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Upcoming financial support needs to be nationwide, ongoing and backdated to start of lockdown

New financial support for low-income families could enhance public health success, slow down inequality and offer relief from desperate hardship – but it will work best only if it’s substantial and nationwide, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed financial support for low-income families is on its way, but gave no details.

“We need to see true hardship relief for all families on a low income whether in paid work or not – this would uplift children and our communities in so many ways. It would create an enormous number of positives,” says CPAG spokesperson Janet McAllister.“But it needs to be nationwide, ongoing and backdated to the start of lockdown to be most effective at enabling public health measures to work. People are really struggling.”

Because schools are not reopening next week, all families in affected areas will continue to face ongoing high lockdown costs for digital access, power and groceries in New Zealand’s longest lockdown ever. And from the start of October, families on benefits receive $31.82 less a week as the Winter Energy Payment period ended.

“It’s a double whammy of ongoing high bills for all and an income reduction for many,” said McAllister. “Even prior to lockdown, our research indicates many families receiving benefits could expect to have a hole of around $100 or higher a week in their budget, leading to debt, crowding and food insecurity.”

Foodbanks can only alleviate the most urgent symptoms of inadequate incomes. “Communities via foodbanks are being asked to pick up the pieces of Government failure. Parents and caregivers know what groceries their families need but are being denied the income to make those decisions. Plus you can’t pay your power bill with bread.” 

McAllister points to statements from Michael Baker, Collin Tukuitonga and other public health experts that “continuing Covid-19 transmission in Auckland in groups who experience deprivation and marginalisation is a vivid example of why achieving equity is key to advancing public health” for everyone. 

CPAG is urging the Government to immediately increase incomes to adequate levels for all families, and ensure that all people, whether or not they're in paid work, are aware of additional hardship support available and how to access it.

“It’s important that all parents and caregivers know they’re not the only ones who care for their children – the Government can give low-income families much needed reassurance, relief and confidence that we all collectively support their important mission of raising children, particularly in tough times. Those times are now.”