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May 13, 2019 | by  | in News Splash |
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Announced Welfare Reform Leaves Beneficiaries Short-Changed

The Government has announced three changes to New Zealand’s welfare system, following the release of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) report.


Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni only announced three recommendations from the report to be addressed this year. They were the ending of sanctions on solo mothers, raising the amount a beneficiary can earn before their benefit is reduced, and increasing the amount of staff dedicated to getting beneficiaries into paid work.


The report’s other 40 recommendations range from measures to improve the welfare system’s engagement with Māori, increase housing subsidies, and raising base benefit levels by up to 47%.


Sepuloni defended the Government’s decision to prioritise only three recommendations, saying the changes will “represent good first steps to improving the system, but major change will take years.”


Most services specific to students, such as the Student Allowance, were not addressed by the WEAG report. The report did recommend a raise to the  Accommodation Supplement and Jobseeker Support Student Hardship, as well as lowering access conditions.


While community and beneficiary advocacy groups welcomed the WEAG report, the Government’s staged implementation was met with a mixed response.


One significant criticism was that the only new policy announced by the Minister was the staffing increase. Both other announced policies were proposed during the 2017 elections by Labour and the Greens.


In a statement, Northland Urban Rural Mission spokesperson Tim Howard questioned the delayed implementation, saying, “maybe it was held back for release [now] because there was nothing else of substance to release.”


Auckland Action Against Poverty expressed similar disappointment in the announcement, saying “the point of commissioning a panel of experts to come with further recommendations was so that the Government could do a wider overhaul.”


Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said on Twitter that “WEAG’s recommendations were powerful and constructive” and he was “terribly disappointed” by the Government’s “remarkably timid” response.


In an appearance on The Nation, Sepuloni refused to comment whether any further increase in welfare funding will be announced as part of the 2019 Budget at the end of this month.


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