Fewer sanctions will support the wellbeing of children

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) joins Auckland Action Against Poverty, the Beneficiary Advocacy Federation and ActionStation in applauding the easing of disciplinary action for benefit recipients, under less stringent welfare practices.

The December 2018 quarterly statistics from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show that approximately 8500 sanctions had been applied, a decrease of more than 6000 compared to the previous year.

An extensive study on welfare conditionality presented in 2018 from UK research reported that benefit sanctions "do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek, or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes and push some people away from collectivised welfare provision".

The report also found that "the provision of appropriate and meaningful support, rather than sanction, is pivotal in triggering and sustaining both paid employment and positive change such as the reduction of anti-social or problematic behaviours."

"Aotearoa’s welfare system is in need of a thorough overhaul, and CPAG is expecting significant changes pending the report back from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group," says Associate Professor Mike O’Brien, CPAG social security and children’s welfare spokesperson.

"We are pleased to see that, ahead of the report, the Government is taking a less harsh approach to supporting those who are most in need, as punitive measures that reduce already meagre incomes are likely to have devastating impacts for children.

"We remain particularly concerned about the application of Section 70A sanctions that reduce the Sole Parent Support benefit for recipients who cannot identify the other parent, which Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni has herself expressed concern over," says O'Brien.

A report by the MSD released to Newshub journalists in 2017 under the Official Information Act revealed that there was not sufficient evidence to confirm if the Section 70A sanctions "achieve the policy’s intent", and "compared to other sole parents, clients affected by Section 70A have higher risk factors for long-term welfare receipt and hardship". The sanctions penalise them for "making a choice they view as being in the best interests of their child."

Research recently released by the MSD recognises that poverty in a child’s early years can have serious impacts on their emotional development later in life, as well as impacting on maternal mental health.

"The impact of poverty on the mental health of mothers parenting in the early years may have long-term effects for their children’s outcomes. It is critical, for the sake of children, to ensure that mothers who receive a benefit have access to all the supports that they need without exacerbated poverty and harm caused by systemic punishments," says O’Brien.

"There is no way that a child, whose experience of life may already be impacted by hardship, should experience deeper poverty as a result of a punishment aimed at preventing what’s been referred to as "fathers shirking their parenting and financial duties".

CPAG is hopeful that the Government’s Budget 2019 will prioritise welfare reforms that will aid in reducing poverty for children and families, especially those most affected, including the abolishing of sanctions that increase poverty and negatively impact on children’s lives.

CPAG has also set out 17 practical recommendations to improve the lives of thousands of children whose families are reliant upon the welfare system to meet their basic needs.