Beneficiaries are calling for ending a "toxic culture" at Work and Income and raising welfare benefits by hundreds of dollars a week.
Advocacy group Auckland Action Against Poverty has produced a video giving beneficiaries a voice on issues which have been largely ignored by both major political parties in the election campaign so far.
The beneficiaries say that Work and Income is "coercing" them into precarious jobs which don't allow them to look after their children, yet also don't pay high enough wages to lift their families out of poverty.
One man on the video says a man in a wheelchair was sent to work by himself in a booth in a shopping mall and found it difficult to get out to change his colostomy bag as required every two or three hours.
"He was under such stress that he died," the man on the video said. "He died because he was forced to go to work."
Benefit rates for families with children were raised by $25 a week last year, the first increase in basic benefits above inflation adjustments since the unemployment benefit was cut by $14 a week and sickness benefits were cut by $27 a week in 1991.
But average rents have risen even more. An unemployed family of two adults and two children under age 13 receiving the maximum accommodation supplement in Manukau now gets a net $701.51 a week including family tax credits, but the average rent in Manukau in July was $470, leaving just $222.51 a week to live on.
A mother says on the video: "I'm eating toast for dinner so my son can have proper food."
A man says getting a job on the minimum wage of $15.75 an hour ($630 for 40 hours a week before tax) doesn't help much: "Your net income in your hands is not that much better, and sometimes lower, than if you were on a benefit."
A mother of four told the advocates: "You are only guaranteed work if you are available 24/7, own transport and even then it changes weekly.... It's very frustrating living at the whim of these [temping] agencies. You can't arrange kids and daycares or sitters at the last minute."
Beneficiaries on the video describe Work and Income's attitude to them as "toxic", "very cold" and "humiliating".
"You are made to feel like scum," a solo parent told the advocacy group.
Another said her benefit was being docked by $28 a week because she couldn't name the father of her child.
Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator Vanessa Cole said benefits would need to go up by "hundreds of dollars" to give beneficiaries a decent life.
The agency is campaigning in particular to end the penalty on sole parents who can't or won't name the other parents of their children. Labour, the Greens, NZ First and the Maori Party have all agreed to abolish the penalty, but National and Act still support it.
But Cole said the Green Party was "the only party that has come out in solidarity with beneficiaries".
Former Green co-leader Metiria Turei promised in July to lift core benefits by 20 per cent and scrap all sanctions, including the current rule that cuts off benefits when a sole parent enters a new relationship. The Greens would keep paying the benefit until the couple marries or stays together for three years.
National's Budget in May promised big increases in family tax credits and accommodation allowances that would lift the net income of the unemployed Manukau couple with two young children by $91 a week to $792.57 from next April.
Labour would raise family tax credits by an additional $11 a week for the first child and pay beneficiary families an annual $700 subsidy (averaging $13.45 a week) for power bills, raising the Manukau family's income to $817.09 a week.
NZ First has not made any promises on welfare except to "ensure that benefits (and abatement levels) are inflation adjusted".