Metiria Turei won't condemn people who lie to WINZ
Green co-leader Metiria Turei says she's heard from people all over the country who felt they had to lie to WINZ in their past and people who are currently doing so. But she won't condemn them.
While travelling down south she heard from a woman who had a flatmate "who is doing exactly what I did". The woman is a single mother raising a young child, who is studying but has not told WINZ that she has flatmates.
It comes after Ms Turei's admission at a policy announcement earlier this month that she'd lied to WINZ when she was a single mother, student and beneficiary in the 1990s. Since then she's said she will pay the money back if asked, but she does not regret lying.
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Ms Turei is supportive of the woman who hasn't told WINZ about her flatmates. "I will never condemn a beneficiary for working as hard as they can to put food on the table and a roof over their head," she said on Tuesday.
She says she doesn't know the woman's identity, but that many people have told her similar stories. People have told her: "I'm having the same experience now, I am desperate, I don't like it, I don't want it to be the case but I have no other choice because I risk losing my home. I risk going hungry."
Ms Turei won't pass on their details, but says she will "change the system so that they never have to lie again".
"Nobody should feel they have to keep secrets or tell lies to WINZ just to keep food on the table for their kids. It's completely unacceptable in this country."
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley did not condemn Ms Turei for speaking out, but said people who were struggling could approach WINZ. "That's on her shoulders really. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what Metiria's doing. You've got to abide by your own values.
"It's hard on a benefit we all understand that. My advice to anyone that's really struggling is to go in and talk to a case manager because sometimes there's stuff that can be done."
She said she accpepted that it is difficult on the benefit, but said the Government had raised benefits by $25 a week last year.
"But you've always got to make it much more worthwhile for people to be in work. This is taxpayers money, this isn't a pot of gold that the Government has at the bottom of its garden. This is money that is paid by hardworking families".
Turei asks for an amnesty on sanctions for beneficiaries
In Parliament on Tuesday Ms Turei asked Minister Tolley to instruct the Ministry of Social Development to hold an amnesty for all current beneficiaries, "So that they can talk to WINZ about their full entitlements without risking investigation or financial punishment."
Ms Tolley didn't think that was necessary. She said sanctions are only applied after several warnings or when people don't comply with their obligations. "Some of those obligations are very simple. They are turning up for an appointment. If there is a good reason, the sanction is not applied."
"Anyone who is struggling on their benefit, I would encourage them to go and sit down with their case manager and talk through their circumstances because we can help with all sorts," Ms Tolley said.