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New data on benefit sanctions show fairer treatment

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welcomes the latest data on benefits from the Ministry of Social Development, which shows the number of sanctions tracking down significantly compared to previous years.

"At last we are seeing a less punitive approach to the enforcement of benefit obligations. These sanctions have caused unacceptable harm especially when families and their children were affected," says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG’s Economics spokesperson.

The latest data show that sanctions imposed on Sole Parent Support recipients have been reduced over the past year by more than half, while the total number of sanctions imposed on those who receive a welfare benefit has been reduced by 30 per cent. Cancelled or suspended benefits, which leave families bereft of income entirely and likely to fall into homelessness have been reduced overall by 41 per cent.

"Sole parent families whose primary source of income is a welfare benefit, are among those who are suffering the worst of poverty and who have seen the least benefits from any of the recent changes to Working for Families," says St John.

"They are likely to have constant reliance on other top-ups from food banks and hardship grants, and should never have their benefits cut in the first place, whether or not stringent obligations have been met."

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CPAG Social Security spokesperson Mike O’Brien says that applying the removal of a basic need, treating it as a privilege, is willful systemic abuse.

"Sanctions are based on a false premise that somehow they will change adult behavior change while children bear the brunt. Punishing the children by removal of their livelihood is not a way to encourage parents into having better situations - inevitably it makes a difficult situation much worse," says O’Brien.

"There is no evidence that sanctions work - in fact there is evidence to the contrary which CPAG has cited previously. Given the importance attached to evidence-informed policy, why then do we continue to apply sanctions?"

CPAG says it is high time the welfare system lived up to its original intent and purpose of ensuring the health and wellbeing needs of communities in Aotearoa-New Zealand are met consistently.

"It would be good to think that a steady decline in the number of sanctions means that the Government is ready to make some serious, transformational changes to our Social Security Act for the better," says St John.

"We look forward to the report from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) due to be made public this Friday, and hope that the Government acts swiftly upon the group's recommendations."

CPAG is hopeful that the Government’s Wellbeing Budget 2019 will prioritise welfare reforms that will aid in reducing poverty for children and families, especially those most affected, including the abolishing of sanctions that increase poverty and negatively impact on children’s lives.

As part of a campaign calling for "Welfare fit for Families", CPAG has set out 17 practical recommendations to improve the lives of thousands of children whose families are reliant upon the welfare system to meet their basic needs. These recommendations formed the basis of CPAG's submission to the WEAG group in November 2018.

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