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Pressure grows on Gov to end drug testing benefit sanctions

Auckland Action Against Poverty joins the Children’s Commissioner, The Green Party, The New Zealand Drugs Foundation, Child Poverty Action Group and other organisations in the calls for an immediate end to the drug testing benefit sanctions.

“We are concerned of the growing divide between the rhetoric of Labour MPs while in opposition and the actions taken while in Government. We are calling on the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni to be consistent with their support of ending this punitive benefit sanction while in opposition”, says Ricardo Menendez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator.

“When the sanction was introduced in 2013 by the previous National-led Government Jacinda Ardern and several other Labour MPs spoke strongly against the sanction in media and in parliament. In Government we have seen reports by the Ministry of Social Development in 2018 calling for a review of this sanction as well as calls by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group which called for an end to the drug testing sanction regime.

“It is hypocritical for the Prime Minister to support the status quo when she and her colleagues spoke so strongly against the welfare reforms introduced in 2013 by the National Government. Last year Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni and Deputy Chief Executive of MSD Viv Rickard both admitted the sanction was punitive and aimed for it to no longer be applied.

“Out of 40,000 drug tests applied last year only 114 resulted in a failed result, with almost two-thirds resulting in a sanction. The fact that there is only a small ratio of failed results does not make the application of the sanction acceptable. That is still dozens of households who lose access to their income at a time where they need support.

“Sanctions imposed due to failed drug tests mean families lose half or all of their income, driving them to severe financial hardship, homelessness, and exposing them to cheaper and more harmful substances. The sanction has not shown to discourage harmful drug use and creates a double standard on how beneficiaries are treated regarding drug use compared to the rest of the population.

“The Government needs to be consistent with its rhetoric and uphold its promise of kind and compassionate governance by removing this sanction. A health based approach to drug use would not include cutting people's incomes for failing drug tests”

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