Government has 'moral responsibility' to provide welfare - but does it want to?

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says when people from low-income working households in particular don't access support they're entitled to, that cost is passed on as hardship grants or as health costs.
Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says when people from low-income working households in particular don't access support they're entitled to, that cost is passed on as hardship grants or as health costs. Photo credit: Newshub.

The Government says it wants New Zealanders to claim all the welfare benefits they are entitled to - a goal that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the Opposition and Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) are questioning whether the Government really wants all those entitlements claimed.

New Zealanders failed to access $592 million of welfare entitlements, a report published in 2016 by Treasury, the Inland Revenue Department and Ministry of Social Development (MSD) found.

Most unclaimed benefits are accommodation supplements, childcare subsidies and temporary additional support, the report found.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says when people from low-income working households in particular don't access support they're entitled to, that cost is passed on as hardship grants or as health costs.

"I feel that we have a moral responsibility to give people access to what they're entitled to through MSD," Ms Sepuloni said.

When asked how the Government could afford $592 million in welfare entitlements, Ms Sepuloni said the Government has no choice but to provide the money if people claim it.

"These types of entitlements through MSD are demand-driven - it's not a matter of whether or not you have the money available. When you need the money, it has to be there.

"That is how our social security system works...  Those that go to MSD for support, we've got a legal obligation to let them know about any eligibility they might have."

But National's social development spokesperson Louise Upston says if the Government is serious about proactively getting people access to entitlements, there would have been provision in Budget 2018.

"There's a big liability sitting out there, and if the ministry are serious about giving more people entitlement and providing more financial support ,that would be in the Budget - and it's not."

"Either [Ms Sepuloni] doesn't mean it, or she's going to magically find $500 million."

Ms Upston said it's "pretty disturbing" if people accessing Work and Income (WINZ) are not being made aware of additional welfare, such as the accommodation supplement.

She said the minister should introduce a programme of work to ensure people who need childcare assistance are accessing the subsidy.

AAAP's Ricardo Menendez March says MSD is failing to go above and beyond to ensure people are accessing their entitlements.

"There is nothing actively telling [low-income workers] they could be topping up their income with, say, the accommodation supplement," he explained.

"They just never take the steps to access it. MSD needs to find a way that every low-income worker is notified that if they are earning below a certain amount, this is the entitlement they could be receiving."

Mr March said there is an additional problem of people not being told about all their entitlements when they access MSD's services.

MSD will launch an online eligibility guide later this month. Ms Sepuloni said the site will be promoted, particularly for people who are not aware of entitlements they could access.

Unclaimed subsidies:

- Families who earn less than $1799 a week are entitled to a childcare subsidy, with lower earners entitled to a higher subsidy.

- Singles earning less than $54,496 a year might be eligible for the accommodation supplement, depending on where they live and the rent or mortgage they pay.

Newshub.

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