New research: Current benefits leave families in poverty

Recently released research shows families who rely on benefits could find themselves hundreds of dollars short every week of what’s required to get out of poverty.
As thousands are projected to lose their jobs and seek income support over the coming months, more and more children could be locked into poverty due to inadequate benefit levels, making New Zealand’s long term recovery from COVID-19 that much more difficult, says Child Poverty Action Group.
CPAG’s research shows that six model families with children receiving benefits would require an estimated $110 a week on average to reach 50 per cent of equivalised median after-housing-costs (AHC) income, and an extra $215 to reach 60 per cent of the same, meaning income support levels for the 2020/21 year are well below the Government’s official poverty measures+, even when recent benefit increases are included.
As part of its Covid-19 package, the Government increased benefits by $25 a week and temporarily doubled the Winter Energy Payment.
“While these increases are welcome, we find they are still nowhere near enough to unlock all children from poverty and allow them to thrive,” says CPAG’s Georgie Craw executive officer.
“This means many families are forced to rely on temporary top-ups, foodbanks, and high interest loans, just to survive.”
Child Poverty Action Group modelled the effect of latest policies for families accessing core benefits, accommodation supplement and Working for Families in 2020/2021.
The researchers found that after paying lower-quartile rent for a two-bedroom house in a low-income Auckland suburb, a couple on the Jobseeker benefit with two children receiving core entitlements would still need around $195 extra a week to reach the 50 per cent AHC poverty line. They would need $322 extra a week to reach the 60 per cent AHC line – a supplementary Government child poverty measure.
“While people’s income can be topped-up with hardship grants, these are temporary, and Work and Income manuals refer to them as a ‘last resort’,” says researcher Janet McAllister.
“Accessing them can be difficult, particularly when families are already trying to cope with the toxic stress of inadequate support.
“The supplementary systems are complex to navigate and often require people to run down their modest assets before accessing extra assistance.”
The twelve hypothetical households in the report – which include parents on Sole Parent Support with one and three children, parents on Jobseeker with two children, and individuals on Jobseeker, Supported Living Payments and NZ Superannuation – will have, on average, $41 more in the hand every week after they pay their lower-quartile rent in this current financial year than last year, an increase of 17.5 per cent in disposable income from last year.
Susan St John, CPAG’s economic spokesperson, says Child Poverty Action Group is alarmed that the Government did not increase core benefits to adequate levels.
“In the recent budget the Government had an opportunity to fix the inadequate levels of core benefits and to reform Working for Families (WFF) to make it immediately available in full to all low income families including those on benefits – and it is disappointing this opportunity was missed.
“However we will continue to advocate for these changes, as we are looking at an explosion in family hardship and child poverty unless the government takes urgent and meaningful action,” St John says.
+The Government charts how many children are in poverty based on 10 measures, which includes those children living in households with:
– less than 60% median equivalised disposable household income after housing costs (AHC).
– less than 50% median equivalised disposable household income after housing costs (AHC).
The full background paper titled: “The effects of 2020-21 income support changes on After Housing Costs (AHC) incomes for representative households receiving benefits” can be accessed here.


  1. Child Poverty Action Group; – We also see that most of our NZ regions are now ‘housing the poor in properties near busy roads’.

    This is where the health of communities there are far worse, with ‘traffic air pollution and noise’ is far higher than in the leafy greener rich suburbs of cities.

    So we are heading for the overseas city areas of ‘slumbs’ now here in the once ‘clean green’ NZ.

    No we don’t want ‘normality’ here – we need a ‘green revolution’ Jacinda.

  2. What is it with this government, well all governments. We know there will be increasing numbers of people living in poverty and that is because benefits have never been enough to live decently on. Ruth is partly to blame, benefits were deliberately cut to force people into work, they were cut below what they knew people needed to live on. Of course Labour launched into an attack, BUT did they ever reinstate the benefit levels NO NO NO. Pathetic. Neither party can be relied on to seriously address this issue.

  3. Yes, not much has changed since the days of ‘Big Ruth Richardson’s’ ‘Mother of all Budgets’, has it. Back when she used several home economists to work out the nutritional and financial requirements of a family of five living on a benefit then slashed those figures by 20%.

    Awesome bitch , wasn’t she?

