Prime Minister told ‘children should be able to flourish’ as demands made to raise benefit levels now

Benedict Collins
Source: 1News

The new Government is coming under immediate pressure to raise benefit levels before Christmas.

More than 50 organisations have penned an open letter to the Prime Minister urging her to act now and help lift children out of poverty.

From beneficiary advocates to workers’ unions, to Save the Children and the Salvation Army, a wide array of social organisations have co-signed the letter to Jacinda Ardern.

“The situation is urgent and growing. As the new Government, you can release these constraints on individuals, families, and children,” the letter reads.

“We are calling on you to urgently lift one of the biggest limitations on whānau and child wellbeing, before Christmas: not having enough income.”

The Government is currently issuing tens of thousands of emergency food grants a month and foodbanks are under enormous pressure as a growing number of New Zealanders struggle to put food on the table.

One of the signatories, the Mental Health Foundation’s chief executive Shaun Robinson, says lifting benefits is a “no-brainer”.

“There is ample evidence that poverty, particularly as it impacts on children, has significant impacts on poor mental health.”

He said Ardern could achieve many of her goals around child poverty and children’s mental health simply by raising benefits.

“This is a very quick fix, put the money into making benefits liveable, especially for households with children and you will achieve many of your policy outcomes within months.”

The National Council of Women New Zealand has also co-signed.

Its president, Lisa Lawrence, told 1 NEWS benefits have not kept pace with increases in the cost of living, meaning those on welfare are increasingly worse off.

“It reduces life to a survival strategy... children should be able to flourish.”

“We would implore that the rates of benefits across the country are re-examined so that no child is left in material poverty.”

Community volunteer and disability benefit recipient Stacey Ryan told 1 NEWS that this year’s $25 a week boost to benefits wasn’t enough to make a substantial difference in her life.

“Because of my illnesses and disabilities I can’t work anymore and an extra 25 dollars a week does not help me afford the medicines I need, let alone help me pay my rent, pay my bills and have my phone going.”

“For the majority of people they need an extra 100 to 150 dollars a week, and that’s for a solo person,” she said.

Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta declined to comment on benefit levels today when asked if they were sufficient.

But during the election campaign, the Labour Party said policies like the Winter Energy Payment, Best Start, and free school lunches were starting “to turn New Zealand’s record on child poverty around”.

It said these along with the Families Package “have already lifted thousands of children out of poverty”.

The following groups have co-signed the open letter, which will be sent to the Prime Minister tomorrow morning:

ActionStation, Auckland Action Against Poverty, Auckland City Mission, Auckland Womens Centre, Barnardos, Belong Aotearoa, Beneficiaries & Unwaged Worker Trust, Beneficiary Advocacy Services Christchurch, Birthright NZ, CCS Disability Action, Child Poverty Action Group, Citizens Advice Bureau, Community Networks Aotearoa, Disabled Person’s Assembly, Equality Network, FinCap, FIRST Union, Lifewise, Manaaki Rangatahi, Manawatū Tenants’ Union, Māngere East Family Services, Mental Health Foundation, Methodist Alliance, Monte Cecilia, National Council of Women, New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, Ngā Tāngata Microfinance, NZ Disability Advisory Trust, NZ Accessibility Advisory Trust, NZEI Te Riu Roa, Pacific Women’s Watch NZ, Public Issues Network: Methodist Church, Public Service Association, Renters United, Salvation Army, Save the Children, Social Justice Group of the Auckland Anglican Diocese, Social Link, St Matthews in the City, Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga: National Network of Family Violence Services, Tick for Kids, Tokona Te Raki, UCAN, Unite, Urban Neighbours of Hope, VisionWest, Waipareira Trust, We Are Beneficiaries, Wesley Community Action, Whānau Āwhina Plunket.