The use of a controversial sanction against beneficiaries has exploded under the Labour Government, despite Jacinda Ardern raging against the punishment while in Opposition, with the surge hitting Māori children hard.
Everyone deserves their day in court, but if you don't turn up and are on a benefit, that benefit gets slashed.
“Beneficiaries have the right to be treated equally to all other citizens in this country. This is a sanction that is deliberately aimed at the most vulnerable people in our communities and it punishes their children,” AUT dean of law Khylee Quince said.
Two years ago, experts told the Government to dump the sanction. Instead, its use is up 75 per cent, with 4300 people hit last year.
Greens social development spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said the Government should end the sanction.
“The Government ought to act swiftly to end these excessive sanctions that are punishing Māori disproportionately,” he said.
“The Government has upheld a welfare system that continues to punish our children and Māori.”
For beneficiaries with kids, 80 per cent of those sanctioned for outstanding warrants are Māori.
The Government was not committing to the change.
“I'm not going to make that commitment just now,” Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said.
The minister's own officials wrote to her recently, saying this sanction only makes things worse, disrupting beneficiaries housing and childcare.
They said the Government would be better off supporting beneficiaries through the court process.
Ardern was disgusted when the sanction and others were launched by National in 2013.
“People who are on benefits are either criminals, drug takers or abusing their children in some way — this is the message these welfare reforms send,” she said as Labour's social development spokesperson at the time.
She also slammed then-Prime Minister John Key.
“He's telling them they're drug takers, they've got warrants out for their arrest, they're committing fraud. Labour is calling the Government out.”
But the party seems to taking a softer stance on the controversial punishment now it's in power.
“Oh look, it was something I was certainly uncomfortable with in Opposition but we've got to look at the wider program of sanctions that are in place,” Sepuloni said when asked if the sanction fits with Labour’s values.