By Alex Tarrant
Finance Minister Bill English makes a fair point in raising concerns about youth on benefits not accepting jobs because they will fail a drugs test, Prime Minister John Key says.
But there were no plans to introduce drug testing as part of a benefit application, he said.
English yesterday wondered out loud whether there should be "a drugs test for putting people on [the] benefit," when addressing Federated Farmers' AGM in Auckland. He had been answering a question on why New Zealand brought in migrant workers for agricultural work when there were unemployed youth receiving benefits.
English said that in his experience, many unemployed youth could not get jobs in the sector because they would not pass drugs tests required by employers.
National contested the 2011 election on a policy that included the possibility a person's benefit would be cancelled if they did not apply for a Work and Income-arranged job because the employer requested a drug test.
"Jobseekers who don't apply for a job because they are asked to take a drug test, or who fail a pre-employment drug test, face having their benefit cancelled," Key said on November 15, alongside Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.
Speaking to media in Auckland on Friday, Key said English made a fair point that a lot of young people were telling Work and Income officers they would not pass a drug test, when offered a job through the service.
Whether that person should be allowed a benefit was a different debate.
“We’d have to look at exactly what’s driving that – whether it’s recreational use or they’re addicted and all of those other issues," Key said after speaking to a KPMG tax conference in Auckland.
“But in the end, I think there’s a pretty strong case that, if you can work, you should work. If the only thing that’s stopping you working is that you’re smoking a bit of marijuana in the weekend for something to do, my advice is to stop smoking marijuana," he said.
Asked whether a drug test should be included as part of an application for a benefit, Key said that avenue had not been considered.
“I’m not ruling it out, but that’s not what we’re looking at, at this point," he said.
“What we are focussed on is trying to get people into work. Our big focus is probably trying to move people off benefits – not necessarily by cancelling their benefit, but by making them work-ready. That’s probably more the right place that we’re looking at."