The latestMSD quarterly report shows that over $100 million was granted for hardshipassistance to almost 350,000 people by Work and Income in the September 2018quarter, an increase of almost $30 million from the same quarter last year.While hardship assistance has been steadily increasing over time, core benefit levels and numbers of people receiving supplementary benefit assistance have stagnated. Auckland Action Against Poverty believes the latest MSD report highlights the urgent need to increase benefit levels to stop people on the benefit accumulating crippling debt and relying on food grants to get by week by week.
“Record numbers of people are relying on food grants and other forms of hardship assistance to get by on a weekly basis. All the while rent prices and the cost of other basic expenses continues to go up while benefit levels continue to stagnate and remain at poverty levels”, says Ricardo Menendez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator.
“Successive Governments have manufactured these poverty levels by keeping benefit levels so low that most people on the benefit are unable to meet their weekly costs, which pushes them into debt with Work and Income through recoverable to be able to afford petrol, basic furniture, dental work and other needs.
“Over half a million people currently owe $1.5 billion dollars to the Ministry ofSocial Development, a figure that is on the upward trend. This amount will only keep increasing unless the Government massively raises income levels. The weekly repayments end up lowering benefit levels, and forcing people to go back to Work and Income for further hardship assistance.
“We are calling on the Government to increase benefit levels to a liveable income. This means at least tripling core benefit levels if the Government wants to put people over the actual poverty line. The Government’s Working for Families package has failed to reduce the level of hardship people on the benefit and our most vulnerable experience.
“A Government that genuinely wants to address poverty needs to look at the baseline causes that continue keeping people in poverty. In a country with spiraling costs of living and low-incomes, the current patch-work approach will only result in increased hardship.
“While the Government may claim that the increase in people receiving hardship assistance is a product of a more compassionate approach, the reality is that it’s the reflection of the failure to address the cost of housing and lift income levels.
“The Labour-led Government will continue failing people on the benefit as long as it keeps benefit levels below the poverty line.”