The government’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) has called for a “systematic overhaul” of New Zealand’s welfare system in a wide-ranging report released today.
The report paints a somber picture of the plight of welfare and low-wage recipients in Aotearoa, stating that “current levels of support fail to cover even basic costs for many people, let alone allowing them to meaningfully participate in their communities.
“In New Zealand, poverty and benefit receipt are strongly associated. Māori, Pacific people, people with health conditions and disabilities, and young people are especially adversely affected.”
(Source: Whakamana Tāngata 2019 report - benefits by region at a glance).
The report calls for a renewed focus on supporting those on benefits into sustainable work, improved income to ensure families on benefits are not living in poverty and a culture change in the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to ensure people are treated with respect.
“Our welfare system is not providing the right support for people in need,” says Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni, “This is contributing to issues of inequality and hardship which have been long-term problems for New Zealand that this Government is committed to fixing.”
The report contains 42 key recommendations, 3 of which the government is implementing immediately. These include extra frontline staff to help people into “meaningful and sustainable” work, the scrapping of the “discriminatory” sanction that cuts income to women if the name of the child’s father is not declared and a raise in income thresholds for those on benefits who work.
“The release of the expert working group report and the three announcements made in response to it, represent good first steps to improving the system, but major change will take years,” says Sepuloni.
The government has confirmed that it will not implement the report’s recommendation to increase benefit levels by up to 47% immediately, arguing instead for a “staged implementation” of the report.
“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.”
Improving outcomes for Māori
Recommendation 9 in the report specifically addresses improving outcomes for Māori. The WEAG calls for the government to:
- Support the Ministry of Social Development to continue to shift towards whakamana tāngata – to build the mana of others and uplift them in a way that honours their dignity.
- Support the Ministry of Social Development to continue to review and evaluate, with Māori, the services the Ministry delivers to ensure they are effective in improving outcomes for Māori.
- Work with Māori to consider other effective ways of delivering welfare services and funding that are informed by Te Ao Māori, including longer-term, whānau-centred, strengths-based initiatives.
(Source: Whakamana Tāngata 2019 report - financial assistance).
The WEAG report is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement Labour signed with the Green Party.
Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson says the report creates a vital roadmap for significant change and the new budget initiatives will provide a solid start on that journey.
“We are committed to an inclusive society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and supported to participate fully in the community,” says Davidson.
Minister for Children Tracey Martin says that Aotearoa needs a welfare system that is fair to everyone and that supports child wellbeing.
“We need to ensure all parents and caregivers have the resources and ability to provide the best possible care for their children,” says Martin.
The combined investment of today’s three pre-budget announcements is $286.8 million over the next 4 years.