Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Beneficiaries will be forced to pay for their own drug tests

When the government announced that it would be requiring beneficiaries to pass pre-employment drug-tests, I thought it was a waste of money which would cost twice as much as it was supposed to save. But the government seems to have found a way around the latter bit: they're going to force beneficiaries to pay for the tests, and extract it from their benefits.

It's all there in the tender document for Pre-employment Drug Testing for Work and Income Beneficiaries with Work Obligations (GETS Reference: 39654; login required). According to that,


The tender document notes that WINZ will not actually be entering into a contract with the drug-testing agency, and that they will not be demanding results directly. It will all be handled directly between the agency and the beneficiary, with WINZ acting only as a payment source via a letter of credit as required.

This differs considerably from the scheme originally described by the Minister, debated by Parliament and envisioned in the legislation. That scheme assumed that prospective employers will pay and that WINZ "may" reimburse them for failed tests (s102C(3)), and that beneficiaries would pay only if they challenge a test and fail it (s102D(9)). I am not sure if it is even legal. But it is certainly not moral. Quite apart from charging people for their own persecution, no-one should be forced to pay a charge to receive their statutory entitlements.

But this does make drug-testing a far better mechanism for throwing people off benefits. Previously, Bennett only get to evict those who couldn't pass a test; now she'll get to evict the debt-averse as well. Present people with an up-front charge of a weeks' benefit or more, and some of them will decide that they can't pay and hence "fail" the test. And who cares what ultimately happens to them? What's important for the government's re-election is to get those benefit numbers down (and donations from drug-testing agencies grateful at being funnelled benefit money won't hurt).

This is a vile policy. But isn't it so very, very National?

(Hat-tip: @DeckardPNNZ)