Over the last few decades, our welfare system has changed a lot. Politicians and policy makers have made decisions to weaken it, locking hundreds of thousands of adults and children into the stress and constraints of poverty. Now they need to make decisions that build strength, fairness, and compassion into welfare. Here's what has been going on:
- Between the 1930s to the 1980s our welfare system did a decent job of looking after most people who needed it. But since they were slashed in 1991, income support rates have been falling further and further behind what it costs to live. Despite the $25 increases made to core benefit rates in 2015 by National and 2020 by Labour, our welfare system is failing to deliver decent levels of income support.
- In 2018, nearly 3,000 people contributed to a consultation process to figure out what needed to change within our welfare system to ensure everyone in New Zealand could live with dignity. The result was the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s report released in 2019 .
- According to the Child Poverty Action Group, none of the 42 key recommendations in the report have been fully implemented as of 1 April 2021.
- Before COVID-19, New Zealand’s income support levels were the third-lowest in the OECD. The harshest economic impacts of the pandemic have fallen on people who were already struggling - low waged workers, renters and recipients of income support - locking more people into the isolation of poverty.
- The stress that comes with poverty can erode mental and physical health. A report by the Helen Clark Foundation on loneliness found groups of people who are more likely to need income support to meet their daily needs - including those who are unemployed, disabled, or sole parents - are experiencing intensified loneliness since COVID-19. The report recommends increasing income support rates as a solution.
- At the end of 2020, 75 NGO’s from across the country, including unions, faith groups, child poverty researchers and frontline service providers penned an open letter calling on PM Jacinda Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni to urgently increase income support rates.
- The call to increase income support rates, including core benefits has been echoed by the Children’s Commissioner, community leaders and prominent economists.
- Recent polling showed 7 in 10 people want the Government to increase income support rates to address the poverty crisis. Across all demographics surveyed, whether people were National, Labour, Green or Act supporters, earnt a lot or a little, a majority of people back the government increasing incomes support rates.
- The Government themselves, including the Prime Minister, has acknowledged benefit levels are "not enough" for people to live with dignity.
- As part of Budget 2021, the Government announced that core benefit levels would increase by $20 per week on 1 July, with additional increases to bring it up to $55 in total on 1 April 2022. While these increase are not sufficient to address the level of poverty whānau are facing, they do show our people power is working. In her Budget day speech the Minister for Social Development acknowledge that without public pressure she would not have been able to get these increases over the line.