The current lockdown has triggered the largest weekly increase in benefit recipient numbers since the first lockdown last year, and Child Poverty Action Group is concerned the Government isn’t doing enough to assist affected families.
The latest MSD reporting also shows food grant numbers near the end of August were double what they were at the same time last year, when Auckland was in a level 3 lockdown.
“New Zealanders want to know we’re all looking out for each other during this lockdown, but unlike last year, the Government is not offering any lockdown-related entitlements to families on benefits,” said CPAG spokesperson Janet McAllister. “Yet our research shows communities are worse off now than they were before Covid hit. So having no reliable support for unexpected lockdown bills for things like school-related internet and power means people are really hurting.”
Food grants in the week ending 27 August topped 40,443; more than double what they were at the same time last year at 19,446. “Food insecurity is caused by income insecurity – and not everybody who needs a food grant can get one. This is a huge wake-up call that the current income support systems are inadequate,” says McAllister.
Benefit numbers increased 4,578 in the week ending 27 August (the first full week of this current lockdown), to nearly 358,000 (357,969) – a higher increase than any previous weekly increase since late April 2020, the last time the country was in level 4 lockdown. Most of the recent increase is due to people losing paid employment: “Work Ready” JobSeeker Support recipient numbers increased 4.2% in only two weeks (13-27 August 2021).
“What’s shocking is that low-income families who need income assistance now because lockdown has taken away their livelihoods also find the Government has taken away one of their child-related payments, just when they need it most,” said McAllister. “Whether their caregivers are in paid work or not, children in benefit-recipient families are not eligible for all Working For Families child-related payments, meaning they miss out on over $70 per week of support reserved solely for families off-benefit.”
CPAG is urging the Government to immediately increase incomes for all families needing income support.
“Families losing jobs and those on fixed low incomes are bearing the brunt of this lockdown,” said McAllister. “If the Government allowed them the basic dignity of reliable, secure and adequate income support, that would relieve much of their lockdown-related shock and distress.”
Compared to the start of the first lockdown, an additional 22,000 children were in benefit-receiving families in June this year (the latest figures available), an increase of 12% to nearly 205,000 (204,726).