METIRIA TUREI: Let's mend the safety net

18/07/2017

Welfare is not a trap. Poverty is a trap.

OPINION: On Sunday we launched an ambitious plan to fix the welfare system and make sure no-one in New Zealand, whether they are working or on a benefit, is living in poverty.

Our plan would increase all benefits by 20% and end the use of sanctions which take much-needed money away from beneficiaries and raise the minimum wage. We would increase the amount Working For Famlies gives to low and middle income families, and turn the In Work Tax Credit into a universal Child’s credit for all families who need help.

We would also make it easier for people to work part-time while they are receiving a benefit, and reinstitute case managers to support people to move into employment.

On Sunday I also talked about my personal experience of raising my daughter on a benefit and studying fulltime.

It was an incredibly stressful, terrifying experience. Even with the support that I had from my family, I did not have enough to get by. These days, with housing and the cost of living skyrocketing, it is even harder.

Opening up about this was scary, because no-one wants to be defined by a lie.

But the reason I told my story, in all its uncomfortable detail, is because far too often, beneficiaries are not given the benefit of the doubt.

They are bullied and shamed and harassed.

They are told that accepting groceries from their families is considered fraud.

WINZ investigators go through their laundry and rubbish to find out if they are sleeping with someone, and threaten to jail them if they don’t provide intimate details about their personal lives.

They are punished for missing an appointment and have to borrow money from MSD to pay their bills, leaving them further in debt.

The real issue is not, in my mind, that some people receive an extra $20 more a week than they are technically entitled to.

The real issue is that it is so incredibly difficult to survive on a benefit.

And if anything goes wrong – illness, family difficulties, budgeting errors – then survival can feel impossible.

Welfare is not a trap. Poverty is a trap.

The Green Party believes that our first priority should be to make sure that no-one in New Zealand is living in poverty.

Children should have enough to eat and a roof over their head.

Over the past five decades, we built a safety net against poverty because we care about our fellow New Zealanders. And we know that we were to lose our jobs or fall seriously ill, we would be looked after.

That safety net should guarantee a basic, liveable income, because that’s what it means to live in a decent, compassionate society.