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What the Government has done for beneficiaries

Written By: - Date published: 9:22 am, March 7th, 2020 - 43 comments
Categories: benefits, Carmel Sepuloni, labour, minimum wage, political parties, poverty, uncategorized, wages, welfare - Tags:

This has been a contentious issue for Labour and the Greens for a while.  An early response from the Government to poverty issues was to set up the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.  The group’s report Whakamana Tāngata Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand contained 43 recommendations.

The Government has been criticised for not implementing many of these. Its initial response was to immediately implement two of the 43 recommendations.

But Carmel Sepuloni has been working behind the scenes to implement more. This recent speech in Parliament set out some of the progress being made.

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, 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 recommendation 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 many people can earn before their benefit is reduced, in line with the minimum wage, and that comes into effect on 1 April.

Carmel ran out of time and was not able to talk about what was happening with the remaining recommendations.  And of those she did mention some of them need to be be accelerated, particularly treatment of loan sharks.  Interest rates have been capped, but a lot more needs to be done.

She also gave this earlier speech to the Child Poverty Action Group in November last year where she said this:

… there are around 20 WEAG recommendations where work is underway or they are being actively considered whilst the remainder will need to be phased in as part of the medium and longer term, work programme.

Overhauling the welfare system is a large, expensive, complicated task with many moving parts and was always going to take more than one term of government.

As I’m sure you will appreciate many of the proposed changes for the welfare overhaul have fiscal implications and are therefore Budget sensitive so I am limited in what I can say today.

But I can give you a guide to the government’s longer term intentions within the welfare space.

In the medium-term 2 – 4 years, we will be focused on:

  • Re-setting the foundations of the welfare system
  • Increasing income support and addressing debt
  • strengthening and expanding employment services
  • improving supports and services for disabled people, people with health conditions and disabilities and their carers 
  • enhancing the community sector

In the longer term, 4 to 5 years and beyond, we will be focused on:

  • Simplifying the income support system
  • Aligning the welfare system with other support systems and Reviewing housing and childcare supports.”

Of the two original recommendations that have been implemented the increase in abatement levels needs to go much further in my opinion.  The original abatement level was set in the 1990s and has only been increased by minimum wage increases.

Of course the big one is recommendation 26, increases to core benefits.  The Government is urged to:

Increase, as soon as possible, overall income support to levels adequate for meaningful participation in the community, as defined by the minimum income standard (which reflects different family circumstances, for example, children, disabilities and regional area) and maintain this level of support through appropriate indexation.

Clearly there are divergent views amongst the Government parties what these should be.  And National would behave like a pig in muck at any sign of increased benefits.  After all it has attacked minimum wage increases even though Bridges says National wants to grow the economy for everyone.

Hopefully the next budget will include real increases to basic levels.  Although to be fair to the Government its Families Package introduced in the first 100 days included the Best Start payment for families with new babies as well as the winter energy payment, and made significant enhancements to the family tax credit, the foster care allowance, orphans benefit, unsupported child benefit and the accommodation supplement.

I know that the Government has been criticised for not improving things more quickly.  My own view is that this is like turning the Titanic around.  National in Government made a myriad of decisions, a budget cut here, a legal tweak there, to change things for the worse.  Labour will need a similar time, and a similar determination to roll back those nine years of changes.

43 comments on “What the Government has done for beneficiaries ”

  1. pat 1

    you are a generous and patient man MS…unfortunately many are not and therein lies the issue with so many of the solutions to systemic problems….the time required to make discernible improvement.

  2. Sacha 2

    Increasing benefits immediately is purely a matter of political context, not of any technical or policy delays. Maybe the covid-19 outbreak changes the landscape enough?

  3. Cinny 3

    This may seems minor to some, but it's a big deal for others. Simply changing the colour of some of their forms has made a massive difference to those suffering from dyslexia and anxeity.

  4. Gabby 4

    Systems in place, downstream top-of-mind blue sky thinking.

