Ardern labelled a hypocrite for enforcing drug sanctions on beneficiaries

Benedict Collins
Source: 1News

The Prime Minister has been labelled a hypocrite for continuing to enforce the former National's Government's drug sanctions on beneficiaries. 

It comes while the Social Development Minister ignores the Green Party's pleas for a more compassionate approach to be taken.

1 NEWS revealed this week that of the nearly 40,000 beneficiaries referred for jobs that required a drug test this year, there were only 114 failed tests and on 72 occasions beneficiaries were punished with sanctions.

Under the sanctions, regime job seekers' can have their benefit cut by 50 per cent for four weeks, then stopped altogether if there are further infringements.

Jacinda Ardern backed the drug sanction regime this week saying, "we need to make sure that if someone is not able to get into work because they've failed a drug test that we're able to encourage them".

"From a Labour perspective it's all about making sure it's appropriate use (of sanctions), there are mutual obligations in our system," she said.   

In 2013, as Labour's social development spokesperson, Ms Ardern criticised the drug sanctions telling NZ Herald that cutting support for drug users would reduce their chances of rehabilitation.

"All of the evidence suggests that responding in the way National has suggested doesn't work," she said.

Ms Ardern also quoted the Drug Foundation when telling Parliament: "Drug tests are a blunt instrument, they fail to differentiate between recreational substance use and problematic substance use."

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Ricardo Menendez March is appalled Ms Ardern is now backing the sanctions.

"It's a hypocritical take by the Prime Minister to be supporting drug testing sanctions when she has spoken against them in the past and when her own Government's reports have called for an end to the drug testing sanction regime," he told 1 NEWS. 

"She's not listening to the experts who told her the changes she needed to make, this seems to be an ongoing issue with the Government regarding welfare, the advice from the expert groups and community groups is falling on deaf ears."

Job seekers with children who fail a drug test can have their benefits cut by 50 per cent for a month to start with and more than three months if there are further infringements.

Both Ms Ardern and the Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni are both comfortable with this punishment.

"Where there are children then it is even less, you'll only get 50 per cent of your benefit sanctioned," Ms Sepuloni said this week.

Ms Ardern told TVNZ1's Breakfast, "when there are children involved there is a different approach". 

"You can't and you shouldn't lose your full benefit - the sanction is limited, there is a sanction but it's not in full because you have children in your care and we have to think about kids in those situations."

But in 2013, when National introduced new benefit sanctions, Labour MP Phil Twyford said cutting people's benefits by 50 percent when they have children will "ultimately do severe damage to the child".

The Green Party wants the drug sanctions gone.

Its co-leader Marama Davidson said this week, "we need to remove this drug testing sanction that is not the way to get help" while the Greens social development spokesperson Jan Logie asked the Minister to instruct her department "to stop it".

But, Ms Sepuloni said the Government have no intention to change the policy.

National's drug reform spokesperson Paula Bennett, who originally introduced the drug sanctions said Ms Ardern has changed her tune.

"I think she's a bit worried about what's coming up with the drug referendum and legalising cannabis and everything else, she's realising these changes are not popular and she's doing a bit of a u-turn." 

The Prime Minister maintains her position has not changed.