Govt promises to help children affected by welfare sanctions

Benedict Collins
Source: 1News

The new Children's Commissioner has been given an assurance by the Ministry of Social Development that it will try do more to stop children being harmed by welfare sanctions.

It came a day after the ministry revealed it doesn't have any policy in place to detect whether children are being harmed.

The Government has sanctioned thousands of beneficiaries with children in 2021 for things like missing appointments or turning down a job offer.

Beneficiaries with children can have their benefits cut by half and the Government says it doesn't know how many children are affected.

Judge Frances Eivers met with MSD officials today after 1News coverage raising concerns about the impact the sanctions were having on children.

"They told us, they assured us, that they would consider that case managers would consider the well-being of children when sanctions are applied," she told 1News.

"We're working with them to make sure we can do our best, that children are considered when these sanctions apply.

"None of us want children to go without, so if we can work to make sure this doesn't happen then we must do so."

Child wearing face mask (file picture).

The Commissioner said she wants the sanctions removed altogether and says she will continue to work closely with MSD,

This week, the Green Party's social development spokesperson, Ricardo Menendez-March asked MSD officials if they had been checking in on children whose parents were being sanctioned to make sure they weren't being harmed.

"We can come back to you on that, I'm just not aware what the actual process is in relation to once people have sanctions," MSD chief executive Debbie Power responded.

"I'm not aware of a particular policy Ricardo, we can come back to you on that."

On Thursday 1News asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern if she was concerned no one was checking on the welfare of these children.

Ardern responded that sanctions were a last resort and that she understood the number of children affected was relatively small.

In a statement to 1 News the ministry said: "We gave the Commissioner an assurance that we would reinforce with our staff best practice in the area, which includes understanding and taking into consideration the impact on any whānau before a sanction is applied, particularly when there are tamariki involved".

With some sanctions though, like the Warrant to Arrest sanction the ministry has no discretion and must apply sanctions.

1News has also uncovered new information showing 45,250 beneficiaries were sent for jobs that required pre-employment drug testing in the year ending June.

Of those, 60 failed the test, or refused to take the test, and 42 people were sanctioned, a failure rate of 0.1 percent.