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(May 09, 2012) On May 7, 2012, as part of announcements relating to Budget 2012, the New Zealand Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett, and Prime Minister John Key, provided information about a proposal to fully subsidize long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) for women on welfare. The proposal also extends the availability of payments for such contraception options, which include injections, implants, and IUDs, to girls aged 16 to 19 whose mothers receive a welfare benefit. (Clare Trevett, Free Birth Control for Beneficiaries, THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD (May 8, 2012).) The Budget will include NZ$1 million (about US$787,643) in funding to pay for the measure, with payments for the costs of obtaining LARC being offered to teenagers on welfare from July 2012, and becoming available to all women on welfare and their daughters from October 2012. (Id.)

The proposal is part of a package of reforms set out in Cabinet papers that were considered in February 2012 and released on the website of the Ministry of Social Development. (Announcement of First Phase of Welfare Reform, MINISTRY OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (Feb. 27, 2012); see, in particular, Hon. Paula Bennett, Cabinet Paper C – Welfare Reform: Parents on Benefit Who Have Subsequent Children (Feb. 15, 2012), at 6.)

Back-to-Work Requirement

The contraception proposal is linked to the proposed introduction of a requirement for women who have a subsequent child while on welfare to look for work when that baby is one year old and their previous youngest child is aged five. Currently, there is an "availability for work" expectation only when the youngest child is aged five. (Cabinet Paper C, supra.) In considering this issue, the Minister indicated that it was apparent that better access to contraception was needed to assist women to move from welfare and into work. "We certainly have concerns about children being born to those on welfare and we see the access to contraception as being a barrier, particularly the cost around it," she said. (Trevett, supra.) The Prime Minister commented that "[u]ltimately if people have unplanned pregnancies and are solely dependent on the state, you the taxpayer have to pay for a long period of time for that dependency and we know the outcomes aren't terribly good." (Clare Trevett & Kate Shuttleworth, Beneficiary Birth Control 'Common Sense' – Key, THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD (May 8, 2012).)

LARC and Other Healthcare Benefits

Currently, a number of partly or fully government-subsidized contraception options, including LARC, are available to all women through New Zealand's public healthcare system, and beneficiaries and other low-income women can also obtain cheaper prescriptions and subsidized visits to family planning clinics if they hold a Community Services Card. (Community Services Card, WORK AND INCOME (last visited May 8, 2012); & Clinic Fees, FAMILY PLANNING (last visited May 8, 2012).) The new funding would essentially be an additional subsidy for doctor visits, which can cost around NZ$35 (about US$27.50) a visit, and for the remaining cost of a LARC if it is not being fully subsidized. (Cabinet Paper, supra, at 6.)

Both the Prime Minister and Bennett emphasized that taking up the option of free medical visits and contraception would be entirely voluntary on the beneficiary's part and that all prescriptions would be made by medical professionals following standard consultation practices. Under the proposal, case workers at Work and Income, the agency that administers the welfare payments system, would only provide information about the availability of the subsidy to their clients and not make the receipt of other benefits conditional on the acceptance of contraception. "It's not compulsory, it's just something to add to them trying to plan their family so they've got choices. It's completely reasonable," Bennett said. (Paloma Migone & Danya Levy, Beneficiary Contraception Plan 'Intrusive,' TARANAKI DAILY NEWS ONLINE (May 8, 2012).)

Reactions to the Proposal

The contraception funding proposal received considerable attention in the media and within Parliament. Some groups expressed outrage that women on welfare are being targeted and that their reproductive rights would be interfered with, suggesting that the proposal is a "slippery slope" to eugenics and that women will feel bound, or even be forced, to use LARC. (Beneficiary Birth Control "Slippery Slope to Eugenics," TVNZ.) Others, including the Opposition Labour Party, stated that there should be easier access to contraception for all women, regardless of whether they are on welfare, and that Work and Income was not a suitable place for beneficiaries to engage in contraception discussions. (Trevett & Shuttlesworth, supra; Concern for Beneficiaries over Contraception Plan, RADIO NEW ZEALAND (May 8, 2012).)

Timetable for the Welfare System Reform

The government first announced that it intended to comprehensively reform the social welfare system in November 2011. (Press Release, Hon. Paula Bennett, Major Welfare Reform Resets Expectations (Nov. 1, 2011).) The first stage of reforms is contained in a bill currently before Parliament. (Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, New Zealand Legislation website & NZ Parliament website (last visited May 8, 2012); Press Release, Hon. Paula Bennett, Welfare Reform Bill Passes First Reading (Mar. 27, 2012).)

The second stage of changes will be introduced in July of this year and will be funded as part of the 2013 Budget. (Press Release, Hon. Paula Bennett, Welfare Reform Legislation to Be Introduced (Feb. 27, 2012).)

Author: Kelly Buchanan More by this author
Topic: Social Welfare More on this topic
Jurisdiction: New Zealand More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 05/09/2012