The latest figures by the Ministry on Social Development show that benefit sanctions are increasing and a record number of families are requiring hardship grants to cover basic expenses such as rent and food, due to low benefit levels that are below the poverty line. Hardship grants numbers went up 67% in a year, from385,043 for the quarter ending December 2018 to 573,851 for the quarter ending December2019. Auckland Action Against Poverty is calling for the Government to at least double baseline benefit levels to ensure families receiving a benefit have enough to live with dignity and reduce the resources going into providing food grants.
“The Government’s reluctance to increase baseline benefit levels is failing low-income families who are struggling to meet the basic costs of living. While rents keep rising across the country benefit levels remain stagnant, pushing record number of people to queue at Work and Income to get food grants”,says Ricardo Menendez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator.
“While Labour and National keep playing political football over the number of people on the benefit, the reality is that for the past 30 years both parties have been kept benefit levels below the poverty line while in Government. In order to allow the Ministry of Social Development to focus on enabling people into meaningful, well paid employment, the Government needs to increase benefit levels, so case managers do not have to spend most of their time processing hardship grants.
“The increase of people receiving a benefit does not signal a soft approach from this Government on beneficiaries. Our advocates still regularly work with people who are being declined for basic things such as food grants and are still facing punitive sanctions that result in loss of income. The rules around accessing hardship grants have not changed under this Government. These punitive measures often drive families into debt, financial hardship and potentially homelessness.
“Work and Income’s issues with its toxic culture remains. The number of people facing benefit sanctions has increased over the past year. Work and Income continues to apply cruel benefit sanctions, despite the Labour and Green Party confidence and supply agreement that committed to ending excessive sanctions on beneficiaries. The number of people facing benefit sanctions went up from last year, from 8,536 for the quarter ending December 2018 to 11,854 for the quarter ending December 2019. This is higher than the number of people being sanction for the quarter ending December 2016 when National was in Government. Benefit sanctions leave families and children without income to cover basic expenses.
“We’ve had countless of reports, including from the Government’s welfare advisory group, calling for an increase on baseline benefit levels and an end to benefit sanctions. The Government’s inaction on meaningful welfare reform does not align with its rhetoric of compassionate governance. If the Government is serious about ending poverty and fixing our welfare system it will listen to beneficiaries, advocates, NGO’s, unions, faith groups and increase benefit levels this year.
“A Government that refuses to lift benefit levels above the poverty line is not working for people living in hardship”.