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Record number of beneficiaries affected by punitive sanction

01/11/2019

Benefit sanctions for people with a warrant to arrest are on the rise, with Māori being disproportionately targeted by the Ministry. A record 2,616 people sanctioned in 2018, over 70% were Māori. This is one of the sanctions that the Government’s own Welfare Expert Advisory Group report recommended removing. Auckland Action Against Poverty is calling on the Government to immediately end to this punitive, discriminatory sanction.

“Removing someone’s income when they have a warrant to arrest does nothing but harm children and push people into criminal activities in order to feed themselves and their family. The Government’s is betraying its own rhetoric of compassionate governance by aggressively sanctioning a record number of people and disproportionately targeting Māori”, says Kathleen Paraha, Auckland Action Against Poverty Co-chair.

“Removing someone’s income when they are having to navigate the criminal justice system is cruel, puts families at risk of homelessness and further harm. If the Government wanted to encourage people to comply with the justice sector it could first start addressing the punitive culture of the criminal justice system towards Maori, instead of making it worse.

“The Ministry of Social Development has a toxic, racist culture that needs addressing. MSD and Police officials have discretion over exercising the warrant to arrest sanction, and we are concerned this discretion is being used to actively target Māori. The warrant to arrest sanction figures show that the systemic bias towards Māori runs deep in several Government departments.

“People who lose their benefit are often left with no choice but to find creative, often illegal avenues, to survive. By continuing the use of the sanction, the Government is feeding the cycle of crime and poverty. The warrant to arrest sanction does not align with the Government’s target of reducing the prison population.

“The Government continues dragging its feet on welfare reform. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group, commissioned by the Government, was clear that the warrant to arrest sanction needed removing and replaced with a more proactive approach to communicate with people who have a warrant to arrest in order to increase compliance.

“The Government can start putting an end to the war on beneficiaries and Maori by removing this sanction. Our welfare system needs to be built on support and work to address systemic injustices.

ENDS

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