Benefit increase a step in the right direction for Kiwi families
Caritas has welcomed yesterday’s Budget announcement of an increase in base rates for beneficiaries with children as a long overdue step in the right direction towards addressing the poverty experienced by too many Kiwi families.
“For vulnerable families on the lowest incomes, $25 per week will make a significant difference to their lives. It will put more food on the table and this should not be underestimated,” says Lisa Beech, Advocacy and Research Manager for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Caritas has been asking successive governments for a long time to address base benefit levels, so we welcome this as a signal the government is now willing to listen and to start to engage seriously with the child poverty debate," says Ms Beech.
However, Caritas also notes that this modest benefit increase does not provide a lasting solution to poverty. The anticipated $2.5 billion being set aside for tax cuts in the 2017 election year also runs counter to Government assurances about prioritising poverty, as this equates to ten times the amount of a single year’s spending on the child hardship package ($240 million).
“We still have an economy that alienates and marginalises people," says Ms Beech.
Increasing the work-testing requirements for beneficiaries with 3-year-old children is also cause for concern she says, as this may undermine the achievements of the benefit increase.
“Our experience is that there is often a mismatch between available childcare and the nature of increasingly casualised, part-time work,” says Ms Beech.
“The increase in the formal childcare subsidy is welcome, but is little use to a parent who feels under pressure to work on casual rosters or at times when subsidised childcare is not available. We should not put pressure on parents of young children to work unless good quality childcare is available at the times they are required to work.”
Ms Beech says families are the first protectors of their children’s rights, but the State and wider society need to be structured to enable parents to meet these responsibilities.
“Ultimately, it would be great to have a society where we don’t need benefits. But our social welfare system is an essential aspect of our support for the most vulnerable people in our society. This needs to be done adequately and justly.”