Beneficiaries failing drugs tests still hit with sanctions

Source: 1News

Two thirds of beneficiaries who fail drug tests are still hit with sanctions, despite an admission last year it "doesn't help people become employed and independent". 

People on benefits were put forward for almost 40,000 roles that required drug testing in the year to June, 2019. Clients could be referred to multiple roles that needed drug testing. 

Of the tests carried out, 114 failed. That included those who refused the test or did not turn up. It is not known how many tests were actually carried out. 

Last year, the Ministry of Social Development's (MSD) deputy chief executive Viv Rickard said applying sanctions did not help. 

"For normal New Zealanders, they will think we can stop their benefit.

"Of course we can, but that's not our mode of approach, that's not our operating model because doing that doesn't help people become employed and independent," he told 1 NEWS at the time. 

Despite this view, official information obtained by 1 NEWS showed the Ministry went on to impose 72 sanctions.

The Green Party called it a breach of trust. 

"I take that as Work and Income breaking their promise to people and I think that really undermines the trust in the system," said Green MP Jan Logie. 

Last year, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said she agreed the sanctions were "stigmatising". 

"But it's a hangover from the previous Government". 

National Party leader Simon Bridges said today he did not think the Government would change the policy. 

"It's like so many areas, we're seeing the Government is pretty part-time and incompetent. They're failing to deliver on their promises."

Today, Mr Rickard emailed a response saying sanctions "are a legal obligation and any changes to any sanctions would require changes to the Social Security Act".

"Our position hasn't changed. Sanctions are, and have been for a number of years, a last resort. Stopping or reducing someone's benefit for failing a drug test is a serious step and one we only take after exhausting other options."

Ross Bell of the Drug Foundation said sanctions can see a person lose their benefit for up to 12 weeks. 

"They will be punished, their children will be punished."

When asked the cost of applying drug sanctions, MSD said "the cost of any drug sanctions is met out of our normal operating budget and is not a separate cost item". 

Once a person is sanctioned for failing a drug test, they are referred to WINZ's alcohol and drug support service. 

"A person who fails an obligation drug test can consider doing a re-compliance activity, for example another drug test. If the client passes their second drug test within five working days, they will not be sanctioned," MSD said. 

Sanctions for failing drug tests were introduced by the former National Government in 2013. 

Figures showed that in the year to June, 2018, 47,115 beneficiaries were referred to jobs that required drug testing and 170 failed tests.