There is no justification for using the welfare system to economically punish sole mothers and their children, especially not in the name of a failed ‘child support’ policy.
The welfare system should ensure that sole mothers are able to have the financial security and independence necessary to raise their children.
For some people $22-$28 a week (or $1,144 – $1,456 a year) per child might not seem much, however the majority of sole parent families receiving benefits face severe hardship, and these sanctions only serve to increase the severity.
For a sole mother, $22-$28 per week is the difference between taking her child to the doctor when they are sick, or hoping it just goes away.
It is the difference between providing school lunches, or the kids going to school empty handed.
There are currently over 12,000 sole mothers subject to these sanctions.
96.8% of those with these sanctions are mothers, while there is a small number of men subject to these sanctions, it is far and away an issue affecting mothers.
As of 2016, 18% of sole parents receiving support from Work & Income are subject to these sanctions.
As of 2016, the proportion of sole parents affected by these sanctions is even higher for Māori (20%), and higher still for Pasifika (23%).
Over 16,000 children are currently subject to these sanctions.
Child poverty is a consequence of adult poverty, and these sanctions increase the severity of poverty faced by sole parents and their children. To address poverty we need to radically increase people’s incomes. Getting rid of the sanctions is one small step in increasing the incomes of those suffering from poverty in Aotearoa.
When a sole mother applies for a benefit from Work & Income they are required to fill out a child support application, and for this child support application to be processed the father’s name must be listed on the child’s birth certificate.
If the father’s name is not listed on the birth certificate, Work & Income can sanction the mother by taking $22 per week per child out of her benefit payments.
After these sanctions have been in place for 13 weeks, Work & Income can then increase these sanctions by $6 per week, making the sanctions $28 per week (per child).
When a non-beneficiary parent applies for child support and the application goes through, the child support payments get paid to IRD and then transferred to the parent who is looking after the child. However, if the parent is receiving a benefit from Work & Income, the child support money does not get transferred to the parent who is looking after the child, it is instead kept by the state.
Whilst it is up to a non-beneficiary parent whether or not they apply for child support, beneficiary parents have to apply for child support as part of the benefit application process.
It is clear that these sanctions are not about supporting children, they were instead put in place as a way of gathering revenue and cutting costs for the state, at the expense of mothers and their children.
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