Now we know. It is official. No more pretence of working on the fundamental WEAG reforms to core benefits. No plans to address the rising child poverty rates projected by Treasury under the current COVID recession. Just more rhetoric around how paid work solves everything and some minor policies that should have been done 3 years ago.
On Sunday 27th September Q & A both Carmel Sepuloni and Louise Upston spoke of the need for more jobs and training. Neither mentioned the valuable work of parenting.
Judith Collins displayed her feeling for farmers who she feels are not valued enough for the tough work of farming animals, but what about affirmation of the vital work of procreation and raising the next generation, mostly by women, battling on, raising children in impoverished circumstances? And in ageing society in which very soon the elderly will outnumber youth on whom they will depend?
Neither Sepuloni nor Upston mentioned that quality, well paid flexible work will be even harder to find for those on benefits with children in the recession. Both of these women benefited from the Training Incentive Allowance as sole parents themselves that allowed them to escape the low wage cycle. This policy, along with allowing beneficiaries to earn a realistic amount should have been part of the 100 days plan following the 2017 election, not an election bribe that doesn’t even have a start date.
The child poverty data is two years out of date by the time it is officially reported so that government can always say it doesn’t reflect ‘this’ or ‘that’ policy introduced subsequently. The first report of progress on child poverty reduction targets, based data collected in 2018/2019, for example doesn’t pick up Labour’s full family package. Using 2018/2019 data Stats NZ tell us
- rates of low-income have generally declined from 2017/18, but most of these decreases are not statistically significant
- material hardship rates show no significant change from 2017/18 to 2018/19
Yet on Q&A on Sunday we hear that the government is proud of these outcomes, citing that 18,000 children have been lifted above the 50% After Housing Cost (AHC) line. Some who were close to the 50% line, the low-lying fruit, may have been lifted over the line but 235,000 children are still below it. Many children fall well below this line: 168,000 children below the very low 40% AHC representing 15% of children. That is where they look set to stay.
Who asks the question-why are 15% of our children under the 40% line? How are they helped by the relentless focus on paid work as the way out of poverty mantra? Why do we deny these children the full Working for Families package on the grounds their parents need an incentive to work?
The first three-year targets are supposed to be reached by 2020/21 (year ending June 2021) and be reported on in 2022. Even if government’s 3 -year targets are met on the 50% after housing costs primary measure (which they won’t be) there will be still be 20%, or around one in five children below this line.
In the meantime, COVID has changed things for the worse and even by 2022 we will not be picking up the full negative impact of the lockdown and recession. The $25 a week increase in core benefits was swallowed up in reduced hardship and accommodation assistance. Many hardly noticed. Besides, the poorest of all, couples with children on benefits got only $12.50 gross increase each. CPAG modelling shows that without WEP doubling, the couple with two children on Jobseeker support in Auckland requires $208 extra per week over and above their core benefit and accommodation supplement to reach the 50% AHC poverty line.
The $25 a week was not ‘nothing’, but what the figures show us is that there needs to be a very substantial boost so that the worst off families can be released from the noose of highly targeted supplementary payments and trips to foodbanks to eat. We also need a programme of debt forgiveness and removal of all sanctions that cripple parents.
In spite of COVID relief, the indicators from the social sector are that the worst-off families are worse off than ever with no relief in sight. Then on 1 October the Winter Energy Payment ends removing $40-60 dollars a week from already over stretched budgets. At the same time, other wage subsidies are phasing out forcing many more onto the bleak welfare system. The children in these families face a grim Christmas of toxic stress, food insecurity, ill health, debt and poor housing. Just where is the transformation we expected?
CPAG continues to call for all families receiving benefits to be made eligible for all family support tax credits so those families under the 40% line on benefits would receive at least another $72.50 a week. This could be enacted immediately and should have been done three years ago. It wont of course be enough on its own, but it is very well focused spending if child poverty is to be tackled, will return all weekly child tax credits to their rightful role of child poverty prevention. It is also a way to stop policies that say parenting is not proper work.