Women's benefits cut for not identifying fathers

Women's benefits cut for not identifying fathers

Advocacy groups want benefit sanctions on women who don't name the fathers of their children scrapped as part of a review of the Social Security Act.

Currently, people on a sole parent benefit can have their payments docked if they don't name the other parent - usually the father.

But critics say the sanctions only hurt the children.

One woman Newshub spoke to feels her private business was hung out for public scrutiny when Work and Income (WINZ) insisted she name the father of her child or have her benefit docked $22 each week.

"I was pretty young back then, like I was 15 with my first, so I was still pretty much a child myself."

She has three children with unknown fathers. She says she was taking contraception when two were conceived and it's not that she won't name their dads - she can't.

"I remember crying because they said the only way was to provide a father and I don't have one."

So for three children, that's a $22 penalty each, and an extra fee for continued failure to provide their father's details. That meant more than $70 docked from her benefit weekly.

There are more than 13,000 women in New Zealand who have these sanctions imposed. Currently it affects more than 17,000 children.

They claim the sanctions aimed at getting mainly wayward fathers to pay child support perversely hurt the children of the poorest families. They want them gone.

Another woman's benefit was docked for two years.

"It is punishing my child. I reckon it is punishing our child just because the father isn't on the birth certificate."

Both women Newshub spoke to have since had their benefit sanctions lifted, but only after they got help from a lawyer and advocacy group.

"There are a lot of struggling mothers where $28 can help them get a house or more food for their kids," one of the women says.    

The law is currently being reviewed. Labour wants the sanction ditched, but the Government won't say where it stands - but it's asked the Ministry of Social Development for more information on whether the penalties are effective.