business owners? Are you willing to give young people a chance? They turn up, they're a bit stuttery, a bit hang dog. The eyes are down, the chins down because they're not expecting to get a job because who would take them anyway?  

You know, it's hard. It's hard to put your best foot forward when it's your first time. It's hard to present as confident, and fabulous, and wonderful when your grades haven't been that great. School hasn't been brilliant because it's been shut for two years. You know, you're not sure what you can do.  

Are business owners willing to take a punt on young people?  

And for young people themselves, don't you want more for yourself? Don't you think you're worth more than the pittance you get from the government? Because you are.  

I've heard from a couple of young people who said they can't quite face going into the office because they suffer from anxiety. So they get jobs, they start them, and then all the chat around the water cooler sends them fleeing for the suburbs and home. They just can't quite hack the interpersonal office relationships. I get that. But what about, you know, working from home? It is a thing now. Employers understand and make allowances for young people who want to work at home.  

Why have we got 34,000 young people on a job seeker benefit? Life on a benefit is not a life, it's existing. No matter how good BBQ man made that life sound, IYKYK.  

What is holding you back from getting a job? Labour removed sanctions, and sanctions sound so old fashioned and like, even the word it sounds like iron manacles around your ankles. Sanctions. They're a blunt tool, but they jolly well seem to work.  

When Labour dropped sanctions, the number of beneficiaries, the number of young people drawing a benefit sharply increased. Coincidence? I think not.  

So what is it? If you are a young person under 25, if you have one of those young people in your life, if you're a business owner looking for workers, why have we got 34,000 young people wasting their talents and their energy?   

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