The carrot, the stick, or throw it all out and start again?
Those are roughly the options on offer for voters comparing welfare policies at this election.
The main parties are following traditional lines. Labour wants to continue its gradual overhaul of social security to make it fairer, more generous, and for people to be treated with respect.
National wants a "relentless" focus on getting back to work, and would reinstate some sanctions. But it also has a surprise package - a generous, universal payment targeted at newborns.
And some of the smaller parties want a completely new approach to welfare, saying it has become overly complicated or too punitive.
The Greens, the Māori Party and NZ First are all endorsing some form of universal or single payment, and the Act Party wants welfare payments linked to how much a person earns.
The road so far
When the Coalition Government came to power in 2017, it set about making the welfare system fairer and less punitive.
This contrasted with the previous nine years under National. The Sir John Key-led Government focused on those who needed the most help to get off welfare and into work or training.
It required sole parents on a benefit to be available for work earlier in their children's lives. Benefit sanctions and obligations were also expanded.
The National-led Government then surprised many by lifting core benefit payments in 2015 - the first real increase in more than 40 years. It also boosted the accommodation supplement (which helps people pay their rent or mortgage) by up to $140 in the most expensive areas.
Its controversial reforms led to falling benefit numbers, above those expected from a growing economy recovering from the GFC. Benefit levels were at 10 per cent of the working-age population when National came to power, peaked at 12.3 per cent after the GFC, and were at 9.6 per cent when the new Government came to power.
Under the Coalition Government, benefit numbers rose slightly to 10.3 per cent before Covid, and then jumped to 12 per cent at the end of August as the pandemic forced tens of thousands out of work.
One of Jacinda Ardern's first moves as Prime Minister was to make the welfare system more generous for families. She scrapped National's proposed tax cuts and instead rolled out the Families Package, which lifted payments for 384,000 families with children by an average of $75 a week and gave another 650,000 families about $14 a week through rent and energy payments.
While commissioning a broad review of the welfare system, the Government made cultural changes at Work and Income, making offices less daunting and more family-friendly, and reducing the number of sanctions dished out to beneficiaries.
The Welfare Expert Advisory Group completed its broad review in May 2019 and its findings were unequivocal: the welfare system was broken and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. It said benefits were too low, sanctions generally did not work and often made things worse, and the amount of benefit fraud was relatively low and should only be pursued as a last resort. Payments and access were also based on an outdated, single-earner family system.
The expert group made sweeping recommendations for urgent, radical changes including an immediate, significant lift to core benefits of up to 50 per cent.
The Government instead made modest changes, including the removal of penalties for mothers who don't name the father of their child - which it had already promised - and allowing beneficiaries to earn more before having welfare payments reduced.
Then came Covid-19, forcing further changes. The Government lifted benefit payments by $25 a week (13 per cent), indexed welfare payments to wages rather than inflation (worth $17 a week more by 2023) and made it easier for working families to get a $72 tax credit. It massively expanded free lunches in schools and made vocational courses free for up to 100,000 students and apprentices.
As Covid forced more middle class families on to a benefit, the Government introduced a more generous benefit, worth twice as much as the existing jobless benefit and available to partners of working people. That caused a furious response from welfare advocates who said it created a "two-tier" welfare system - one for long-term, poor families, many of them Māori, and another for middle-class, mainly Pakeha families hit hard by Covid.
Key famously said that it was easier to count stoats and possums than it was to measure child poverty. For that reason, the National Party he led decided against creating an official measure of child poverty and tried to focus on the factors which led to deprivation - such as tackling rheumatic fever.
Ardern, who made child poverty an election issue in 2017, wanted a child poverty target set in stone which her government, and following ones, could be held accountable to. Three main targets and six supplementary targets have been established which, if achieved, would halve child poverty within a decade.
The Government has made gradual progress in two of the main targets - the number of children below the poverty line before and after housing costs. However, the full impact of the pandemic on the Government's progress is not yet known.
