How can we ask families to stock up for a week when they don't have enough for today?
A range of Cabinet Ministers have bee encouraging us all to stock up on supplies so that they will last families and households for 2 weeks while having to isolate if they catch the virus or are close contacts. Isolation requirements are a critical part of the actions we all need to take in order to manage the outbreak as safely as possible with both hospitalisations and deaths kept to a minimum.
However, stocking up on groceries, prescriptions, maybe school needs and activities for children will be an impossible option for many families. Those families on low incomes and/or on benefits struggle to meet the demands for food, warmth, clothing, recreation, school every day – there is nothing left over for extras. Stocking up is not an option. Daily stocking of the shelves is a very difficult stretch as it is.
Careful budgeting and money management will not be sufficient to provide the resources to stock up. These households are already budgeting very carefully and managing their resources in ways that more affluent families do not need to do. As the research clearly shows, they have to be very careful every day in order to get by.
The significantly growing demands on foodbanks and on hardship grants from WINZ clearly show how difficult/impossible it is to create a two week stockpile of essentials. The latest poverty statistics from the Child Poverty monitor show that 20% of children lived in households which ran out of food sometimes or often. For Māori and Pacific children it was over 30%. Eleven percent of children lived in households going without essentials. Again, the figures are much higher for Māori (19%), Pacific (26%) and disabled (20%) children. One quarter of all children live in households which could not pay an unexpected bill of $500.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Many of these households are receiving a benefit, while many others are in low paid work. So, the way forward requires two critical steps. First, the already announced benefit increases need to happen now and need to be more significant and substantial than is planned for April 1. They need to go further than those recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group because inflation and core living costs have already made those dated.
Second, they need to include changes to family tax credits. Again, the WEAG recommendations provide a good base. Removing the discrimination faced by beneficiary families so that all families receive the full in work tax credit for children is a critical start. Equally, adjustments to family tax credits need to be indexed to wages as is the case for New Zealand superannuation and abatement thresholds also need to be indexed to wage changes. These requirements are critical for families and for ensuring that families could ‘stock up’.
Government has shown during the pandemic that it can move quickly. The business support package showed just how quickly this can de done as money was very quickly made available for those who qualified. The same speed needs to happen for families and could be done, given that all the information that is required is held by WINZ and IRD. These support packages for businesses also showed that government has access to the money that is needed. So, arguments that the types of changes we are talking about here cannot be afforded don’t stand up to scrutiny. Surely there can be no higher priority than ensuring that all children are properly provided for?