Debate rages over controversial beneficiary sanction

Benedict Collins
Source: 1News

The Government is concerned it is harming large numbers of children by cutting their parents' benefits over outstanding arrest warrants and is looking to scrap the sanction.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni told 1News the Government is concerned kids are suffering as a result of this sanction.

"Obviously it makes it even harder for them (children).

"We're always worried about the impact the sanctions will have on children," she said.

The Green Party's social development spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said: "It's really concerning that the Government is consciously choosing to harm children when they themselves have expressed concern".

The Greens want the Government to suspend the use of the sanction immediately to prevent more children being harmed before it is scrapped.

"It is irresponsible to be sitting on all this information and yet continue to harm our children."

New Zealand $10 note.

Sepuloni said if she was able to she would scrap the sanction immediately but the Government isn't legally able to suspend it and she's waiting for officials to do more policy work first.

"There's always been concerns about the welfare system being mixed up with the justice system, also who is impacted by this, like many of the sanctions it's disproportionately Māori," she said.

'There's lots of things I would like to do immediately with regards to the Welfare Expert Advisory Groups recommendations but I can't do everything all at once."

She said the Labour Government has scrapped two sanctions already due to concerns about their disproportionate impacts on women and Māori.

In the first nine months of 2021, 45 Pasifika parents were hit with a warrant to arrest sanction, 63 New Zealand European parents were too, while 459 Māori parents had been hit with the sanction over the same time.

The Government doesn't know how many children are affected.

The Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told 1News that the sanction was cruel and being enforced in a blatantly racist manor.

"Why do you have to starve children out, why do you have to starve whanau out to be able to be able to contact and communicate with them?" Ngarewa-Packer asked.

In 2013, as Labour's social development spokesperson, Jacinda Ardern said this sanction painted beneficiaries as criminals "with warrants out for their arrest" and went against everything Labour stands for.

The use of the warrant to arrest sanction has nearly doubled since Labour entered office in 2017, with more than 4000 issued last year, and it looks set to remain for a while longer yet.

National's social development spokesperson Louise Upston said the warrant to arrest sanction has been incredibly effective.

"We urge the Government not to remove this sanction because its been incredibly successful at getting people who have a warrant out for their arrest back to court."

But Auckland Action Against Poverty's Brooke Pao Stanley told 1News cutting someone's benefit puts them in survival mode and forces them into crime.

Stanley told 1News children in families who get sanctioned miss out on food, doctor visits, have to skip school and have their mental health damaged.