ELSLABMIN09 › Ms. Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development, Employment and Youth Affairs, New Zealand
Ms. Paula Bennett
Minister for Social Development and Employment and Minister for Youth Affairs,
Paula Bennett is New Zealand's Minister for Social Development and Employment, as well as the Minister for Youth Affairs. She presides over the country's largest portfolio, with her Ministry's total spend set at $20 billion every year.
She was elected to the New Zealand Parliament in 2005 as a list MP for the National Party, and returned in 2008 as the Member of Parliament for the electorate of Waitakere in West Auckland.
Paula single-handedly raised her daughter and describes herself as a once proud recipient of the welfare system. Her experiences have given her a unique perspective of New Zealand's social system, and she's been called an "unconventional" politician.
Realising her opportunities were limited without an education, Paula attended Massey University as an adult student and gained a degree in social policy. It was here her interest in politics was sparked, and she became the University's first female student body president.
Paula worked as an electorate agent after her graduation for Murray McCully, who is now her colleague as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She left to work in the private sector for a recruitment consultancy, and managed a human resources company before being asked to stand for Parliament.
Paula is passionate about encouraging beneficiaries to look to a life beyond welfare. She believes that work provides greater choices for the individual and their family than a life of dependency on the state. Paula's priority for her first term as the Minister responsible for social welfare is to identify ways to help protect New Zealand's vulnerable children.
As with the rest of the OECD, the number of those receiving an unemployment benefit in New Zealand has increased sharply this year. The country's young people are being disproportionately affected, particularly among the Maori and Pasifika populations. As Minister for Social Development, Paula has been instrumental in introducing new Government policy to provide genuine work opportunities - with a wage - for young people who risk long term disassociation from the job market.