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Call to transform a broken system has been left unanswered

“The call to transform a broken system has been left unanswered”

The Report of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG ) released today (May 3) called on Government to transform the broken welfare system. The Government’s announcements today fall well short of doing that.

“While we have not yet heard any statements from the WEAG Chair Prof Cynthia Kiro, the Government’s response to the WEAG recommendations are underwhelming,” said NURM’s Community Development Worker Tim Howard

The three specific Government responses to the Report are:

* 263 more staff over four years, but just to get people into paid work (not to reduce case managers’ workloads so they could treat people more humanely)

* lifting to some degree the abatement rates of amounts that beneficiaries could earn from work before having their benefits cut

* the removal of the s70A sanctions (ie a benefit reduction regime) for (mainly) women who refuse to name their children's father.

A number of significant recommendations of the Report have not been taken up - like the recommendation to increase benefit levels by 47%. The Minister Carmel Sepuloni has said they would be "looking at a staged implementation of the report" and some uptake could happen "down the line".

Northland Urban Rural Mission makes a number of observations about the Government’s response to the Report today.

“The WEAG Report stated that the whole welfare system is broken. It needs radical overhaul. This Government response today is no more than a shuffle - as yet - in that direction,” said Tim Howard.

NURM sees the controlled Friday afternoon release of the report and its own limited response as indications of Government's priorities. “The Government's response is underwhelming, and does not signal the 'transformative' and 'kind' approach to governance, or the overhaul of the welfare system, that earlier rhetoric had led us to be believe,” said NURM’s Tim Howard.

The focus on paid work as the essential pathway to wellbeing for all - a concept insufficient for many, including people with carer responsibilities, people with beneficiaries - is still embedded in this Government's response. When the Minister says they will have more staff, those officials are designated specifically to get people into paid work, not to provide more responsive support for beneficiaries to receive appropriate entitlements and humane treatment.

The lifting of the abatement levels in April 2020 is a good move. That said, it must also be described as being of limited impact. “Lifting the abatement levels a bit does not go anywhere close to meet the recommendation that a 47% increase of benefit levels was necessary if whanau and especially their children were to be able to live reasonably. How will Government reduce poverty when the poorest have yet to have any increase of income?” said Tim Howard.

“We greet the removal of s70A sanctions with relief, as will many sole parents. This policy was sexist, racist and ineffective, and even the previous Government’s officials recognised that. But its removal, promised years ago, is hardly a response to the WEAG Report today,” said Tim Howard. “Maybe it was held back for release today because there was nothing else of substance to release.”

Other sanctions – recommended by WEAG for removal - are still to be in place. “The needed culture change in Work and Income is still - for the moment - tainted by its punitive elements.”

“Minister Carmel Sepuloni seemed to pour cold water over the possibility of any more substantial response to the WEAG Report in this month’s Budget. We hope for more. But – if Government continues to kick the other recommendations to touch, without clear timelines for implementation - that will represent a failure of this Government to address poverty and to transform our society to be kinder and more accessible to all,” said Tim Howard.


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