Budgeting services cannot help people who do not have enough income to meet even their basic needs, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).
As New Zealanders, we all agree that children should be able to live good lives, and have all the support they need to thrive. But families suffering hardship in our country are being forced to navigate difficult and stressful processes to access supplementary assistance for basic needs such as food. Obtaining advance benefit payments and recoverable grants creates debt to Work and Income, with repayments meaning less income than before, reinforcing hardship in a vicious cycle of hopelessness.
“Work and Income are referring many people, who apply for supplementary assistance, back to agencies for budgeting assistance and mentoring. But those at the coalface of these services are very clear that it is lack of income, not lack of ability to budget that is causing the hardship,” says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG’s Economics Advisor.
“It is a destructive, frustrating, time-consuming and unacceptable situation. Poverty in New Zealand is a national crisis, with deprivation affecting children with devastating long-term costs to them and to society. Our paediatricians are seeing abnormally high rates of poverty-related diseases and children with multiple learning issues. This is not a country that is the best place in the world for bringing up children.”
CPAG was hopeful that 2019 would have been the year of change, and that poverty would not be, once again, a major election issue.
“We urge Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has made reducing child poverty a major aim of her Government, to make the bold changes children desperately need,” says St John.
CPAG says the Government has a responsibility to counter the negative and uninformed narrative about people on benefits and to show true leadership in this responsibility.
CPAG calls on the Government to immediately lift benefits, significantly reduce the reliance on supplementary means-tested payments, and improve the returns to part-time work on the benefit.
Furthermore, CPAG urges the Government to give all low-income families access to the full Working for Families package for the care of their children. This would cost around $0.5billion per annum and immediately make families on benefits at least $72.50 a week better off.
“There is absolutely no justification for policy that excludes the worst-off families from a tax credit that has reducing child poverty as its key aim,” says St John.
“It is not good enough to wait for Budget 2020 decisions that will take another full year to come into effect, and only if the Government is re-elected.
“Action is needed right now.”