Beneficiary advocacy group Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) has slammed the Government for "moving too slow" following today's Budget 2021 announcement for increased benefits.
Today the Government announced a $3.3 billion allocation to go towards a core benefit increase and lifting between 19,000-33,000 children out of poverty.
The budget includes:
• Weekly benefit rates to be lifted between $32 and $55 per adult by April 2022
• Main benefits (including Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support, Supported Living Payment) will further increase to levels recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group in 2019
• Families and whānau with children get an additional top-up of $15 per adult a week
• 109,000 families and whānau with children will, on average, receive $175 more a week from all changes made since 2017
• Student support (allowances and loans) will increase by $25 per week on April 1, 2022
"They're looking at small incremental changes that aren't going to make much of a difference," AAAP spokeswoman Brooke Fiafia told the Herald.
"I think it's weak."
While it's the biggest change any government has implemented for benefits to be increased, Fiafia says successive governments have never done work in this space and congratulations for the move it isn't on the cards.
"There's a $20 increase by July, with the rest set to kick in next year. How does anyone in this room believe that this increase restores people with their dignity?"
"We're living in a climate crisis and at the pace we're going, it's too slow. "
Fiafia said the goal to lift children out of poverty is a wonderful goal, but says there was no discussion on looking at changes within the Ministry of Social Development and the way in which they operate.
She said the benefit increase is all due to the mounting pressure from fellow advocacy groups which have fought really hard for an increase.
"Before Christmas 2020 the Government said there would be no benefit increase, but now we'll see the full $55 come into effect next year."
Fiafia said there needs to be an additional approach to navigating change and to quit judging people by what they can bring to the economy.
"The way in which we see people and determine their worth. We see people as economic units."
"We need to change how we value people's lives and how we exist in a community. Livable incomes is a birthright."
AAAP also has concerns on the approach to lifting families out of poverty by getting them into work, but Fiafia said many families in poverty are already working families.
There was also no acknowledgement for those on benefits that aren't considered core, such as the disability allowance. Many children in households with disabled members are not affected by these changes but are nearly three times as likely to live in hardship than other children.
"There's no increase to the supplementary assistance or other kinds of support that people can access."
"We need to treat this as urgent."
People receiving supplementary assistance will not receive the full benefit increase as they will also face clawbacks.
Some of the 88,000 households receiving Temporary Additional Support will not see any change to their income.
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said the announcement still falls short of liveable incomes, but the increase will make a difference to many families.
CPAG modelling shows many families paying low rent have income below poverty lines by around $100-$230 a week. The increases announced today will mean their incomes will be boosted by around $40-$115 a week.
"Families will still have a shortfall, but it will be smaller," CPAG spokeswoman Professor Emeritus Innes Asher said.
"CPAG would have liked to have seen the Government introduce all increases on 1 July this year. Many of the increases will not be introduced for almost a year."
"Why wait? It is a pity, as children's brain development needs food security and a lessening of toxic stress now."