Green Party MP Sue Bradford will be asking questions of the Social Development Minister in Parliament today about Work and Income treatment of sickness and invalid beneficiaries in the Opotiki-Whakatane district.
“I am shocked by information that people with or recovering from serious mental illness are being harassed by Work and Income into working in packhouses on the East Coast under the Work First scheme without sufficient support or understanding of their health and employment needs,” Ms Bradford says.
“The Government should not be turning ‘Work First’ into a work compulsion scheme for invalids and beneficiaries.
“I was told that in January this year an organisation with no experience of working with the employment needs of people with mental illness was given a $400,000 contract by Rotorua Work and Income to place around 20 such people into packhouse jobs.
“I find it incredible that Work and Income would see it as appropriate to give such a large contract to an organisation with so little practical experience of working with the real needs of people in this situation.
“What disturbs me most of all about the situation reported to me was the lack of any willingness on the part of Work and Income to check with appropriate health providers as to whether these people were actually well enough to start working in packhouses.
“I have been informed that one of the people who was pushed into packhouse work became unwell, and ended up in the psychiatric ward at Whakatane Hospital as a result.
“The Green Party would be very interested to know whether Work and Income keeps records of how many people end up back in acute psychiatric units as a result of the ‘Work First’ strategy which makes getting beneficiaries into paid work a top priority for case managers.
“We are also concerned about the evident lack of training for Work and Income industrial advisors and case managers in how to work with people with mental illness, and would like the Government to come clean on what its policies are in this area.”