    And she’s still walking around free in society. Some would say she was a great lady , – others would tell the truth.

    And we have continued on in that same spirit with successive govt’s for the last 35 years.

  4. May I respectfully suggest that it’s not the benefits that are leaving beneficiaries in poverty. It’s the rents they have to pay which take up so much of the benefit/super whatever. Until something is done about housing and rents, and CGT imposed on property speculation, nothing is going to change. This government needs to get real and active very quickly. Think real State housing.
    Even working couples cannot save for their own home when one whole income or more is taken up with rent. Pensioners who cannot get social housing/pensioner units are screwed.

  5. Ruth Richardson is probably only still around because she is so short and therefore able to hide behind the parapet. She is a good height too for patting on her curly head like a good, obedient dog – she fits alongside a number of women who rose on the wave of feminism and good education in the late 1900’s, but without holding hands and incorporating the devout beliefs of left-wing sisterhood to spread the rewards and respect wished for to all women.

    Even that was debated between the heteros who were married, and the lesbians who felt that they deserved more. A complex time, and the female parent didn’t fit in any of the camps as she laboured on her own, to raise children and give them a life not too far below the approved family’s style. Lip service was paid to the important role of socialising and educating children to be capable citizens, strong and good.

    Soon it was Jenny Shipley and her messages to beneficiaries that they understand their subservient role and labour to pull up their decadent socks from their slack ways, which was the demeaning image for all the single parents. And the women didn’t know what had hit them, turned into objects of derision over a few years, instead of gaining standing for their important role carried on their single shoulders, and often mentally supporting an unreliable man who had to be placated to do anything in a committed way.

    The women needed help, community with their peers, education in good practice in parenting, understanding themselves, getting maturity through learning life skills, communication and household skills, and also a skill that could take them away from children and other mothers, and into the wider world and then the income-earning world.

    Did they get that early on? It was often achieved, but the trend was downward to meanness with money and no good wishes and encouragement for wellbeing. See how Metiria Turei was treated – following the ideal, the single mother working hard to get a skill and be able to support herself and be a good mother also. She needed more money to cover her expenses and took in another boarder without declaring that income, which would have reduced allowances she needed to maintain her training and home. She was spoken of like a bank robber, like a ponzi financial criminal.

    The attitude of dislike and disdain has become set in stone in the bloody welfare system. Back to Dickensian times. It is a disgrace to this country and to all self-satisfied women out there, who should care. But after decades of bad role modelling, women easily adopt the sneering attitude to those just struggling. Sometimes they are far from appealing, stressed and abandoned by the government, and being moralistically forced into a relationship with any man that they can be grafted onto, so making it much harder for them to ever meet someone who would be a good, loyal male partner and friend.

  6. May I respectfully suggest that it’s not inadequate benefit levels which are leaving beneficiaries in poverty. It’s the exorbitant rents they have to pay just to have a roof over their heads. Even working couples cannot afford to save a deposit for their own home while they have to shell out one income or more on rent.
    This government needs to get away from the neoliberal, National lite, BAU, don’t frighten the horses models and really get back to Labour roots. More State built and run housing. And while they are on the job, do what so many other countries around the world do and impose CGT on all but the family home, bach or farm. Stop this insane investment model where landlords can buy up multiple properties, rent them out at high cost to tenants, then flick them off for tax free capital gain. And, given the pressure from totally irresponsible immigration policies and population growth, it’s only going to get worse.

  7. Wonderful comment from the young Pasifika head girl at Aorere College.

    Another young female leader who will serve her community and New Zealand proud. No doubt she will be slammed and dammed by the tired old isolated cohort of angry, frightened, insecure, unintelligent older white men (thankfully of which there are now few) who cannot handle intelligent young women who lead and pave the way for others. Something they have never achieved or even attempted.

  8. I love this quote…from a journalist no less

    When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatize those who let people die, not those who struggle to live. -Sarah Kendzior, journalist and author (b. 1978)

    • Very good words…

      And here is a rather staged , but nonetheless good video about ,… societal sharing, that what is true for the ‘church’ is also applicable to society at large,.. it was the values system we accepted in the days of our egalitarian past…

      The Widow’s Mite: A Bible Story for Children

      I hope these kids remember the message to their old age.

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