There are 67,000 more children below the poverty line once housing costs are taken into account - showing that the
is a key driver in child poverty rates.
Material hardship, which measures the things most people would consider to be essentials – access to fresh fruit and vegetables, going to the doctor and the ability to pay bills on time – has risen slightly under this Government, though the latest data does not fully take into account the Families Package. It is now at 13.4 per cent, and the target is 10.3 per cent next year and 6 per cent in 2027/28.
Under the previous National government, the material hardship rate fell significantly from 18.1 per cent in 2013 (when figures were first available) to 12.7 per cent in 2017. That is due to a number of complex factors, which include lower income people working more and working longer hours.
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the Coalition Government had done more than any other in the last 30 years to lay the foundation for a reduction in child poverty.
But he was disappointed at the modest response to the welfare advisory group's report, in particular the failure to significantly lift to benefit levels.
"We still have not yet had the big, bold steps that are required," Becroft said. "Incremental changes, unless sustained and consistent, won't cut it."
What's the plan?
Labour says it will continue the overhaul of the welfare system as recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group. Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says this includes income adequacy - potentially lifting benefits - but she has not given a timeline for doing so or said how much benefits could be increased.
The party's policy is influenced by Covid, which has forced tens of thousands of people out of work or required them to cut their hours. Labour would bring back the training incentive allowance - scrapped for higher skilled courses by National 10 years ago - which gives people up to $4500 a year to study degree-level tertiary courses.
It would allow people on a benefit to earn more before being penalised. Someone on a jobless benefit could earn $160 a week before their benefit payments were reduced, up from $90 a week. And it would expand a scheme which subsidises employers who take on workers.
National wants social security to be squarely focused on people preparing for, and returning to work. The party wants to bring back the social investment approach championed by Sir Bill English, which aims to reduce dependence on social services by focusing on early interventions which have been rigorously tested and shown to work.
Part of its plan to reduce welfare dependence is by focusing on babies' first 1000 days, including a $3000 grant for families with newborns to spend on neonatal care. It will also allow parents to take paid parental leave at the same time and fund three days in birthing facilities.
It is also promising to expand skills and jobs hubs, and would offer a $4000 payment to tertiary training providers for every jobless person they retrain and get back into work within a year.
National would keep the child poverty targets in place, but it will also bring back public sector targets. Its previous targets for areas like crime, health and education were dropped by the Coalition Government. Its new targets could include reducing assaults on children and reducing the social housing wait-list.
It would reinstate a sanction which penalises beneficiary mothers who do not identify the father of their child. It would also extend money management to more beneficiaries.
National would not cut benefits, and while it has not committed to lifting them, social development spokeswoman Louise Upston said she was interested in simplifying the system so people did not have to go through the dehumanising task of repeatedly asking for hardship grants.
Three minor parties have proposed replacing the maze of welfare entitlements and obligations with a single, no-obligations payment.
Greens believe the existing welfare system needs to be radically overhauled to make it simpler and more generous. It would replace core benefits with a guaranteed minimum income of $325/week for anyone not working, or $435 for sole parents, and replace Working for Families with a $190 payment for first children and $120 for subsequent children. It would also reform ACC to cover lost earnings caused by illness and disabilities, rather than just accidents. The changes would be funded by a wealth tax and new top tax rate.
NZ First want to bring back the universal family benefit, which was scrapped 35 years ago. It would mean all families in New Zealand with children under 16 would get a weekly allowance, no matter how much they earned. That money could possibly be used for a deposit on a first home.
The Māori Party wants a more radical lift to benefit payments, far greater than any other party is calling for. Noting that a third of Māori children in poverty, most of whom are benefit-dependent, they want payments equal to the Living Wage, which the party says should be $25. That would lift benefits to $1000 a week - partly paid for by introducing a capital gains tax.
The Act Party wants to partially replace the welfare system with an employment insurance scheme, in which people who lose their jobs are paid 55 per cent of their previously weekly earnings - to a maximum of $60,000 a year and for six months. After that point, beneficiaries would revert to existing benefits. Act would also expand the use of electronic purchase cards for beneficiaries.
