NZ dole recipients get 'brush teeth' SMS

(File: AAP) Source: AAP

Libertarians and beneficiary advocates have slammed a New Zealand Ministry of Health text campaign encouraging people on the dole to brush their teeth.

Beneficiaries are being told to brush up on their oral hygiene as part of a New Zealand government text message campaign slammed as degrading by advocacy groups.

The country's health ministry is sending regular text reminders to young Work and Income clients urging them to brush their teeth, and asking whether they've brushed today.

The program is being touted as an innovative solution to the country's chronic state of oral health, and a fresh way to reduce the number of beneficiaries requesting expensive emergency dental care grants.

But it has been roundly condemned by civil libertarians and beneficiary advocates who have labelled the project distasteful and demoralising.

Belinda Smith, from Canterbury District Health Board, said the ministry was concerned by the number of emergency dental care grants being given by Work and Income to unemployed young adults.

"We wanted to remind people to brush their teeth," said Ms Smith, who released the details of the project at the Population Health Congress in Auckland on Monday.

"We know about the success smoking cessation services has had with text reminders, and knew young adults are always on their phones, so we thought we'd give it a go too."

A "large number" of clients were enlisted for the 10-week trial, with each receiving a series of motivational text messages reminding them to brush their teeth, and asking them to respond with whether they'd brushed today.

Brushing rates rose from 53 per cent to 73 per cent during the trial.

Ms Smith said the world-first program was easy to implement, cost-effective and "allows us to contact hard-to-reach populations to address health disparities".

But Rotorua People's Union spokesman Paul Blair said the program was degrading and unfairly targeted the unemployed.

"It just deepens the stereotypes that beneficiaries can't do anything themselves, get a job, even brush their teeth."

NZ Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Batch Hales agreed, saying: "Badgering unemployed people in this way intrudes on their basic civil rights."

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