Beneficiaries and migrant workers have been left out in the cold by the Budget, unions and advocates say.

These groups had hoped for a further lift in welfare payments at a time of crisis and for benefits to be extended to migrants who were out of work or stranded in New Zealand because of Covid-19.

In all, the Government spent $412m on social services, with $252m of that total going towards feeding New Zealanders through a massive expansion of the free school lunches scheme and more funding for food banks.

Anti-poverty groups noted that there was significant support in the Budget for people at risk of losing their job, for jobs training, and for low-income housing.

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But there was not enough for those already in hardship and for the tens of thousands of people likely to move onto welfare this year.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft described Budget 2020 as "realistic but insufficient for disadvantaged children".

At the top of his Budget wishlist was a further lift to welfare payments beyond the $25/week announced earlier this year.

"If we mean genuine business about really knocking child poverty on the head, then those increases need to be continued and continuous.

"Covid has shone a light on the glaring inadequacies in our welfare system that we knew long existed.

"I think many New Zealanders are going to realise with their first experience with the social welfare system how inadequate the benefits are."

Charles Waldegrave, speaking on behalf of the Government's Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG), had also hoped further lifts to core benefit payments.

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"What we were calling for was an investment in the long-term infrastructure for low income people. That hasn't really happened - what they have focused on is the immediate Covid-19 problems."

The WEAG group last year recommended an immediate lift to benefit payments of between 12 and 47 per cent. Since then, the Government has lifted payments by 13 per cent ($25 a week). It has also indexed welfare payments to wages rather than inflation, which will be worth $17 a week more by 2023.

Waldegrave applauded the Government's plan to build another 8000 state houses, saying that housing costs swallowed up a large part of beneficiaries' budgets.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Brooke Tiatia said the $25/week lift to benefits had not reduced the need for food grants from Work and Income. She had hoped for benefits to be lifted by $100 to $150 in this Budget.

"This was a real missed opportunity for them to be really transformative," she said.

First Union general secretary Dennis Maga said benefits should have been extended to migrants who had lost work or been stranded in New Zealand as a result of Covid-19. Photo / Myles Thomas
First Union general secretary Dennis Maga said benefits should have been extended to migrants who had lost work or been stranded in New Zealand as a result of Covid-19. Photo / Myles Thomas

First Union general secretary Dennis Maga said the Budget succeeded in supporting businesses and workers who were facing great uncertainty as a result of Covid-19.

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But he said the Government had turned its back on more than 300,000 migrant workers by refusing to extend social security to them.

He blamed that decision on New Zealand First, noting leader Winston Peters' comments earlier this week that these workers should simply "go home".

"These people cannot 'go home' ... and so they need our support and compassion."

"It's getting worse"

Kathleen Paraha, from Papatoetoe, said she hoped the Budget would end her dependence on food parcels, which she needs once a month. Photo / Dean Purcell
Kathleen Paraha, from Papatoetoe, said she hoped the Budget would end her dependence on food parcels, which she needs once a month. Photo / Dean Purcell

Kathleen Paraha says she will still have to line up for food after today's Budget.

She had hoped welfare payments would be lifted so beneficiaries would not have to "top up" with hardship grants for items like groceries. But beyond a $25 a week increase in March, there was nothing further in today's Budget.

"It would taken a load off people's lives, especially at a time like this," she said. "It should have gone up at least 50 per cent."

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Paraha, 62, is on the Supported Living Payment, which is worth about $240 a week. After paying rent on her state house in Papatoetoe, power and other bills she had about $13 or $14 left for food and other costs.

She was forced to apply for help to get food on the table once a month.

"I have got nothing left to feed myself. But when they do give me a grant I make it stretch."

Paraha, who also volunteers as a welfare advocate, had to stop work in 2005 because of poor health and to care for a grandchild. Her outlook was not improving, she said.

"It's not getting better, that's for sure. To me, it's getting worse."