The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Benefit Impact a ‘transformative experience’ for many

“Right from the beginning, the very small Christian community was concerned with needs of the poor, the neglected and the vulnerable.”

Launching the Benefit Impact at St Joseph’s parish in Upper Hutt last month with a Mass, Cardinal John Dew made this point to illustrate the importance of an Archdiocesan Jubilee of Mercy project aimed at assisting those on a benefit.

Run from 10-13 May at the parish and organised in a partnership of Wellington Catholic Social Services, Hutt Valley Benefit Education Service Trust and Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, the Benefit Impact provided beneficiaries with a safe and welcoming atmosphere in which to discuss their benefit entitlements and receive assistance from more than 40 trained benefit advocates.

“We were pleased to have the numbers of advocates to be able to address some complex situations in depth, and Hutt Valley BEST (Benefit Education Service Trust) has more than 50 cases resulting from the Impact,” says Lisa Beech, Advocacy & Research Manager for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.

“A number of the beneficiaries had not previously entered the church, and many advocates had not previously encountered the benefit system. It was a transformative experience in many respects.”

The largest number of cases involved payment of disability allowance, which is able to assist with specific medical costs. This is necessary because the base benefit is set at a level that cannot meet additional costs.

Around half of those assisted with disability allowance were superannuitants, and the majority of the rest were people receiving Support Living Payment (the former invalids benefit) which recognises a long term, significant disability or illness.

The second largest number of cases included ensuring people were on the correct benefit, supporting people in making their first benefit application, and addressing issues where non-NZ born NZ residents had been given incorrect information about their benefit entitlements, leaving them without support.

“In some cases, beneficiaries were supported through the Benefit Impact to have an ongoing increase in their income of over $40 a week, which will make a substantial improvement in their quality of life,” says Ms Beech.

“In this Jubilee of Mercy, the Benefit Impact gives one concrete example of how we can both reach out to people in need, and provide a welcome for them into our church buildings and communities.”

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