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Benefits Need To Further Increase To Support The Unemployed

In a week alone there was an increase of about 10,000 people now relying on welfare to get by. As the number of benefit recipients rapidly increases as a result of COVID-19, Auckland Action Against Poverty is calling on the Government to urgently lift benefits to liveable levels and change the welfare system to make it fit-for-purpose.

“We are disappointed to hear that Minister Carmel Sepuloni has not committed to exploring increases to benefit levels. Unless benefits are substantially lifted Work and Income will not be able to cope with the rapid demand for hardship grants for food. We already know that high rent prices, a lack of public housing and low benefit levels means people relying on income support are living week-to-week, often day-to-day”, says Brooke Fiafia, Auckland Action Against Poverty Spokesperson.

“The recent increase of $25 to baseline benefits is not nearly enough to alleviate the social circumstances of thousands of families. Our welfare system was already broken before COVID-19, with a consistently sharp increase in hardship grant numbers, long waiting times to reach the Work and Income contact centre and a record number of families living in emergency accommodation. The effects of COVID-19 have only exacerbated the problems that were already present in the welfare system.

“The concerns around the rise of unemployment due to COVID-19 is in large part because being unemployed means living in severe poverty. Politicians have all the resources available to ensure that everybody has a roof over their head and enough income, as we have seen the swift responses, they have been able to make in other areas due to this lockdown. Other countries around the world have shown us that bold changes to the welfare system can happen immediately.

“The increase of people in jobseeker benefits will mean a larger portion of our population is going to be subjected to punitive obligations. We’re calling for an end to obligations that result in people losing their benefit if they do not take any employment that is offered.

“People’s employment status shouldn’t dictate their right to a life with dignity, and their connection to their jobs should be tied to their aspirations. People should be enabled to find employment that is suited to them and the contributions they can make, instead of being pushed into low-paid jobs simply to reduce unemployment numbers.

“Lifting benefit levels is just one change the Government needs to implement to ensure COVID-19 does not increase further existing inequality. The Government needs to take a proactive role in the creation of good jobs, building enough public housing, and universal access to utilities so no one is left behind in the response to COVID-19.”

Auckland Action Against Poverty is calling on the following changes to our welfare system:

- Remove the limit of hardship grants people are eligible for in a period of 6 months before they must show they have exceptional circumstances.

- Increase benefits to liveable levels.

- Remove all benefit sanctions.

- Proactively call all income support recipients to offer hardship grants where required.

- Remove work-testing obligations that mean people lose their benefit if they do not accept an offer of employment.

- Increase the abatement rate to enable people in part time employment to receive income support.

- Individualise benefit entitlements.

- Increase the income threshold for income support recipients.

- Implement all other Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommendations.

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