The Government continues to display a lack of care by refusing to listen to the voices of community groups to implement immediate changes to the welfare system—despite mounting evidence of the toxic culture at Work and Income—and the harm punitive sanctions causes beneficiaries. In a recent interview on The Nation, the Minister for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, avoided giving a timeline for any changes relating to sanctions, benefit levels or entitlements. Instead reiterating that these changes could take up to three years.
“As we’re heading into winter, the Labour-led Government seems more concerned with meeting its arbitrary, self imposed spending limits—which are widely critiqued by economists—than ensuring our poorest communities have enough money to eat and stay warm”, says Ricardo Menendez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator.
“The Government’s attempt at being fiscally responsible by maintaining their debt and Core Crown spending below a certain level mean little to most people if our rate of poverty and homelessness continue to rise. Government ought to turn its face to the streets to realise its fiscal policies are anything but irresponsible.
“While the Ministry of Social Development may take its time to set up a panel of experts to oversee some of the wider overhauls of the welfare system, there is no justifiable reason to delay action in order to alleviate our country’s record levels of poverty by issuing a directive to stop enforcing sanctions on beneficiaries.
“Solo mums will be some of the hardest hit by the lack of urgency from the Government to remove sanctions on beneficiaries. While the Government has been vague about exactly which sanctions it will remove as part of its larger overhaul, Labour made it very clear throughout the election that it supported the removal of the sanctions against solo mothers in Section 70A of the Social Security Act. The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a moral responsibility to act on this key election promise immediately and start a repeal.
“Auckland Action Against Poverty is also demanding an end to all sanctions on beneficiaries as part of its wider overhaul of the welfare system, as none of the current sanctions drive their intended result. Sanctions on solo mothers do not encourage fathers to provide financial support. Sanctions on drug users do not address the health issue of addiction, and the thirteen week stand down for those who don’t take up job offers simply increases their precariousness.
“In her interview on The Nation, Minister Carmel Sepuloni referred to her Ministry as a jumbo jet that’s been flying in a certain direction for the last nine years and that she can’t simply turn it around. The reality is that this “jumbo jet” has been flying in the same direction for a few decades now, with previous Labour Governments being instrumental in the introduction of the same punitive benefit sanctions it now is attempting to remove. People in poverty deserve more than ill-fitting analogies that mask a broken fiscal policy and lack of political leadership. They deserve bold, visionary leadership and a political system built on fairness”.