The purpose and principles of the social security act


It helps when you are going somewhere to know where you are going and why. Hence it is important to get the fundamental ‘Purpose and Principles’ of the Social Security Act fixed as soon as possible. The current ones have taken us a long way in the wrong direction. As the Irish might say, if you want to get to a better place, best not to start from here.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG report) Whakamana Tāngata: Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand made this point, advocating strongly that before reform, we need to agree on new ‘Purposes and Principles’ for the welfare state. It has taken government over four years to even begin to face this issue and the signs so far are not promising.  Despite the detailed and careful work of WEAG following wide consultation  it has been necessary, apparently. to produce a glossy report “The Foundation for Change Amending New Zealand’s Social Security Act 2018: the next phase in New Zealand’s Welfare Overhaul Work Programme”.  With many large colour pictures of a happy smiling, diverse but healthy NZ families the spin machine is well oiled. The substance is less impressive. 

The report is not yet publicly available but is the basis for a limited consultation process before it is considered by Cabinet. The proposed ‘Purposes and Principles’ are a tinkering of the discredited current ones, nothing like the substantive re-envisioning demanded by WEAG or argued by CPAG.

We should remember that Labour itself was responsible for the current dog’s breakfast of the ‘Purposes and Principles’ section of the current Act. Labour introduced the amendment in 2007 that stressed the primacy of paid work making outlandish claims for example that “work in paid employment offers the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic wellbeing.” Social security was to be there only after people had looked to their own resources. Its purpose was to (grudgingly) relieve hardship, not to provide any kind of belonging and participation outcomes and security. Paid work featured 9 times. 

The National Opposition in 2007 could not believe its luck. In the House, Anne Tolley, rubbing her hands in glee, said ecstatically:

- Sponsor Promotion -

“ National is supporting this bill going to select committee. Why on earth would we not? We had been arguing this for seven years we want to tighten up the provisions in this bill this is basically just a wet dish rag of a bill designed to make the government look as if it is doing something but it is actually not doing very much at all” Hansard 2007

Labour’s changes to the Act, paved the way for National (2008-2017) to further undermine the welfare state by emphasizing the primacy of paid work and downplaying community responsibility and unpaid caring activity.  Being sick or disabled was no longer a reason not to be ‘gainfully’ employed. Beneficiaries were subject to new planning and activity requirements which meant that if they didn’t start planning for paid work they could have their benefit cut.  

A further unravelling of the welfare state was encouraged by the 2007 aim“to enable in certain circumstances the provision of financial support to people to help alleviate hardship.” This saw ever tighter targeting of welfare assistance with severe sanctions for non-compliance.  Poverty was used as a weapon to get desired behavior and an ugly culture developed in WINZ. For example, their powers to determine a relationship; its nature, its starting point and whether to prosecute. Penalties were imposed for infringements of the rulebook rule alongside an appeals process stacked in MSD’s favour and without oversight by an outside body.

An another unpleasant feature of the 2007 changes exploited by National was to expect that before asking the state for anything people should look to their own resources. “…that where appropriate they should use the resources available to them before seeking financial support under this Act”.

The culture took hold that if the beneficiary had borrowed money because they could not survive on a benefit such loans could be treated as income reducing entitlement to the same benefit. CPAG was involved in a case (Ms F) in which a family loan resulted in a review of a sole parent’s five years’ expenditure and establishment of a debt of overpaid benefit of $127,000. A High Court decision was needed to get this over-turned but there was no review of the practice and the implications for others similarly affected but without access to pro bono legal resources to sustain an 8-year fight with MSD.

So it is with some surprise that the latest efforts to rewrite the ‘Purposes  and Principles’  retains “where appropriate [beneficiaries]  should use the resources available to them before seeking financial support under this Act”.

The primacy of paid work is slightly moderated to “employment, where appropriate, offers the best opportunity for people to achieve wellbeing”. There is no visionary statement about the purpose of social security being not only to alleviate actual poverty when it occurs but to prevent it and enable participation and belonging in society.  Rather the best that can be can be mustered in the 2022 report is “Social security contributes to the wellbeing of the community by providing support to reduce poverty and hardship.” 

It is shameful that the work of WEAG is invisible, and even more time is expected of past WEAG members and voluntary organisations like CPAG to engage in so called consultation on what looks like a make-work exercise.



