More people sign up for benefits but less support given - Child Poverty Action Group

By Marena Mane

The Child Poverty Action Group's Janet McAllister says Māori and Pasifika whānau on low fixed incomes and benefits are feeling the brunt of the lockdown, and she is disappointed to see it happen again.

“With a government that preaches kindness. It's like you actually have to put your actions where your mouth is and ensure that all of us are looked after when we're all trying to do the best we can.”

Since the initial lockdown last year, this latest lockdown has resulted in the biggest weekly increase in benefit recipient numbers.

The Child Poverty Action Group is worried that the government is not doing enough to help impacted whānau, and is pushing for a rise in incomes for all families receiving income assistance.

According to McAllister, the rise in people asking for food grants this year compared to the previous year is concerning, especially because the government has done little to help low-income people.

“It's been really tough on whānau and families, particularly those on low incomes, and our research shows that communities are worse off now than they were before Covid hit,” she says.

More help last year

McAllister says the criteria for applying for a food grant were lifted last year during lockdown to make it easier for people to get the help they needed. However, due to the criteria not being lifted this time around, there are whānau who have requested a grant but have been turned down for not meeting the criteria, even if they are in need.

“I thought that the criteria had been lifted because lockdown is expensive, it's tough, and people need extra support during lockdown to deal with those unexpected bills but we haven't seen anything like that this time.”

There are several reasons for a rise in food grants, according to McAllister, including unexpected costs such as power, internet, to keep children involved with school and loved ones, and food expenses.

“School absences have been up for those on low incomes, loneliness for sole parents is up, immunisations have been down. So there's a whole raft of measures showing that people came into this Delta lockdown with less than they had before.”

Last year, the government quadrupled the winter energy payment to benefit recipients, and McAllister is calling for an increase in benefit payments for all low-income individuals.

“We've seen no response like that this year and it's quite perplexing as to why not.”