An older child giving a younger child a piggyback in the sunshine outdoors

Benefit sanctions need to go

In the last three months, 14,724 people had their benefit sanctioned by Work and Income. The Green Party campaigned on removing excessive benefit sanctions as part of making the most significant change to our welfare system in a generation. Now that we are backing the Government, there is agreement that these excessive benefit sanctions have to go.

The benefit sanction that has been talked about the most is Section 70A which requires single parents to name the father of their child, or risk losing their benefit. These parents get their benefits docked $28 a week per child. These solo mums do not deserve to be laying out the intimate and personal details of their lives in this way to access support they need to feed and clothe their kids.

The reasons women may not name the father of their child are myriad and complex. For many, it’s because that person was physically violent or emotionally abusive towards them. They have made the decision to cut contact with that person, for their own safety and that of their baby’s. For that woman to then be punished for that decision by the Government is cruel; for their baby to be deprived of necessities is just plain wrong.

If the purpose of our social welfare system is to provide support to those New Zealanders who need the most financial help, then surely it is counter-intuitive to punish them further in the pocket.

Many of the 14,724 people who had their benefit sanctioned will be for reasons like missing an appointment. This means if you don’t receive the letter saying you have an appointment, or if your kid is sick, or if the bus doesn’t arrive, or if you have an asthma attack on your way to WINZ, then you will be punished financially. The possibilities are endless for why you might miss an appointment. Things don’t always go as expected, we all know that.

The options are pretty stark for someone on a benefit who has had their benefit cut. I am in no doubt that these benefit sanctions would have meant misery for families around New Zealand. If you are on a benefit, things are already impossibly tough financially. There is no excess spending that can be comfortably postponed, or economised further. People have been doing it tough, and it is things like benefit sanctions that push people over the edge, to homelessness, to losing custody of kids, or worse.

Our welfare system has been failing already disadvantaged communities. More than half of people having their benefits sanctioned are Māori and Pasifika. Benefit sanctions punish families who are already struggling to get by, and punish them by pushing them further into poverty. This becomes a self-defeating trap.

For the people out there who have been struggling so much, we will be taking action to ensure you get the help you need. The Green Party is committed to ensuring poverty is never used as a weapon against any of us. We will all benefit from a Government that supports people in tough times.