  1. What can one say other than this bloody Labour Government has more intent in furthering neoliberalism than in promoting Left wing policies? LINO indeed. Shame on them and on their incompetence.

  2. “work in paid employment offers the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic wellbeing” is an outlandish claim? Really?? It doesn’t look so outlandish to me.

    I’m not sure this article accurately represents the impact of the Clarke government’s tightening up of rule around welfare. Surely the main effect of the change was in preventing middle-class people from getting the dole when they lose their jobs, on the grounds that they will savings they can live on between jobs, or during periods of under-employment.

    • Pope Punctilious 11. Yes, scenarios under Clark’s government were harsh. I recall the redundant Post Office employee unable to keep up with his mortgage payments having to sell his home, and not entitled to dole payments until he had spent the proceeds of that sale, and had nothing at all. The National Council of Churched was documenting and addressing awful injustices to decent hard working people. After the second big round of redundancies, big compensation payments stopped I think, but stopped for wage earners, not for various corporate employees who received, and who still receive good-plated hand shakes.

    • and the current LINO is attempting to put the bourgeoise pen pushers back on the gravy train at a higher rate than other beneficiaries….what does that tell you?

      • My aunty was in the waiting room about to receive cancer surgery when she received a text saying her work group or what ever that she postponed, well she had to go.

        Then she’s in post OP getting a text saying her benefit got cut.

        There is nothing redeemable about that. That is why I am all for a UBI.

        There must be a way of creating a new, all of government national security act. One that truly has the objective of National Security.

  3. The fact is that open ended welfare entitlement entrenches failure. It is evident that children born to solo mothers on long term benefits are vastly more likely to suffer from abuse, fail in school, become depressed, suicide, take drugs and commit crime. A study in NZ of gang membership shows that the vast majority of these lost souls were fatherless and clung on to gangs looking for a male role model.

    Certainly welfare needs to change but maybe not in the way you think.

    • you have valid points andy but it only works if there are decent jobs out there that people can live on, the neo-libs have had 35 years of failure with their rush to the bottom policies….give people decent employment rather than the gig bulshit that gives the rightards a hard on, most of our social problems with greatly reduce…buttttt decent wages are not ideologically acceptable to any political party in NZ.

    • It is obvious that people who drive cars tend to have the most vehicle accidents! People who drive trucks tend to be given greater instruction, the task is regarded as important, and they are paid to do the job, there is an incentive to do it well, and advance themselves by being in a job which is hard, but respected.

      Apply the car driving methods to the very important but ridiculed task of raising, caring and guiding children, train the mothers and have refresher courses and people who sententiously cast doubt on the value of the women to be alive at all, would see them change for the better. The hate and distaste and refusal to properly educate and respect the women because they are not well-regarded and then only mothers, means that they never get past the lower level of education and carry this lack of endowment by the state onto the new generation.

      The antipathy even malice that some mothers face, and mostly from men who are often totally twisted and self–centred, but also from nasty women, holds back development of people’s best gifts, abilities and ability in decision making reducing the advancement in all spheres of attainment.

      Sorry if this is too long and serious for you know-alls to bother to read and absorb to expand your tiny, shrivelled minds.

      • Your analogy holds some water, in that you wouldn’t hire truck drivers who are illiterate drug addicts.

        • Andrew your type is a millstone we have to drag around, those that are attempting to be positive. Those of us who only briefly have some heavy angst could keep these old songs at hand. Don’t waste your time in discussing things with sad sacks who enjoy doing down the group that are failing. The haters love to hate, let them. Dear, dear, have a cup of tea.

          Getting angry is a waste of energy and so Is mounting good arguments – to those who won’t listen and carry them forward. Too much talk, talk. It’s just repeating stuff that was said in the last century.

          Accentuating the positive

          You can’t hold back a good woman!

          I reckon on using these as a rallying cry,. Better than a tear in the eye!

  4. So would this glossy report, “The Foundation for Change Amending New Zealand’s Social Security Act 2018: the next phase in New Zealand’s Welfare Overhaul Work Programme”. With many large colour pictures of a happy smiling…etc, happen to be printed by the Government Printing Office by any chance?

    • Just a small point.
      The Government Printing Office was privatized/sol many years ago.
      Sold to Graeme Hart
      In 1989, He successfully bid for the Government Printing Office for $23 million which caused considerable controversy.

