There has been a degree of frustration amongst some that this Government has not implemented as many of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommendations as they have. My personal view is that coalition politics have not made meaningful change always possible. And also that Carmel Sepuloni has been working in the background progressing the decisions and a number of changes have been implemented. Her speech in Parliament in March this year sets out some of the changes that have been made.
She said this:
One of my primary areas of focus is, of course, the welfare overhaul, and I acknowledge the Green Party, our confidence and supply partners, for putting it into our agreement when we came into Government, and we are all committed to that welfare overhaul. We know it won’t happen overnight, because there’s so much to fix up within our social security system. However, we’re committed to doing it, and I wanted to talk a little bit about the things that have already been done. There were 42 recommendations in that Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) report, and I’m going to rattle through, really quickly in the next three minutes, what work has already been done or how we’ve responded to those recommendations. I’m going to talk really quickly.
In response to WEAG recommendation 2, which is to implement principles to guide the design and operation of the welfare system, we’ve developed a working policy framework to guide the welfare overhaul, which includes kaupapa Māori values, the purpose of the welfare system as a whole, and the outcomes we want to see. In response to recommendation 3, to establish a cross-Government approach to this welfare overhaul, our Social Wellbeing Cabinet Committee is already overseeing this work. In response to recommendation 5, to implement better reporting, we are regularly monitoring the longer-term employment outcomes of people leaving the benefit system. In fact, we’ve already started to record sustainability of employment exits, which is what the previous Government completely ignored. In response to recommendation 6 and recommendation 9, to work toward greater equity for Māori, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has launched its Te Ao Māori strategy and action plan, Te Pae Tata, which is about embedding a Māori world view into MSD to help staff think differently about the way they work with Māori—because, let’s be honest, the welfare system has not worked for Māori in this country for a very long time.
In response to recommendation 8, to build MSD’s cultural responsiveness and improve outcomes for Pacific people, MSD has launched their Pacific strategy and action plan, Pacific Prosperity, to guide future policy development in delivering better coordinated action together. In response to recommendation 11, to remove some sanctions and obligations, we have already removed the section 192 sanction, which will come into effect on 1 April, which unnecessarily penalised sole parents. As of 1 April 2020, 24,000 children will be significantly better off as a result of this, with many sole parents’ incomes increasing by an average of $34 per week. In response to recommendation 12, to improve front-line services at MSD, we’ve introduced a client commitment charter, made changes to Work and Income offices to make them warmer and friendlier, implemented an online eligibility guide, and launched Heartbeat to better understand client experiences.
In response to recommendations 14, 15, and 16, to address issues of debt, we have started an inter-agency work programme to look at Government debt, developed the Safer Credit and Financial Inclusion Strategy, and my colleague Minister Faafoi has announced new rules around high-cost short-term lending to protect consumers from punishing debt at the hands of loan sharks. In response to recommendation 18, to improve support for people exiting prisons, we announced Māori Pathways, a group of targeted interventions from the Department of Corrections, Te Puni Kōkiri, and the Ministry of Social Development, aimed at reducing reoffending rates of high security prisoners. And in response to recommendation 20, to increase abatement rates, we have increased how much people can earn before their benefit is reduced, in line with the minimum wage, and that comes into effect on 1 April.
I only got up to recommendation 20. There are 42 in here.
The training incentive allowance was the policy that Paula Bennett famously utilised to help her get a degree and then cancelled when National was in power. Clearly she was unconcerned that she was pulling the ladder up and preventing others from receiving the help that she did.
The WEAG proposed an increase to abatement levels for those on the Jobseeker Support to $150 a week and for those on Sole Parent Support and Supported Living Payment to $150 a week and $250 a week.
The Government previously increased abatement levels but only by the incremental change to minimum wage levels. Their latest proposal is much more significant.
From Labour’s policy release:
- Reinstating the Training Incentive Allowance for higher skilled courses which will provide up to $4,515 per year to assist with extra costs
- Increasing the amount of money people who are working part-time can earn while on a benefit
- Continuing the welfare overhaul and implementing the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group
- Revamping and expanding the Flexi-wage programme to support up to 40,000 more New Zealanders into work or to set up a business