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Welfare That Works For All

paul_barber_may2019Paul Barber

Policy Advisor | New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services

We have reached a turning point for social welfare in this country with the release of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) report Whakamana Tāngata: Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand.

The report sets out what we must do to rebalance our social welfare system in a way that ensures the dignity and mana for all. The coming months are crucial as the Government makes decisions about adopting the 42 recommendations. 

The report places the dignity and the mana of people at the centre of its recommendations. NZCCSS President Ian Hutson said “This means providing hope and the chance for people to improve their lives and be truly part of our society”.

The report gives voice to those who are excluded from our society, learning from their experiences and seeking solutions that are practical.

The authors have drawn from thousands of people who shared their ideas and experiences with the WEAG group last year. “I think people that are on the benefit should not look, experience or feel different to anyone else in our country…” (past welfare recipient in the report, p.60).

Many of us have worked hard to see change in how people in the welfare system are treated. For the first time in decades we have a clear opportunity for transformation in the system. The recommendations from the report are the stars that will guide us on the path to change. The six values of the Kia Piki Ake Te Mana Tangata Framework are proposed to shape the changes to welfare. This kaupapa Māori frame addresses Te Tiriti interest of all New Zealanders and will benefit everyone.

 

Government Must Respond With Real Change 

Social Development Minister Hon Carmel Sepuloni has welcomed the report and made some small but significant initial announcements on abatement thresholds, removing sanctions on mothers who do not disclose the father of their child, and increased frontline case managers for Work & Income.

The Cabinet Paper released along with the report gives hints of possible further increases in income to individuals and families in the May Budget. A plan for priority areas of action and longer term work is scheduled for later this year.

We are at an important moment in the history of social security in this country. Real transformational change will occur only if all the recommendations in the report are implemented. NZCCSS wants to see wide involvement in developing the Government’s plan for change and the inclusion of clear milestones to hold the government accountable for its implementation.

Nothing has changed yet for people reliant on welfare – the first changes announced take effect in April 2020. Core benefit rates are unchanged, the sanctions regime is still in force, stand-down periods for access to benefits remain, and intrusive relationship rules still apply. The vision of welfare is still defined by a law that sees paid work as the path to participation and wellbeing.

More action for change is needed now, not sometime in the future. Some of the recommendations of the report could be implemented almost immediately, although others will require significant planning and system changes.

If the Government is going to achieve its goals for reducing child poverty, then significant lifts in income for whānau/families reliant on welfare support must happen, especially those on the very lowest incomes. Welfare transfers are the most direct and effective way to lift incomes for low- and middle-income households, which is an essential step to greater equality.

South Auckland community social worker Sr Margaret Martin summed up the situation by saying: “Having enough income to meet our needs and being treated with respect and understanding is a basic human right. As a society we cannot afford to demean the human dignity of another.”

 

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/