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Welfare report released; research on child protection and welfare

May 17, 2019 at 11:42 AM

From the NZFVC

The final report from the Government commissioned Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) has been published.

The report, Whakamana Tāngata: Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand (Welfare Expert Advisory Group, 2019), makes 42 recommendations.

WEAG reports the current system is no longer fit for purpose:

"The current social security system was set up in a different time and no longer meets the needs of those it was designed to support. Successive governments have implemented changes to the system with intended and unintended consequences. Agreement is near universal that the benefit and tax credit systems are unmanageably complex. The level of financial support is now so low that too many New Zealanders are living in desperate situations. Urgent and fundamental change is needed." (p.5)

WEAG's recommendations are designed to "... enable the social security system to serve its most fundamental functions but to move beyond a ‘safety net’ to ‘whakamana tāngata’ – restoring dignity to people so they can participate meaningfully with their families and communities." (p.4)

WEAG finds "The Government must urgently increase the incomes of people in receipt of a benefit and in low-wage work and maintain these increases over time so that they keep pace with the incomes of the rest of the community." (p.7)

Current eligibility rules for welfare support also reflect an outdated view of New Zealand families, with families, and arrangements for the care of children, being more diverse and fluid than in the past.

The experience of using the welfare system is "unsatisfactory and damaging for too many of the highest need and poorest people. We heard overwhelmingly during our consultation that the system diminishes trust, causes anger and resentment, and contributes to toxic levels of stress." (p.6)

WEAG expect significant gains in wellbeing from their recommended package of changes, including "fiscal savings from lower health and justice costs in the longer term and productivity gains from a more skilled workforce. Significant gains beyond the financial are also to be expected – gains in self-esteem and the quality of relationships." (p.8)

Many organisations and advocates have welcomed the report's recommendations and called for government action including BarnardosNew Zealand Council of Trade UnionsPublic Service Association, South Island Whānau Ora commissioning agency Te PūtahitangaSalvation ArmyNew Zealand Council of Christian Social Services and the Child Poverty Action Group. Senior associate at the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies Max Rashbrooke welcomed the report's shift to supporting rather than punishing people in need.

In addition to the full report, the WEAG has published an executive summary, fact sheets, background papers and evidence briefs. Several documents are available in a range of languages and formats.

Government response

In response to the report and recommendations, the Government has announced three actions as part of a first phase. These include:

  • repealing Section 192 (formerly known as Section 70A) which imposes benefit sanctions (currently $28 per week) when a child’s father is not declared to the government
  • lifting abatement thresholds for people who work and receive benefits in line with minimum wage increases 
  • increasing the number of frontline staff by 263.

The Government estimates that the combined investment of these three pre-budget announcements is $286.8 million over the next four years. The first two of these actions are planned to come into effect on 1 April 2020.

In relation to the rest of recommendations from the report, Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said:

“The Government can’t deliver on every recommendation at once. We are taking a balanced approach and are committed to delivering change over the longer term and prioritising areas like housing and mental health which impact on all New Zealanders but especially those in the welfare system.

We have decided not to implement the report’s recommendations to increase benefit levels by up to 47% immediately. As we have said, we will be looking at a staged implementation of the report. There are a range of ways to improve people’s financial wellbeing and reduce the number of people on benefits that live in poverty, in line with our commitment to reduce the overall rates of child poverty in New Zealand, and we will be looking at these over the coming years."

Reaction to Government response

Many advocates have welcomed the changes but criticised the limited and delayed action.

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Category: Reports