A sole parent who has spent the past six years on welfare says the promised beefed-up benefit payment is helpful but still won’t stretch to buy a decent woollen jersey this winter.
“It’s not transformative but it is a step” said Scout Barbour-Evans, 26.
“This doesn’t mean we’ll be able to live in our own home but it will mean that we can participate with my daughter’s friends in things like social activities and that when something breaks it’ll be ever so slightly easier to start putting payments towards fixing it.But it’s still going to be difficult.”
In the biggest lift in benefits in more than a generation welfare payments were yesterday increased significantly, with the Government injecting a massive $3.3 billion into social spending.
This follows years of pressure from advocacy groups to raise benefit levels as part of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s pledge to address child poverty.
Beneficiary payments are set to be boosted by up to $55 a week come next April, potentially lifting tens of thousands of children out of poverty.
The increases will be implemented in two stages, the first taking place from July 1 and the second, by the following April.
All benefits will be raised to levels recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said this would mean 109,000 families with children would be, on average, better off by $40 a week and 263,000 individuals and couples without children would be better off by $42 a week.
It’s seen qualified praise from the social service sector and beneficiaries alike who say while a raise is great news it is not necessarily enough to live on and this should be seen as a starting point.
“It’s a great start but it’s barely keeping up with the increases in costs people are facing,” said the Salvation Army’s Lieutenant Colonel Lynette Hutson.
“Those who are under the most pressure on benefits now are still pretty much going to be struggling to keep their heads above the water line.
“We would like to see it moving towards what is determined to be a living allowance.”
Barbour-Evans, who is a parent to a pre-schooler based in Dunedin, said their weekly budget barely had any room for things going awry.
“I have $30 left after all of the bills, expenses, groceries and medications are paid for. My budget is down to the last cent. That $30 is not even the price of a good quality new sweater.”
It was due to careful household budgeting and frugal living choices that meant the family-of-two generally lived within their means but there were still times staples such as groceries and clothes were put on the credit card on the tightest weeks.
“We make that work by wearing second-hand clothes, we catch the bus or walk everywhere and share a house with another family,” said Barbour-Evans.
But they feared it would be a different story should they live elsewhere in New Zealand.
“If I lived in Auckland I’d be screwed. I would have to have another family living in my house with the two families that are already here.”
South Auckland’s Angel Kaur, who is presently crammed in a two-bedroom emergency housing unit caring for her six children and nephew, yesterday had nothing but praise for the increase in benefit support.
“I’m just grateful for what I get. I believe it’s a privilege to get money from the Government. But I must say with seven children it’s a struggle being a solo mum.”
With children aged from five months to 16 years, Kaur, 31, said she was frequently going to Work and Income for food and petrol grants.
“Having the extra money wil be a complete blessing and will help up us to live better.
We’ll be able to do more things and the more money I get the more I can provide for my children and I can provide a better future because financially we’ll be better off.”
Sepuloni said it was not only the right thing to do but was also good for the economy.
“Today is a milestone to meet some recommendations, and in some instances exceed, and it is a milestone in terms of getting ahead of pre-Ruth Richardson benefit cuts of the 1990s,” she said.
“We have gone a long way to restoring the dignity of our welfare system.”
Not surprisingly it won praise from a Welfare Expert Advisory Group member who said the Budget addressed the levels of poverty many beneficiaries had been forced to live in.
“It has done so with the largest increase in three decades, thirty years after Ruth Richardson’s ‘Mother of All Budgets’ that plunged beneficiaries into austerity and deep poverty,” said Charles Waldegrave.
Whānau Āwhina Plunket, the country’s largest provider of healthcare services for children under 5, said they were delighted to see an increase in benefits.
Chief executive Amanda Malu said the organisation, which worked directly with tens of thousands of families every year, had witnessed first-hand the impacts that poverty was having on our youngest Kiwis.
“We know that the first 1000 days are the most important time in a child’s development, so having food on the table, in warm, healthy homes, is absolutely critical.
“These are issues we have been advocating about for years with successive Governments, and we are delighted that there has finally been a move towards increasing benefit rates and lifting our children out of poverty. There is still a long way to go, but we are encouraged by the direction provided by this year’s Wellbeing Budget,” she said.
The Children’s Commissioner also gave qualified praise for raising benefits saying it would help relieve hardship among some families but more was needed to significantly improve children’s lives now and meet future poverty targets.
“This is an important and significant step forward for children living in poverty and hardship and is well on the way to meeting the Government’s 10-year poverty targets,”said Judge Andrew Becroft.
“However I’m worried that the needs of children now are still not being adequately met. More than 125,000 children are living in material hardship, and Māori, Pacific and disabled children figure far too much in that group.”
The Green Party today said it would continue to push for a long-term commitment to lift all New Zealanders out of poverty.
“The Greens, alongside community groups, have long pushed to end poverty here in Aotearoa. Whether it be the redistribution of wealth with tax reform and a Guaranteed Minimum Income, or the implementation of the WEAG recommendations,” said co-leader Marama Davidson.
Meanwhile, National leader Judith Collins labelled it “the Broken Compass Budget” saying it lacked the plan and ambition New Zealand needed to grow the economy.
“Labour doesn’t have any direction for getting the country back on track to prosperity,” she said.
She added that all New Zealanders were feeling the pinch right now, not just those on the jobseeker benefit and the minimum wage.
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