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Dozens of NGOs urge Jacinda Ardern: Raise welfare by Christmas

Over 60 prominent organisations have joined together to urge the government to raise income support by Christmas, in order to release families from dire poverty.

Unions, social service NGOs, housing providers, churches, and groups representing Māori, women, children and people with disabilities are among those who have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and Minister of Finance Grant Robertson urging them to lift inadequate welfare payments to "liveable" levels.

"The depth and breadth of organisations who have come together to make this call shows the consensus that this new government needs to immediately increase income support rates," says ActionStation economic fairness campaigner Ruby Powell.

Signatories include the Council of Trade Unions, National Council of Women, Mental Health Foundation, Citizens Advice Bureau, Tokona Te Raki (Māori Futures Collective), Salvation Army, Disabled Persons Assembly and Whānau Āwhina Plunket.

"The situation is urgent," the organisations say in the letter, citing the surge in emergency hardship grants and youth homelessness, and blaming long-term underinvestment in income support, high housing costs, and ongoing COVID-19 economic fallout including increases in unemployment.

The signatories ask the government to apply "common sense" to "make sure everyone, whether they are working, caring for children, living with a disability or illness, learning, or have lost their jobs before or because of COVID-19, has a liveable income." They say the extra support made available to those who lose their jobs due to COVID-19 shows the government understands "current benefit levels are insufficient and lock families and children into poverty."

Auckland Action Against Poverty say they are worried people will struggle to survive over summer.

"This government has said they want to lead for every New Zealander," says AAAP coordinator Brooke Stanley Pao. "Part of this is ensuring those facing direct financial difficulties and crisis aren’t immediately locked into poverty by low income support rates. This is what is happening now for increasing numbers of people across the country."

Child Poverty Action Group notes the government aims to make Aotearoa a great place to be a child.

"If income support were adequate, we could all sleep better at night knowing that we have collectively all done our bit to support parents and caregivers in their important mission, and ensured all children have more of an opportunity to have a safe, carefree, lively and playful childhood," says CPAG’s Janet McAllister. "Paid work is simply not possible for everyone. Meeting the needs of our children - ensuring we’re no longer denying them their rights - is the least we can do.

"The support for liveable incomes is strong and widespread."

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OPEN LETTER to the Prime Minister, Minister of Social Development & Employment and Minister of Finance:

Dear Jacinda, Carmel and Grant,

No matter who we are or where we live, we know that our wellbeing is interconnected with those around us.

When everyone has what they need to look after themselves and fully participate in their communities, we all flourish.

We all want every child in Aotearoa to experience a thriving and happy childhood.

But right now, hundreds of thousands of children are constrained by poverty, despite parents’ best efforts.

We’ve had a long period of low wages and high housing costs. For decades, governments have underinvested in key public services that build well-being in all our communities, like public housing and income support. Many governments have prioritised policies that help the already well-off, including people who make money from housing.

As a result, too many parents are under-resourced, overstressed, and unable to give their children real opportunities to thrive.

Now due to the ongoing COVID-19 economic fallout, more families are being pushed into poverty.

Unemployment has risen at a record-breaking pace - increasing by nearly a third in the three months to September. Foodbanks and youth homelessness services are reporting huge increases in demand. By Christmas, it’s expected Work and Income will have allocated over 2.5 million hardship grants and advances this year alone.

The situation is urgent. As the new government, you can release the growing constraints on individuals, families, and children.

We are calling on you to lift one of the biggest limitations on whānau and child wellbeing: not having enough income.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, you acted quickly to set up the COVID income relief payment, which is nearly twice the amount of the usual jobseeker benefit. You showed us that you understand that current benefit levels are insufficient and lock families and children into poverty - an issue that affects all of us.

Now, we are asking you to apply the same common sense approach to all income support. To make sure everyone, whether they are working, caring for children, living with a disability or illness, learning, or have lost their jobs before or because of COVID-19, has a liveable income.

Doing so will help achieve your vision of making Aotearoa the best place to be a child.

Before the election, the Labour party has consistently said there’s more work to be done to lift families out of poverty. You now have the mandate and opportunity to do so. Please increase income support before Christmas.

SIGNED:

  • ActionStation
  • Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers
  • Auckland Action Against Poverty
  • Auckland City Mission
  • Auckland Women’s Centre
  • Barnardos
  • Belong Aotearoa
  • Beneficiaries & Unwaged Worker Trust
  • Beneficiary Advocacy Services Christchurch
  • Benefit Rights Service
  • Birthright NZ
  • Brainwave Trust Aotearoa
  • CCS Disability Action
  • Child Poverty Action Group
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Community Networks Aotearoa
  • Disabled Person’s Assembly
  • Equality Network
  • FinCap
  • FIRST Union
  • Hutt valley Benefit Education Service Trust (BEST)
  • Kore Hiakai Zero Hunger Collective
  • Lifewise
  • Manaaki Rangatahi
  • Manawatū Tenants’ Union
  • Māngere East Family Services
  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Methodist Alliance
  • Monte Cecilia Housing Trust
  • National Council of Women
  • Network Waitangi Otautahi
  • New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services
  • New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
  • New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations
  • Ngā Tāngata Microfinance
  • NZ Disability Advisory Trust
  • NZ Accessibility Advisory Trust
  • NZEI Te Riu Roa
  • Pacific Women’s Watch NZ
  • Public Issues Network: Methodist Church
  • Public Service Association
  • Renters United
  • Salvation Army
  • Save the Children
  • Sisters of Mercy Wiri
  • Social Justice Group of the Auckland Anglican Diocese
  • Social Link
  • St Anne's Pantry
  • St Matthews in the City
  • Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga: National Network of Family Violence Services
  • Tick for Kids
  • Tokona Te Raki
  • United Community Action Network
  • Unite
  • Urban Neighbours of Hope
  • VisionWest
  • Waipareira Trust
  • We Are Beneficiaries
  • Wesley Community Action
  • Whānau Āwhina Plunket