  5. Thx Susan, meanwhile corporate welfare goes deep as a ‘result’ of covid. The poor are given assistance in the form of ‘rent subsidies’, [lucky landlords]. And the completely lost camp at parliament and are ignored by our ‘kind’ Labour government. Is political trust even a happening ?

      • Rosielee The protestors were not necessarily dirty smelly poor, there were some conspicuously well-heeled persons turned up to support them, like Russell Coutts, some shiny Real Housewife of Auckland, double -breasted Winston Peters, various apparently qualified professional persons, Donald Trump supporters, wavers of upside down flags, dopey mumsies, violent nutters. But to say, as Poto aWilliams seems to be saying now, that they were marginalised by outside online influences, is major over-simplification, and does not let government off the hook for the fact that there are persons who are marginalised in very real ways. This of course does not justify them bullying and harassing folk who feel differently from them- while they loudly espoused freedom, love and kindness. And they’re still out there.

  6. Fantastic Post @ StJ.
    I watched a house being built once. I like building and making things myself so I watched on with a great deal of interest at how the sunburned burly fellows did it.
    Firstly, they nailed up a sky hook using double ended nails and a left handed claw hammer then lead ropes from there to which they started suspending the roof. Firstly, the roofing iron went up then they put the building paper up under the iron then they built the ridge board then purlins then the rafters then the joists. Once the roof was hanging level, they lifted up the wall framing then the flooring under which the builders placed the piles by using glues and nails. As the whole house swung about under the sky hook a truck turned up with the pre dug pile holes.
    After the holes were placed around the suspended piles the builders went off for a cup of tea.
    Once the pile holes settled around the piles, the whole house was gently lowered into place on to the ground. Painters turned up with cans of striped paint and painted a decorative Zebra on the back fence.
    Thus, piss taken.
    The Welfare System is an example of a lunatic fuck up.
    Firstly, create a long suffering what-was working class then torture them while raising the cost of living and allowing foreign banksters to come in to trash the party.
    The reason we need welfare is because we’re all human beings and we don’t like seeing other human beings suffer.
    The reason we have banks is because … Why do we have four foreign owned banks taking billions of dollars out of our economy again? Why should we think that makes any kind of sense?
    Why are we still trying to politely navigate around the madness of foreign banking cartels blatantly, boldly skyhooked above us while STEALING our precious agrarian primary industry money out from under our noses when that six billion a year plus could be better used to make people feel safe and secure who would then flourish in to taking up worthwhile positions within society rather than praying for death after huffing glue in a closed shop door way?
    I’m not a mumbling over political minute` kind of white male human of freckles. I will not allow parasitic PSYOPS practitioner’s into my common sense.
    @ Gin Hag above mentioned The Gubbimint Printing Office. Did Gin Hag mean the one graham hart bought below valuation which ultimately lead him to being a multi billionaire with a $55 million dollar pent house in NYC? I mean, that has to be the most outrageous welfare payout in history, anywhere.

  7. If this is true about the current government making some minor changes to the Act. It looks like they’ve spent a few minutes over the 4 years to come up with the proposed changes!

    For more than 359,000 people who are in receipt of financial assistance from this LINO government. I guess those public servants are just too busy to spend more time and thought on an important issue and are more concerned about the latest proposal for a 7 month paid holiday in between jobs policy that is been considered by them all which will affect them and their families? Because that’s important ay? Putting a roof over your head and food on the table for your family regardless, whether you’re in employment or not, ay?

  8. BTW. Russell Brand is bloody interesting to listen to.
    He has a YouTube channel which I watch regularly and now has 5.1 million subscribers of which I’m one.
    Once I became acclimatised to his unique, if not rather boldly charming approach I soon realised he was incredibly intelligent and extremely well informed. In my opinion.
    Give him a go.
    “Russia has invaded Ukraine – according to the much of the MSM and certain politicians it’s as simple as Putin being the new Hitler. But is it that simple? What role did our own governments play? And are we headed towards WW3? ”

    • BTW,btw…
      John A.Lee…
      M.J.Savage must never be remembered without reference to John A. Lee.
      “John Alfred Alexander Lee DCM (31 October 1891 – 13 June 1982) was a New Zealand politician and writer. He is one of the more prominent avowed socialists in New Zealand’s political history.”
      “After wandering the country for a time, he found work in Raetihi, but was then jailed for liquor smuggling and breaking and entering.”
      “Lee was censured by the Labour Party conference of 1939, but continued to attack Labour’s leaders for what Lee regarded as Labour’s failure to implement socialist policies. On 25 March 1940, Lee was finally expelled from the Labour Party. Lee subsequently published a further attack on Savage and his leadership of the Labour Party entitled “Expelled from the Labour Party for telling the truth: psycho-pathology in politics”. ”
      Can we find his DNA and re animate the man?

