Prue Hyman’s Column

Prue Hyman

Prue Hyman says the Welfare Expert Advisory Group Report is excellent but unlikely to be fully implemented.

She says: “Last November I reflected on the terms of reference and consultation plans of this group and hoped they would be bold.

I was not disappointed – apart from reference to the possibility of a universal basic income being too cursory. But given the amount the group did bite off, I’ll forgive them that.

Government response too cautious

However, the government response is, so far, very cautious, while the media reporting has not dealt with the recommendations in depth, not has it fully reflected its trenchant critiques of the current system.

Sure, removing sanctions against mothers who do not name the fathers of their babies was promised earlier and is a good step.

But it’s only a small one compared with the proposals to scrap other sanctions and standdown periods on which government has been silent.

Need for benefit increases ignored

And the proposal for large increases in the level of benefits, shown to be necessary, has been kicked for touch. The media does not help when they scaremonger by quoting 47% increases, which is the highest proposed for only a small group – some increases proposed are only 12%.

The report outlines a welfare system that is badly in need of repair and no longer fit for the needs of New Zealand, with too many people living in desperate situations — there are pervasive and persistent inequities across the whole system.

Many New Zealanders are disproportionately affected – including Māori, Pacific People, youth, disabled people, and people with health conditions.

The report says ‘The system at its heart disempowers those it is set up to serve:

  • by not providing enough time or private space for staff to hear people’s stories,
  • by being overly complex so it is difficult to access full entitlements and processing delays are common,
  • by having stand-downs, sanctions, and unnecessary obligations,
  • and through the inconsistent application of policies and discretion.’

Returning dignity to social security

The Working group instead envisages a system that will return dignity to social security. It argues, rightly, that almost all New Zealanders are willing to engage, participate, contribute and do their fair share for their communities.

That should be the basis for the system, not suspicion of those needing to access help. Support should be dominant over sticks. Their recommendations based on this philosophy should restore trust in the system. At present, many of those on benefits are rightly terrified of their interactions with WINZ.

Such a welfare system would ensure people have an adequate income and standard of living, are treated with and can live in dignity and are able to participate meaningfully in their communities.

Highly important, especially when Maori are so heavily represented among beneficiaries, are six values expressed in Te Rao, which underpin the Group’s advice and recommendations. They are:

  • Manaakitanga, People are treated with, and able to live in, dignity
  • Whanaungatanga, Whānau, families, children, and relationships
  • Ōhanga, Ensuring people have an adequate income and standard of living, including support to access long-term, healthy housing
  • Kaitiakitanga, A system that is financially and politically sustainable across the medium to long term
  • Takatūtanga, A system that is fit for the present and prepared for the future, can respond to future ways of working and can support participation in the economy
  • Kotahitanga, People able to participate meaningfully in communities.

A short article cannot do justice to the depth of the report and its 42 recommendations, some very detailed. It is vital for the future of 299,345 current benefit recipients, 57% female and 36% Maori – and those who will need support in the future, So read it at http://www.weag.govt.nz/weag-report/

And hold the government accountable – help make them far bolder in response.

In April, I discussed their timidity in labour market policy. At the end of May, we have a supposed Wellbeing Budget – great in theory but likely to be inadequate in practice.

Similarly, the proposed Zero Carbon legislation is fine on aspirations and totally lacking in enforcement mechanisms in response to global warming. We deserve better in all these areas. Watch out on all this while I am overseas – another article in September.

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