Last week the government’s major initiative to combat child poverty (a paltry $25 increase) was exposed for what it is, a lie. The Government, through the Budget this year, claims to be engaging in the child poverty debate, but instead, time and time again, their rhetoric is being exposed as overblown. The Government knows there is a serious problem with child poverty in this country, but is playing a political game instead of addressing the issue directly. Juking the statistics is not good enough, and three occasions in the last week have really hit home to me.
First, official advice to the Government proves what the Green Party has been saying all along, that you cannot solve poverty without addressing low income. They were explicitly told that their increase to parental benefits would not make a real difference to child poverty. Despite this information the Government’s Budget15 PR was all about addressing child poverty.
Second, the Government, when challenged on the need to increase the Working for Families family tax credit (a tax credit that is available to low income families regardless of whether they’re on a benefit or working 20 hours a week), responded by saying they will be increasing this by $24.50. Here’s a comment on this from economist Susan St-John:
“The $24.50 has NOTHING to do with the Family Tax Credit. The Family Tax Credit goes to all low income children on the same basis. The $24.50 does not- it is a combination of an increase to the In Work Tax Credit and the Minimum Family Tax Credit- these are NOT accessible to those low income families not fulfilling the minimum hours of work and off benefit criteria.” Further “the changes that might give $24.50 extra a week affects only 4000 families at the most and have a fiscal consequence of only $1.8m.”
How confusing for the public. Who do we believe? Well, not the government it turns out.
Third, the Government put out a release boasting of how many less people are receiving a benefit, as if their welfare reforms have been successful. “I’m pleased to see the strong downward trend is continuing as Work and Income supports more people into work,” Mrs Tolley says. I imagine most New Zealanders would read this and think more people are getting jobs and going into study. Sadly that’s not the case. Benefit numbers from the Government show that although fewer people are receiving welfare, the number of cancelled benefits as a result of “Obtained Work” has also dropped. The numbers who got jobs the first half of 2015 has dropped by 1,355 people compared to the same period last year. The number of people going off to study also dropped. Check out my press release about it here.
The government has introduced a severe sanctions regime, reduced additional support and increased obligations on beneficiaries. There is a very real social cost of these policies that the government has argued can be justified because they will get people into work and improve their circumstances. The actual statistics show they’re not getting people into work or study and are a major contributor to child poverty and hardship. Government needs to review its punitive approach to benefits and invest in job creation. Merely juking the statistics on child poverty falls well short of an approach I would hope a Government would take.