  9. Paid work is good. I spent most of my female life working in between having three kids. I was married but we were both on low wages. On retirement at 70 I have a freehold home and a little in savings. So pretty basic really so I am not rich but I am worry free.
    I had friends/acquaintances who wouldn’t work for several years. One dope head, one lazy. After Helen C tightened things up one was a Truancy officer and later an orchard worker for several years. He thought it was heaven when he reached retirement. The other was employed at a retirement home and loved it. Give an inch and the lazy will take a mile. Everyone should be contributing, with a safety net for hard times.
    I do agree with gagarin about making work worthwhile.
    Generational beneficiaries can end up with a sense of entitlement. Years ago it was reported that young guys at school were saying their plans for when they left school were to get someone pregnant and live on a benefit!
    By all means have a comprehensive safety net but there should be work for the able, especially within a tight labour market.
    So here we are and perhaps the most pressing issue to me is disabled and caregiver benefits.
    And as for the special welfare for the higher paid jobless? Just encouraging more paid laziness and creating more division by our Dear Leader. It’s truly despicable and I can’t stand the sight of the smug face (GR) promoting it.

    • So you think people should just lose their houses if they get sick or laid off.

      People like you digust me. What you don’t realise is that of we dont have decent welfare system, this country will be like India or China with people living in cardboard boxes and slums.

    • Well, bully for you. What if you had had to get away from an alcoholic husband and start all over again in your 40s, with 2 kids on your own. Reshape a career and not quite make it into home ownership for retirement. Your smug attitude really gets up my nose. And its not a PCR test.

      • Im not the one who wants to get rid of welfare and have the poor on the street, like you seem to do.

  10. There will be no visionary statement from Labour because thye don’t have a Vision. At least they don’t have a vision of ‘wellbeing’ for beneficiaries as Labour needs the poor to stay poor lest they ran out of people that could vote for them as they are not quite as bad as National. Lol.

    • do the underclass vote? NO that’s why the LINO hands out lollies to business and the bourgeoisie

  11. They do NOT want to fix the problem of a sadistic and cruel MSD/WINZ.
    It’s NOTHING to do with money/costs. That is JUST a conveninet excuse to get further ‘buy in’, from ‘those sorts’.
    If it was about money they’d be WAY WAYT more effort on tax evasion by the ‘wealthy’.
    From Morgans report (the big kahuna ?) in about 2000. You could pay every man, woman and child $200 a week and still make a profit by the cost savings of not needng most of MSD/WINZ.

    • every NZ pollie and their supporters like a bit of benny bashing it’s the national sport rugby is a distant second

  12. Bullshit Andrew have you been on a benefit ? I was on a benefit intermittently and got the TIA so I could go to university. There a benefits to having a decent benefit system as long as people are helped along the way as I was so they can get of welfare.

  13. When you are on a benefit now and for some time back, it becomes obvious that in the back rooms of the social welfare office the message is given out that you don’t giver a shit about ‘the people’ and they are fed the diet of people being lazy, and that is akin to being an axe murderer, and that there are plenty of jobs available but they don’t want to work etc. It is top down oppression and classist stuff, uncaring, callous, and hostile. People act in a way that reflects the attitudes that they are exposed to. If it becomes ingrained to hate the petty demeaning authority that they are so often confronted with, they carry on the antipathy sd noghing gets better. And I can’t blame them for not being able to overcome the debilitating prejudice. But with some help, such as what Celia Lashlie and her team were trying, people can see an alternative path.

    An extreme example of rising like a phoenix is Douglass the freed USA slave.
    It can be done, but it is so hard that on one’s own it’s a trek too far quite often.
    The opinion was…whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion I know nothing. … My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant. … It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. … I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.

