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CPAG welcomes WEAG recommendations to ensure dignity for all

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welcomes today’s release of the long-anticipated report from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG): Whakamana Tāngata: Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand.

The report shows the depth of the analysis that the group has undertaken in its consideration of improving support for people in Aotearoa who, in times of stress, illness and precarious incomes, rely on the welfare system for their families’ wellbeing needs.

“It’s a remarkable endeavour with some really encouraging recommendations, particularly in terms of the report’s emphasis on dignity, income adequacy and assistance to provide each individual the opportunity to participate fully in society,” says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG’s Economics spokesperson.

“We are particularly pleased to note a vast cultural and philosophical shift around the purpose and intent of welfare, away from the current punitive regime that has become the tragic norm, and toward one that is based on compassion, kindness and empathy.”

“The focus on meeting individual needs, rather than simply ticking boxes will go a long way to minimise the stresses we know that people who regularly interact with Work and Income (WINZ) experience,” says St John.

CPAG prepared 17 practical recommendations toward having Welfare Fit for Families in the 21st century, and is pleased to note that the WEAG report has considered many of the problems CPAG has highlighted.

Among the WEAG recommendations are solutions to make the system less punitive, especially for families where there are dependent children, as well as solutions for improving income adequacy, through increasing payments, thresholds and reducing abatements, as well as indexation. CPAG welcomes these recommendations, which require urgent implementation.

“The need to remove all sanctions applied to people who have children is imperative, and we are pleased to see the recommendation for assisting parents who receive Sole Parent Support payments into work when their youngest child turns six, as opposed to three.”

“The rules around relationships as recommended by WEAG will mean a better way forward for single parents who re-partner, but there is still work to be done to ensure that our welfare policies better reflect the nature of the modern relationship.”

“We are pleased to note also that the WEAG report addresses improving disability allowances, and administration hurdles for those who receive the Supported Living Payment.

While CPAG welcomes the majority of the report, we are disappointed that the report’s projected impacts on the numbers of children in poverty are less than the ambitious goal of eradicating child poverty altogether.

The report projects that it will reduce the number of children currently living in households with less than 50% of before housing costs (BHC) median equivalised income, by 45,000 (or 40%).

CPAG remains very concerned about the impacts for those who are living with incomes far beneath the very lowest poverty line, who are likely to be supported by a main benefit.

CPAG has also taken a different approach to the WEAG group on the Accommodation Supplement that will be outlined in an upcoming report from CPAG.

“The report’s focus on housing is commendable, as it reinforces the negative impact that the current lack of affordable housing options has on the family income, but there are deep inadequacies within the Accommodation Supplement that among other problems, feed market price increases,” says St John.

It is important to note that this is CPAG’s initial reaction to the report released today, which is 209 pages to digest. A subsequent and more detailed analysis from CPAG will be circulated in due time.

The Minister of Social Development, Hon. Carmel Sepuloni expressed that work towards making improvements to the welfare system had been started since in her Government’s first term with changes within Work and Income (WINZ) offices, and that a three-to- five-year plan would be developed for implementation of many further changes.

Minister Sepuloni’s pre-Budget announcements signaled a start, but were unremarkable, and did not signal the courageous, transformational change that CPAG and many others had hoped for from a “Wellbeing Budget”.

Associate Professor Mike O’Brien, Social Security Spokesperson for CPAG says that the increase in earned income thresholds for benefit abatement rates, especially as it is implemented over a long period of time, is minimal and not nearly close to being adequate.

“We can’t see how this makes it any easier for people on main benefits to obtain sufficient work to help them into better positions, or improve their incomes in the short term,” says O’Brien.

CPAG said this threshold should be at least $150 per earning adult.

Associate Professor O’Brien says that Increasing main benefit payments and substantially should be an immediate response to the need that is now, along with preventing exacerbated hardship caused by Section 70A sanctions.

“Waiting until 1 April 2020 to repeal this harsh sanction, as the Minister has stated will be the case, means that it will have almost been a full three years from the first time the action was promised,” says O’Brien.

“If there is to be a three-to-five-year work plan towards the Government being able to achieve the WEAG group’s aims, then we would like to see that plan as soon as possible, and it should involve adequate consultation.

“We are looking to Budget 2019 for policies that reflect the WEAG report, as children cannot wait for years to come for improvements in their lives,” says O’Brien.

“The first of the announcements concerning Welfare are timid at best. We hope that Budget 2019 will yield a more fruitful way forward for our most vulnerable people.

“The longer people wait, the more debt they will accrue just to meet their day-to-day needs, and the more expensive the job of reducing poverty will become.”