by Greta Yeoman
Recommendations by the Government’s welfare advisory group have received a positive response from South Canterbury social agencies, but they say it is now about putting them into action.
The Government announced it would implement three of the 42 recommendations in the report, which were removing benefit sanctions for parents who did not name the father of their child, lifting the abatement threshold for working beneficiaries and employing an extra 260 frontline staff.
Anglican Care South Canterbury social justice advocate Ruth Swale said she “strongly” supported the recommendation to increase the main benefit rates and the levels of accommodation assistance.
“[This would mean] beneficiaries can do more than just meet their basic needs and begin participating fully in society.”
While that recommendation was not one of the three being put into effect by the Government at this stage, Ms Swale was hopeful about the future of the report due to comments and plans from the Ministry of Social Development.
“[They] give me reason to believe that the willingness is there for more far-reaching changes to follow.”
However, Rangitata National MP Andrew Falloon said the impact of removal of many benefit sanctions under the Labour Government was “starting to bite”.
“Removing benefit obligations as they’re now doing will cost taxpayers who have to pick up the bill.”
The sanctions on sole parents who did not name the other parent of their child were first introduced by a previous Labour government in 2004, with the intention of encouraging the other parent to contribute to paying child support.
“Health, justice and education outcomes for benefit-dependent families all improve when someone in a household is in work, and that should be the focus, not creating more beneficiaries.”
He said there were about 13,000 more people on Jobseeker benefits compared to the same time last year, an increase of almost 11%.
“In a time of historically low unemployment . . . that shouldn’t be happening.”
However, data from the Ministry of Social Development showed that while overall benefit numbers had risen by 4.8% since March 2018, the number of beneficiaries was 3% lower than five years ago (March 2014).
There were 286,450 working-age people in receipt of a main benefit across New Zealand at the end of March 2019, compared to 295,320 in 2014.
Rangitata-based Labour list MP Jo Luxton said the policy announcements showed Timaru residents how the Government was “facing up” to long-term challenges like child poverty.
“Ensuring our welfare system works for us, not against us, is critical in this process.”
Timaru Salvation Army corps officer Emma Howan referred The Courier to comments made by Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit director Major Campbell Roberts, who said the report writers’ recommendations were “right on the money”.
“The real challenge is now . . . to implement these.
“The time for talk is over.”
- This story was amended at 9.20am on Thursday to correct the details about when the benefit sanctions on parents who did not name the other parent of their child came in to effect. It was in 2004 under a Labour Government, not 2013 under National as previously stated.