Benefit increase: Budgeting expert questions 'how much difference it will make'

A budgeting expert says an increase to the main benefit is "better than nothing", but far off what is needed to raise many Kiwis out of poverty.

Recipients will receive a 3 percent rise on April 1 as the Government's decision to link benefit rates to the average wage comes into effect. That means an extra $10.48 a week for a solo parent, while jobseeker beneficiaries aged 25 or over would get an extra $6.78 a week. Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says 310,000 families will be better off.

But Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans says while the extra cash may allow families to purchase an extra loaf of bread or a carton of milk, it isn't enough. 

"I am pleased to hear it, however, I have to question how much difference it will make," he told Newshub. 

"The biggest cause of poverty, in my opinion, is the rising costs of rent across New Zealand, but especially in the major cities… you have to look at what the cause is and then you have to look at what the solution is.

"A $10-a-week increase is better than nothing... however, I do have to question just how better off families will be with an extra $10."

Evans says some of the families he works with are paying up to 65 percent of their income to landlords.

In May last year, the Welfare Expert Advisory Group suggested increasing benefit levels by up to 47 percent, among 42 recommendations to improve welfare in New Zealand. 

Evans told Newshub he never expected to see an increase of that size, but hopes the Government commits to ongoing work in the area.

"What I would have like to have seen is an increase at the first point of at least a minimum of at least 10 percent with an increase of 3-4 percent each year after."

Sepuloni said on Monday the change, which was first announced in last year's Budget, was a way of sharing the wealth.

"Adjusting rates to increases in the average wage ensures we share the benefits of a strengthening economy, and means those on benefits don’t fall further behind."

Abatements thresholds are also increasing from April, which means that a sole parent will be able to earn $115 of other income per week before their benefit begins to reduce. That is up from $100.

"These changes are an important step forward in helping New Zealanders out of the poverty trap. At Budget time I said that it is time for change. This Government is delivering."

What does this change mean if you're on a benefit?

Using current calculations:

  • A sole parent could get an extra $10.48 a week

  • A single disabled person $8.44 extra a week

  • A jobseeker beneficiary aged 25 or over $6.78 extra a week

  • A 20-24-year-old jobseeker beneficiary would get an extra $5.63 a week