    Interesting that they were practising Oranga Tamariki methods there and then. If I was Maori I wouldn’t want Maori names given to doubtfully legitimate and certainly unkind pakeha behaviours.

  14. LINO deliberately didn’t have a clean out of neo-lib management entrenched at winz frontliners reflect corprate culture and the culture at winz is fucking appaling…no wonder they need security guards

    other govt depts, like treasury could have done with a new broom too…but at the end of the day they’re ‘her kind of people’

  15. Is that the key gagarin?  I’ve been thinking – have to watch out or Richard Pebble (just a stone’s throw away) will sue me for using his unique book title.

     If we started now , getting the 11 and 12 year olds interested in the environment they would be ready to take over from their gormless elders starting in a small way  about 21 after taking a diploma course teaching them what they need to know about everything in general;  it would be a new rite of passage.   Reintroduce some ritual like a coming-out ball for older youth to aspire to, a great dance that everyone can afford, no snootie long dresses, but smart looking once in a while – something coloured with flowers on or trees, the environment theme. 

    Government has to turn to and help with health camps and outdoor long weekends for families, have experience mixing with people, and knowing how to cope in an outdoors setting without making it too hard.   More like USA summer camps – they have had them in the past, as we always copy let’s do that too.   The Education Department and schools should have  horticultural camps to keep interest in the land and maintain experience gained in horticulture at school and at health camps.   They could learn about plant hormones and learn to cope with the idea of being a live fertile person, both physically and with fertile minds to take care of.    

    I think we have to make this the century of unwrapping philosophy and life to the youngsters early on and let them go through some adulthood entrance like a bar mitzvah for the boys – similar- and one for the girls – to prepare both genders for thinking adulthood, not just sex and nobs and money, but life.
    At Seventeen –

    The authorities insist on long school years and so remaining  children for longer, but we have the internet to help with learning.  Labour introduced Tomorrows Schools that opened up the way for parents and their children to decide what they wanted to learn, and believe;  hence anti vaxx myths!   Kids grew up quickly in medieval times, let them do so now too, start work  at 12 at some interest and skill that they have chosen, at a few hours per week, within school hours.  They need change but also assistance if they are going to make up for their dozy parents (including me) having not been able to get breakthrough on the future.  Present adulthood is so strange and blase’, they will be nowhere ready if things go on as present.  

    Grinny house buyers and renters – half alive and steal the rest of their selves from the young ones who are left drained.    And parents are teaching children to be snobs, unkind and judgmental, and money and sports mad, with no effort at helping the mind and humaniities stuff.  Television and these other content providers, all set the bar too high , and doing simple things for oneself is being dismissed by corporates; let us do that for you, we can do it so much better (seeing you are just an ordinary person).   Let our hologram teach you how to live.   Bah!

  16. We need a government that will guarantee every single ‘able’ person can have a job that will give them a decent standard of living, a house, shelter, decent food. Then and only then can we do away with the unemployment benefit. I would be in for this. Let’s not be silly about this, there are lots and lots of jobs that councils and governments don’t seem to be able to keep up with, imagine we wouldn’t have litter, clean rivers, no wilding pines there are endless jobs out there but many of these are never ever advertised. BUT PAY THEM PROPERLY!

    Obviously we need benefits for those who are ill, on their own with children, who need their mother or father or primary care giver and not to go into all the appalling child care places.

    We need family benefit again so that Mother’s have some income for themselves.

    But we will always have people who fall by the wayside and we need to have much much better mental health and addiction services to help those people move on with their lives.

    Because some people can pull themselves up by their boot straps doesn’t mean everyone can, it is part of being human.

    • So true Michal. If the government worked with people needing help instead of imposing its threadbare community spirit on them, it would be a decent society. But the well got poisoned a long time ago, and that distrust of welfare and beneficiaries its a virulent strain. Also add to it the narrow-minded, herd-following of people and when in the middle class on higher salaries, they feel they are at the zenith of life and everyone should live like them. But just ensuring that others have a life that suits them and is up to a certain standard which may not be that of the midde-class should be the bottom line. Be a bit tolerant of different others, but not too much seems to be the answer.

    • spot on michal,

      EXCEPT it is quite literally impossible to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps in reality or in metaphor.

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