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Income Policies Finally Focussing on Poor

Income Policies Finally Focussing on Poor

“We were very pleased to see some much-needed Welfare Policies proposed by the Green Party this last weekend,” says Rebecca Occleston, publicity coordinator for Beneficiary Advisory Service in Christchurch.

“Benefit rates have been too low for too long, severely disadvantaging thousands of people every year who need help. People are on benefits for a variety of reasons (generally out of their control and) usually temporarily. While there, these people still need enough weekly income to pay for the basic costs of themselves and their families. What they get is inadequate income, harassment and humiliation from WINZ and the scorn of wider society.

“However, I am pleased to see one party finally propose making some real changing policies regarding welfare, beneficiaries and others in poverty. I look forward to seeing how the other parties will respond to this and whether they too will step up and admit that beneficiaries are people too and deserve our respect (and some decent policies about benefits and income levels).”

When people receive sufficient income for their needs, they are obviously able to contribute more effectively to their community. “How can people even think of that if they have no house or food?” says Rebecca. “Everyone has the right to decent housing, food security, a robust health system, education and opportunities. No one should have to choose between paying rent, seeing a doctor and buying food!

“These new policies will help eliminate that, adding to the changes to the Accommodation Supplement that will come into effect regardless of who is elected in September. We have supported and advocated for a while for beneficiaries to also receive the “in work payment” of the Working For Families package administered by IRD, as this is currently discriminating against those who need it most – if you are no longer able to work for 20 hours (if you are single or 30 if you are a couple), you could also lose extra money from IRD. That makes no sense.

“As well as policies regarding raising benefit levels (which has needed doing for 26 years now), we support the proposed changes to the sanction regime. Most of these are very unfair and don’t necessarily even help further their initial purpose! These are often imposed for dubious reasons and, when challenged, are mostly overturned, merely causing extra time and stress for beneficiaries (many of whom have anxiety or other mental health issues to deal with already). The “carrot rather than stick” approach has been shown to be a lot more effective in encouraging people to meet their obligations or find work. Casemanagers helping beneficiaries with this latter task would be a better use of their time than imposing mean sanctions (a sanction is usually decreasing the benefit of someone, meaning their not-enough income is reduced further!)

“What we have now is a system where too many people cannot afford their basic needs: they suffer in health, education and general wellbeing, with children unable to access the opportunities that should be there for all New Zealanders. Beneficiaries are punished for random things like not turning up for an appointment when their child is sick or not naming the father of their child due to fear. People are left so disillusioned by their treatment at Work and Income, that they may not even bother going in and asking. Low self-esteem and self-confidence and worsening health problems are the result.

“We hope all New Zealanders over 18 are registered to vote and vote with their conscience in September, looking for the best policies to benefit everyone and trying to eliminate poverty in NZ.”

Rebecca Occleston is the Speaker for Beneficiary Advisory Service (BAS)

Beneficiary Advisory Service is a Christchurch based Community Group who help people on benefits and low incomes with their problems with Work and Income. We are specialists in Welfare Law and provide free advice, information, support and advocacy to hundreds of people every year. We are now located in Christchurch Community House, 301 Tuam St, Christchurch Central 8011.

We can be contacted on 03 379 8787 and bas.cprc@gmail.com or visit our website bas.org.nz


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