'Like a foot against your throat'
Benjamin Morley first went on welfare at age 18.
He had dropped out of Rangitoto High School at 15 years old and claimed the invalid benefit after being diagnosed with mental illness in his late teens.
Morley, now 32, had a succession of odd jobs including dishwashing and construction throughout his 20s, but they never lasted and he often found himself back on the unemployment benefit.
Being on welfare could be a dispiriting experience, he said. Weekly payments were barely enough to survive on.
"People argue about whether welfare is a handout or a hand-up. I would say it's like a foot against your throat, holding you down.
"The rates and conditions which are put on beneficiaries are actually keeping people in poverty."
He was no longer on a benefit but believed payments should be lifted to a "liveable" income so beneficiaries could live with dignity while looking for work.
Entitlements had not kept pace with rising rents and housing costs, he said.
While on the Jobseeker benefit, he received around $190 a week and got the accommodation supplement, which was worth around $40 a week. After paying the rent for a room in his Grey Lynn flat, he had about $60 left over a week.
"And that's a good situation - I had some money for food and entertainment. That being said, I had other weeks when I was just eating rice. If I wanted to save up and buy something, or see a movie, that was what you had to do for the week."
Morley said the only jobs available for an uneducated person often had uncertain or part-time hours. And when he took up part-time work, his benefit payments were reduced.
That could be a disincentive to returning to the workplace, he said. (Beneficiaries who earn more than $90 a week have some of their payments clawed back).
"It's almost a reason not to get into work. It's always the first thing you consider - how is this going to affect my benefit?"
It also led to perverse outcomes, such as beneficiaries hiding their earnings from Work and Income. A friend of his who did not declare to Work and Income that she was doing 16 hours' work a week on a minimum wage was taken to court and fined.
It was a university programme which gave Morley a second chance. He attended the 12-week New Start programme at the University of Auckland - a course which prepares people aged 20 or older for tertiary study.
The course helped him gain entry to a social work degree, and he has completed three of the four years' study. He gets $325 a week in student support, more than half of which is swallowed up by rent.
"It's good that we have got pathways for people who failed school to go on and get a higher education," he said.
Welfare and poverty: The policies
• Continue overhaul of welfare system in line with recommendations of Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
• Expand Training Incentive Allowance to higher-skilled courses, giving people up to $4500/year for study costs.
• Allow beneficiaries to earn more before having benefit cut.
• Expand Flexi-Wage programme to subsidise employers who take on workers.
• Give all families with newborns $3000 for neo-natal care.
• $4000 grants for tertiary providers which retrain jobless and get them back into work
• Expand jobs and skills hubs and introduce job coaches for under-25s
• Reinstate sanction which penalises beneficiary mothers who don't name father, and extend money management to more beneficiaries
• Replace core benefits with guaranteed minimum income of $325 for anyone not working, or $435 for sole parents.
• Replace Working for Families with a payment worth $190 for first child and $120 for other children. Pay all families $100/week for each child under three.
• Reform ACC to cover lost earnings caused by illness and disabilities (rather than just accidents).
• Allow beneficiaries to earn more before they have their welfare payments reduced.
• Pay for changes through wealth tax on assets above $1m and new top tax rates.
• Bring back universal family benefit.
• Fund local pilot programmes which focus on early intervention services.
• Increase financial support and employment support for beneficiaries.
• Create personalised employment and education plans for every beneficiary.
• Introduce an employment insurance scheme: People who lose jobs can claim 55% of weekly average earnings, to a maximum of $60k/year.
• Extend electronic purchase cards (which track and limit spending) to more groups including mothers who have another child while on a benefit.
• Increase all core benefits to a Living Wage.
• Set the Living Wage to $25/hour (up from $22.10), giving all beneficiaries $1000/week.
• Pay for the higher benefits with a capital gains tax on property.