The Government's planned overhaul of the welfare system will not come fast enough for those caught in the poverty trap says, advocacy groups. Sandra Conchie has talked to Child Poverty Action Group, ActionStation economic fairness advocate and others advocating change on behalf of some of our country's poorest families. A Tauranga solo mother shares an insight into the struggles her family faces to get ahead.
A homeless Tauranga solo mother says she is constantly coming up against "brick walls" as she struggles to get ahead and lift herself and her teenage son out of the poverty trap.
Janine Cork, 49, who along with her son have been living in emergency housing for two years, has added her voice to the thousands of people who signed a petition calling on the Government to make urgent changes to the welfare system.
The Child Poverty Action Group and ActionStation, alongside other groups including Council of Christian Social Services and Lifewise, delivered the petition to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's electoral office earlier this week.
From April next year, benefits will be indexed to wage increases and abatement thresholds, and the amount jobseeker support recipients can earn before payments are docked will be increased from $80 to $90 a week.
This will be followed by an increase of $5 a year until it reaches $105 a week in 2023.
The sanction on sole parents who do not name the other parent will also be removed.
But advocacy groups say the Government has not moved fast enough to help lift children and their whanau out of poverty and could "tomorrow" make several policy changes.
This includes increasing the amount beneficiaries can earn before their payments are docked, remove all sanctions, and change relationship rules.
Cork, 49, a client of Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust, is living in a motel while she continues to search for permanent accommodation for her and her son.
Cork said she was still on the Housing New Zealand waiting list, and also applied for hundreds of private rentals without success.
"Time after time" she missed out or was overlooked after being "looked down" on by some rental firms because of her current living and financial situation, she said.
Te Tuinga Trust's wraparound services include a food catering company initiative that helps train homelessness and unemployed called The Happy Puku.
Cork works part-time for The Happy Puku on a casual basis but says her benefit is taxed 70 cents for every dollar earned over $80 a week, yet only earns about $4000 a year.
"It's demoralising and not a great incentive to continue to work. I love my job and want to work, but it's a never-ending struggle to get ahead," she said.
Cork said working had boosted her confidence and given her a "renewed vigour".
"I thought working part-time could open doors to help us find a permanent place to live, and eventually could lead to a fulltime-job.
"But instead, I'm coming up against brick wall after brick wall and no matter what doors I knock on they're slammed in my face," she said.
Cork said fighting to get ahead was stressful and she was on antidepressants, while her son, who was home-schooled due to being bullied at school, had anxiety problems.
Happy Puku's administrator Tracey Wilson said she had seen the "dehumanising" attitude towards Cork when she had gone along to support her during some agency appointments.
"It's appalling. Janine has done everything she possibly can to turn her life around and the changes I have seen in her have been amazing.''
"She has gone from someone who used to wear hoodies, holding her head down when you talked her, to become a bright, breezy, engaging person, who only wants to be a fully contributing member of our community."
"Janine and our other clients on the Happy Puku programme, the majority who are solo parents, need a welfare system that supports their efforts, not puts up barriers," she said.
Simone Cuers, manager of The People's Project Tauranga, said she and her team supported any initiatives which reduced poverty.
"We know drivers of poverty and homelessness includes a system that contributes to excluding people from getting the social support and entitlements they need.
"Barriers, sanctions only exclude people from the system and forces people into poverty.
"We need a system that provides the right support to ensure people are getting all the entitlements and assistance they need to survive and rewards them for seeking to improve their circumstances and to find work," Cuers said.
Child Poverty Action Group executive officer Georgie Craw said families on benefits and those "doing it hard" had not seen the urgent relief they needed.
"We are calling on the Jacinda Arden, as the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, to provide strong leadership and focus on what they can do to fix the welfare system."
ActionStation economic fairness spokeswoman Ruby Powell said immediately changing income abatement rates would take away employment barriers for low-income earners.
Powell said the $80 a week abatement for jobseeker support recipients which had been in place since 1996 was "ludicrous" given today's cost of living increases.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni earlier said it was impossible to implement all the Welfare Expert Advisory Groups' 42 recommendations at once but she expected to take a three-to-five-year plan to Cabinet before the end of the year.
"Further increases to abatement thresholds will be considered as part of the government's overhaul of the welfare system," Sepuloni told the Bay of Plenty Times.
"In this year's budget, we increased abatement thresholds to ensure people working part-time don't fall further behind.
These increases are in line with the commitment to increase the minimum wage to $20 per hour in 2021, as well as more modest estimated increases after that, she said
Sepuloni said by far the "biggest boost" to benefits over the long-term would be the indexation of main benefits to average wages.
"This will increase selected benefit rates by between $27 and $46 a week by April 2023.
"This is on top of the $5.5 billion Families Package which will see the incomes of low – middle-income families with children increased on average by $75 per week by 2020."