  5. Augustus 5

    'Simplifying' the welfare system is what gave us 'jobseekers' who are long term ill, over 60, widowed etc., all those groups who had targeted help before everyone was thrown into the same pot. And you can't blame National for that either, as Labour has had this same target for years as well. Sometimes there's a point to complexity.

  6. adam 6

    And right there is just one more reason to encourage people not to vote.

    The words of politicians become more meaningless with the passage of time. Three years of inaction and now a promise to do somthing in the future.

    I'd be laughing if I wasn't real people suffering.

    • McFlock 6.1

      Non-voters get even less.

      Bernie changed the game because people voted for him enough that other politicians changed course.

      Encourage people to vote for smaller parties. And help those smaller parties. Not even parliamentary parties, if even the Greens are too neoliberal for your taste.

      Try campaigning for the Communist League or Socialist Aotearoa.

      But remember, no politician gives a fuck what non-voters think.

      • adam 6.1.1

        Voters get nothing, unless they are paying the politicians.

        As for your vapid remark about the Communist League or Socialist Aotearoa, just proves how much you never listen to people arguments, and in turn – just make shit up.

        • McFlock 6.1.1.1

          Voters got NZ1 into government.

          Voters got Labour into government.

          Voters got the Greens into government.

          Voters got nats into parliament.

          Voters got Seymour into parliament.

          Non-voters got… a sense of superiority.

          And if the socialists or communists aren't left enough for you, form your own damned party.

          • adam 6.1.1.1.1

            A double down of what I said about not listening, it be funny if it wasn't so sad.

            • McFlock 6.1.1.1.1.1

              I can only read what you write, not what you think you said.
              You said “Voters get nothing, unless they are paying the politicians.”

              I gave a list of what voters for different parties got, most with no payment involved.

              • adam

                Have a nice day Mcflock. You seem to need it.

                • McFlock

                  Well, there's this nagging void in my existence where your clear explanation of what I failed to understand should be, but other than that it's a quiet, rainy Sunday and life is pretty mellow. You good?

        • Gabby 6.1.1.2

          Can't imagine why you'd want to discourage inconvenient people from voting.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 6.2

      The current government (and component parties) certainly promised good things.

      No need to over-egg your criticism – at worst they are guilty of almost two years and five months of ‘inaction’, not "Three years of inaction". No doubt, from your point of view, three years of inaction will roll around soon enough.

  7. Descendant Of Smith 7

    "Sometimes there's a point to complexity."

    The creation of the Job Seekers benefit obfuscated how many people are unemployed – rather than unwell or raising children.

    National added to the Job Seekers mix:

    Widows, those who were sick or unwell, sole parents with children over 14 and sole parents who dared to have a child while on benefit. The unemployed now includes women with three week old babies.

    The media when they talk about the unemployed seem oblivious to all this. Labour seem happy to continue the lack of clarity.

    Who the hell knows how many unemployed – fit and healthy and not having young children being raised by one parent, there are? The re-defining of "unemployed" to look like this keeps the numbers looking like they are high (helps suppress wages) and allows people to be judgmental about lazy beneficiaries as the number of unemployed seems much higher than it is.

    Would be interesting what the numbers equivalent to the old unemployment benefit would actually look like.

    It's the same trick pulled by increased the NZS age from 60 to 65. You created an increased pool of unemployed. Would also be interesting to see how many of the unemployed are in that age group.

    The current Labour government is pulling the same trick again with getting rid of including spouses in NZS. They will now presumably end up in the Job Seeker ranks in the main pushing the numbers up again.

    All this manipulation means that you can’t get any sense of historical comparison.

    • RedLogix 7.1

      Very good points, all of which underline why I feel the current system is broken beyond useful repair.

  8. Sabine 8

    So essentially the invalids benefit, the widowers benefit, the women over fifty benefit will not come back? They are all 'job seekers' right?

