Government's response to benefit increase request labelled 'gaslighting' by poverty group

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

The Prime Minister has responded to an open letter from 70 organisations asking the Government to urgently lift benefit levels - but it has not been well-received. 

The Prime Minister spoke after more than 50 organisations penned an open letter urging her to act now and help lift children out of poverty.

The 70 groups had called on the Government to raise benefits by Christmas but Jacinda Ardern has said that won't be happening.  

In a letter co-signed by Ms Ardern, deputy PM Grant Robertson and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, it said that the Government, "worked swiftly to establish" laws to set targets on child poverty reduction, and to increase financial support for low income families. 

"We did not stop there, and have continued to make changes that increase incomes for those who may be facing hardship," the letter stated.

But Auckland Action Against Poverty was not impressed.

"It is disappointing and extremely frustrating to be gaslighted by the Government," Auckland Action Against Poverty's Brooke Stanley Pao said. 

They, along with almost 70 groups, had called for lift in benefits saying that "too many parents are under-resourced, overstressed, and unable to give their children real opportunities to thrive".

"During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, you acted quickly to set up the Covid income relief payment, which is nearly twice the amount of the usual jobseeker benefit. Now, we are asking you to apply the same common sense approach to all income support."

But Ardern's response said the "combined effect of all our changes is substantial" adding that excluding the Winter Energy Payment it meant, 

- 12,000 couples with children on average get $110 more a week
- 85,000 sole parents on average get $101 more a week
- 14,000 couples with no children on average get $43 more a week
- 204,000 single people on average get $33 more a week 
- 315,000 people on benefits get $55 more a week 

"We know that there is more work to do. 

"I can assure you that we are not going to be complacent and will keep working to reduce child poverty and improve our welfare system."

Brooke Stanley Pao said the response "dismisses the lived experience of everyone on a benefit, everyone who has spoken out and shared their story and received public backlash for it, all our young people who have left school to help their families out because of Covid".

"At this point it’s institutional gaslighting and people are exhausted."

"In the letter it mentions the Government is proud of what they’ve achieved, but it’s very different to what people are experiencing on the ground."