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CPAG says benefit sanctions need monitoring.

CPAG says benefit sanctions need monitoring.

Child Poverty Action Group's latest research backgrounder - Benefit sanctions: Creating an invisible underclass - shows monitoring systems are lacking and creating confusion over the numbers sanctioned, in particular parents of children.

CPAG spokesperson Associate Professor Mike O'Brien says the government has introduced wholesale changes affecting children without robust systems of accountability or public scrutiny in place.

The CPAG report relied on the Official Information Act and questions asked in Parliament due to the scant information available. This was contrary to the Welfare Working Group's (WWG) recommendations for transparent public reporting of the number of sanctions imposed.

Mike O'Brien says while the government continues to state its commitment to vulnerable children the benefit sanctions leave struggling families to fend on their own. "The reality of reducing or cancelling a benefit is that children of struggling parents are placed at greater risk," says O'Brien.

Welfare recipients who do not meet the new conditions face increasing sanctions, up to a 100% cancellation of all income support. Sole parents and couples with dependent children face a maximum sanction of 50% of their main benefit.

Between September 2010 and January 2012, there were 2,977 Domestic Purposes Beneficiaries sanctioned for failure to meet a work test obligation. There was no clear breakdown of the grade of sanction or indication how many people on the DPB had benefits cut. Also the number who failed to meet their obligations, as opposed to those penalised as a result of administrative error, remains unclear.

Figures for the end of March 2013 for beneficiaries with children show 520 sanctioned for up to four weeks, 78 sanctioned from four to eight weeks, and 25 sanctioned for over eight weeks.

O'Brien says while these numbers are relatively low, it's important to gain an understanding of how families cope with severely restricted incomes over long periods and what the adverse affects are for children.

Families who have benefits reduced are telephoned by the Ministry of Social Development but this is a long way from the wrap-around services originally conceived by the WWG and probably required by families increasingly isolated by the benefit system.

The CPAG report urges monitoring of the sanctions, particularly for sole parents. O'Brien says this would assess the effects as well as monitor people who move off a benefit and are again receiving a benefit again within three, six or 12 months.

"The government needs to assess whether the system is creating additional hardship by churning people in and out of the benefit system".

The government's Green Paper for Vulnerable Children - Every child thrives, belongs, achieves - advocated child-centred policies to protect New Zealand's most vulnerable citizens. CPAG wants the sanctions repealed to safeguard the wellbeing of vulnerable children and for all policies such as the welfare reforms to take a child-centred approach.

Benefit Sanctions: Creating an invisible underclass is part of CPAG's ongoing series, monitoring government policies. It will be launched on Tuesday October 22 at the Auckland City Mission, Training rooms, 195 Federal St at 6.30pm.



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