    The twelve week stand down is still there right? And may and may not be waived for people affected by the Corona Virus….Yeah, right Tui. Start doing that because people already lost jobs and not only in the Clear Logging Industry.

    Is the heating allowance for everyone on a benefit? Will low income people be able to apply for it?

    Are women on the benefit still punished for having a sex life or a love life?

    Are children still suffering if their parents get 'sanctioned'? Will sanctions be made redunant?

    Or are we really to rejoice that Winz will have to attempt to treat humans like humans? Has anyone at Winz lost their jobs over their treatment of 'clients'?

    I do like this tho, here is the one line where you are properly honest Mickey :

    Hopefully the next budget will include real increases to basic levels.

    Why would they? They expect us to re-elect them on the very little they done so far, why would they 'include real increases to basic levels' in three years time, they could have done it this time and more people might actually be considering voting for them. I am to vote for them because they promise that if we keep them in their 6 figure jobs plus perks that they will do better? Really?

    In the meantime, my friend – who should be on a invalids benefit / early retirement , but is at a 'job seekers' benefit (despite her not being able to be employed by anyone if she is honest about her medical history) will have a rent increase in April of 50$ per week which will leave her 40 dollar short despite her getting a generous 10.44$ aka 3% increase. Meaning she will loose the generous $ 20 she has per week to eat. Oh yeah, and moving to somewhere cheaper? Yeah, right Tui!

    As i said, not enough to live on but too much to just die away.

    • Hi Sabine

      There is a Supported Living Benefit which replaces the old Invalid Benefit. Supported Living pays around $50 weekly more than Job Seeker – which is for those seeking work and Job Seeker Sickness for those suffering short term ill health, Solo parents are on a different rate again.

      Has your friend applied for Supported Living ? If her doctor makes the application and provides medical evidence to prove inability to ever work again then it should be seriously considered by WINZ. In the event of a rent increase application could be made for extra accommodation supplement plus TAS (Temporary Additional Support).

      Many good advocates around who regularly take clients to WINZ to enable them receive all their entitlements.

      • Sabine 8.1.1

        i think she might, as she explained that we was on this different benefit. In saying that, it is the benefit that leaves her 20$ a week for food, or electricity, or phone. Which ever she pays first. She has a job, one day a week for some friends, while she might not be able to sew and make garments anymore she is very knowledgable and thus can help in their fabric store. But not enough. At the end of the day, she has 20$ a week for food, and when her rent increase comes through she will have no more money left for food. But i guess its kinder and gentler bullshit, and that should give us heart.

        And she is not the only one, there are way to many in this country that are in the exact same shoes, and all that rosy flowered bs that is being sprouted by people who need poverty in order to have a job is nothing more then that, sickly sweet parfumed bullshit. None of these guys and girls would be were they are had they actually the intention of getting rid of poverty. The Labour party needs poverty and poor people in the same sense as the No Mates Party needs riches and rich people. So they will not do what must be done, lest they end up having to actually work for their pay.

    • Cricklewood 8.2

      This is what annoys me with this govt…

      Shane Jones has billions of largesse to throw around with the pgf but the same govt can't find $50 per week for beneficiaries? Which lets be honest would have a far great effect on wellbeing and regional economies.

      Fisheries monitoring rolled back, business as usual with mines on conservation land, ev legislation canned etc etc

      Kinda feel like the greens have rolled over on all this shit and for what? Plastic bags?

      • Sabine 8.2.1

        and electric cars, sweet brand new cars courtesy of you and me. Ain't life grand when you can get elected to parliament.

  9. Cricklewood 9

    TLDR… Sweet fuck all

  10. Chris 10

    "National in Government made a myriad of decisions, a budget cut here, a legal tweak there, to change things for the worse. Labour will need a similar time, and a similar determination to roll back those nine years of changes."

    And then a similar time on top of that again to roll back the previous nine years of change between 1999 and 2008? In lots of ways they were worse than what the nats did.

