Jacinda disagrees with accusation of ‘unjustifiably slow’ welfare reform

Jacinda Ardern says she disagrees with the accusation of “unjustifiably slow” welfare reform made by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

CPAG’s criticism of the Government’s response comes after more than 60 charities urged them to increase welfare payments in the lead-up to Christmas, which Ardern ruled out.

Progress on welfare reform is being made, she says.

CPAG’s wrote its critique of the Government’s performance after examining the Government’s response to the 42 recommendations the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) made in 2019.

“The Government says it wants welfare reform to enable people to live in dignity with adequate incomes, and it asked WEAG for a plan to achieve this,” says stocktake co-author Innes Asher, who served on the WEAG.

Asher says seven of the WEAG’s key recommendations have been “partially” implemented.

A further 12 “minimally” implemented. There is no evidence that over half the key recommendations have been implemented.

“Given WEAG found that people receiving benefits are living ‘desperate lives’ on ‘seriously inadequate incomes’, the progress on implementation appears unjustifiably slow,” co-author Caitlin Neuwelt-Kearns says.

Ardern says she disagrees with “some parts” of CPAGs report.

“For instance, their view is that we’ve made no progress on the issue of income when it comes to people on Government support. We’ve always been very open that that is something that was going to take time and I disagree with the criticism of no progress.

“We’ve had both the [$5 billion] Families Package, we’ve had the general benefits increase, we’ve had the winter energy payment [which was doubled this year to $40 per week for singles and $63 for couples and those with dependent children], we … have indexed benefits to wage increases, which was actually one of the recommendations of the WEAF.”

Also included in the package were $60 weekly BestStart payments for parents of newborns until they turn 1-year-old, as well as tax credits for families with dependent children based on income thresholds.

After modelling the Families Package to see how it impacted on the poorest children, CPAG found it wasn’t enough to release children and their families from poverty.

CPAGs report accuses Ardern of overstating the Government’s progress on welfare reform.

It notes during the TVNZ Leaders Debate in September, Ardern said: “We’ve implemented 22 of the recommendations so far and we have seen that the changes that we’ve made have already made a big difference.”

CPAG says they haven’t all been implemented – instead, they’re being worked on.

This was confirmed by Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, who said work is “currently underway” to address around 22 of WAG’s recommendations.

“Hyperbolic claims … do a disservice to the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who must continue to make ends meet with inadequate support,” CPAG’s report says.

Ardern responded saying the Government’s welfare improvements include spending over $13 billion on the wage subsidy scheme in response to COVID-19 and removing some sanctions from benefits.


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