Recent benefit increases ‘trash more than transformative’ - advocate

Source: 1News

The Government’s recent benefit increases are “trash more than transformative”, but hardly surprising, an advocate says. 

Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator Brooke Fiafia works at the coal face and sees the impacts of benefit changes first-hand.

She said last week’s $20 increase to main benefits is woefully inadequate amid the rising cost of living, keeping people trapped in poverty. 

“It’s not going to help lift people out of intergenerational poverty. It’s not going to address the trauma and violence that people have often experienced in these spaces. It’s not going to help with people reclaiming their own agency and power,” she told Breakfast. 

“[The] $20 is trash in my opinion. Trash more than transformative.”

Fiafia said she was seeing an increase in the number of people waiting to access emergency accommodation. 

Others are homeless or living in their cars, and Fiafia said it was because successive Governments hadn’t built enough state housing. 

Figures released to RNZ yesterday reveal the number of children living in emergency housing motels reached 4368 at the end of March, a record high. 

Fiafia said she’d also seen a decline in successful Work and Income applications for help for “straightforward” things like food grants. 

“Successive governments in this country show us they don’t prioritise people that are poor, the communities that we serve,” she said. 

“I wasn’t really expecting much from this Labour Government. They’ve met those expectations.”

She also pushed back against some people who, after Budget 2021 was unveiled and benefit increases were announced, said the additional assistance was a welcome first step. 

Fiafia said some organisations and people “kind of made out we should feel grateful for these things”. 

“I’m really staunch that, no, these things are people’s birthright … people shouldn’t need to feel grateful about that - what’s rightfully owed to them.”

Without systemic change, any increase to benefits would just go to landlords, she added. 

She said systemic change meant keeping benefits at liveable levels, and individualising assistance so someone’s relationship status didn’t affect their benefits. 

Auckland Action Against Poverty’s Brooke Fiafia criticised the Government’s lack of ‘urgency’ in addressing poverty.

Money has been allocated in Budget 2021 to lift weekly benefit rates between $32 and $55 an adult by April next year. This is expected to cost about $3.3 billion over four years, depending on the number of people who receive benefits. 

From April 2022, families with children will receive an extra $15 per adult per week and student support living costs will increase by $25. 

All main benefits received a $20 boost on July 1 this year. 

The Ministry of Social Development said the increase in benefits would impact other payments. 

“While most people will be better off overall, we will be reviewing supplementary assistance, including Temporary Additional Support and the Accommodation Supplement. In some cases, these will go down,” said Kay Read, general manager of client service delivery. 

She said the exact amount people would get would depend on their situation and costs. 

Taking into account changes to the Temporary Additional Support and Accommodation Supplement, Read said about 372,000 individuals and families would be about $41 better off, on average, with the changes announced in Budget 2021. 

Meanwhile, about 500 individuals’ entitlements won’t change and 125 are estimated to be “unintentionally worse off” by an average of $27 per week from July 1, Read said. 

“We will make adjustments through the Transitional Assistance Payment as above, so they are no worse off.”