  11. Herodotus 11

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sSnWzyM4Z8

    Whilst those in Wellington play politics, families are still in need. A govt "gives" a few dollars out, those in dramatic need are STILL in need, just $5-$10/week less in need. What a response. Hope this years Chardonnay is from a great vintage, for these Labour socialists.

  12. SPC 12

    Nothing at all on a continuing injustice?

    Why is it that those on incomes so inadequate they need to apply for hardship grants are then expected to repay these grants out of the same inadequate incomes?

    Every time someone gets the hardship grant their income is reduced. People are essentially being punished for being poor.

    Just compare this to the tertiary loan – where no repayments are made until they are on a "living wage". Yet those not on a living wage who seek a hardship grant are expected to repay it out of their meagre benefit.

    Why the double standard?

    Surely not because students are middle class and beneficiaries are of a lower class? And different rules apply to those of a different class?

  13. JanM 13

    "beneficiaries are of a lower class". Since when?

    • Sabine 13.1

      since ever.

      sir, may i have another?

      nope, but you can apply for a hardship grant.

      • patricia 13.1.1

        Sabine your bitterness is evident. Remember when people couldn't even get in the door to ask?

        Your impatience must hearten National and Act readers, for they hope enough won't vote, which will let them back at the helm by default.

        Watch what you wish for, and pass the positive advice on to your friend rather than wallow in her problems. as a way of expressing your own impatience.

        You give this Govt no credence for all the difficulties in their two year five month term, along with running a country very well by world standards. We know they are trying to improve systems. Not always how we would like, however, the real cure is to give the Greens and Labour a clear mandate and no handbrake.

        So please vote for a two party coalition, or possibly a 3 party one with a resurrected Maori Party, to advance the gains.

        This budget will be more difficult because of coronavirus, and we may all need to cut our cloth even more. You are sneezing at the $10.00, but forgetting that National want to give everyone $10.00 so they can say, you have to help yourself.

      • Chris 13.1.2

        And can't have another one of those, either.

  14. Ad 14

    The purpose of the social welfare system is to decrease poverty.

    Under this government none of this tinkering has achieved that.

    Time to replace Sepuloni with a new Minister of Social Welfare.

    • pat 14.1

      "Time to replace Sepuloni with a new Minister of Social Welfare."

      Think that may be a little harsh/premature….I agree she dosnt present terribly well but I think she has the right intent but may be restricted by CCR….more time will tell, there have been improvements.

      • Ad 14.1.1

        A term is enough.

        I don't care how she presents.

        If you haven't made a really good dent in the poverty levels or the GINI Coefficient in 3 years, it's time to give the bat to someone else.

    • Chris 14.2

      The statutory purpose of social security is to shoe-horn people into work. Labour introduced that in 2007, with the effect of ousting Michael Joseph Savage's long title of the 1938 Act which remained part of the 1964 Act. Labour then passed National's 2018 Act ignoring the opportunity to fix anything.

      The current minister is a cardboard cut-out put there because the government had no intention of effecting real change. Whether that’s still the case we’ll just have to wait and see. History isn’t on the side of the poor.

  15. Tiger Mountain 15

    You are way too kind Micky Sav.

    Labour bought in the “Jobs Jolt” in the Clark era, where by geographic sanctions were implemented, i.e. if you move to the provinces from a city–no benefit–and associated freedom of movement potentially impinged. Labour adopted “The Model”–the neo liberal judging of those deserving and undeserving of state assistance.

    Labour never reinstated the Richardson benefit cuts. And now they are dragging their heels big time when they could lift thousands instantly with amendments to the existing Act, and instructions to WINZ/MSD top echelons on pain of reapplying for their jobs.

    Abatement rates, removing stand downs for seasonal workers and everyone really, cancelling erroneous debt, making benefits unique to holder and income splitting, could all be enacted virtually immediately. And increase substantially all benefit rates, particularly for invalids and disabled who should be well away from the “job seeker” description.

    It just requires political will and courage and that is the hard part for Labour’s neo liberal managerialists.

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