In our work at Auckland Action Against Poverty we see aroha and heart in the people we work with every day. The people we work with - people who might be on benefits, on low pay, disabled, affected by poverty in other ways - show up for each other, care for each other, and share with each other.
But the people we work with, and all of us, are being failed by a broken welfare system, incapable of addressing poverty caused by colonisation and our economic model. Every day people are leaving Work & Income feeling harassed and humiliated because the benefit system is complicated and punitive. The focus on paid employment doesn’t work for everyone, and the culture and rules are based on suspicion, not genuine social security.
The Government has made some changes to how benefit levels are indexed and the ‘abatement’ rules (the amount you can earn before benefits get reduced), and slightly increased benefit levels last year because of covid. Unfortunately, the people we work with are saying it’s not enough. These tweaks to the system fall far short of transformation and will not lift our communities out of poverty.
Why this is Important
The Government has said it wants a kinder society. But there is a chasm between the rhetoric of kindness and the reality of our welfare system.
If we are truly committed to transforming our economic system, reckoning with colonisation, and building thriving lives for everyone, we would end the stress and humiliation faced every day by people leaving Work & Income.
Sign our petition and share it in your community to show you care - and to show that you also recognise that we can and must do better as a society.
What We All Need
We want something better than this. We all should be able to live enriched lives, and where we have the right to participate fully in our society. To achieve this we need:
1. Liveable incomes for all
Core benefit levels and income support are not enough to live on. Aotearoa New Zealand came into the pandemic with the third lowest benefits in the OECD. Even the Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni admitted that benefits are “not enough”. Yet the Government is refusing to raise benefits, leaving people locked into poverty. The Government must urgently increase core benefit levels - so that after people have paid for food, rent, and bills everyone has enough income to thrive.
2. Individualised benefits so people aren’t punished for being in relationships
The current rules treat people in relationships as one financial unit. This is out-of-date, patriarchal, and penalises people for being in relationships. People said to be in relationships get reduced entitlements, and experts have demonstrated that this has particularly harsh impacts on single people and sole parents. Our tax system is based on individual assessment. It’s time the welfare system was brought into the twenty-first century, and that benefits were individualised.
3. An end to sanctions and obligations
The welfare system is based on distrust and suspicion. People talk with pride of our ‘welfare’ state, but many of our benefits are conditional and provide support for people only in exchange for required behaviour. International studies have shown that sanctions are ineffective and damaging. Even the Ministry of Social Development’s own research has acknowledged that little work has been done to compare sanctions with other policies designed to achieve similar goals. This is an admission that sanctions are not based on sound evidence. We need to remove all sanctions and obligations, so that our welfare system is based on respect and trust rather than suspicion.
4. Genuinely universal essential services
One of the reasons benefits are not enough is our public services are inadequate for guaranteeing a decent standard of living. Services have been privatised since the 1980s, replaced by user-pays, and governments have failed to plug gaps in the system: like GP fees and the need to pay for dental care in the health system. To assure decent incomes for all, we need universal basic services - so that people are not forced into debt to pay for their basic needs. Crucial elements of this would include a mass build and buy programme of state housing with secure tenure, power, internet, and a comprehensive universal healthcare, including free dental and an end to GP fees.