New report calls for 'reform and transformational change' to the welfare system

A report launching today calls for New Zealand's welfare system to be based on compassion, aroha and empathy.

Campaigning organisation Action Station wrote the report, based on a survey taken by 267 of their members, showing 84 percent of those respondents with firsthand experience of the system do not currently receive enough income to live with dignity and participate fully in the community.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on the Government to lift "punitive and harmful sanctions", and to end the practice of "[forcing] people into inappropriate work".

The report, a collaboration with advocacy organisation Child Poverty Action group, comes as the MSD-appointed Welfare expert Advisory Group (WEAG) conclude a six-week consultation on the future of the welfare system.

Laura O'Connell Rapira, director at Action Station, told Newshub the organisation launched the report because it was important the Government and WEAG were "informed by the lived experience of people having first-hand interaction with the welfare system".

"Some people find it easier to share stories in an online format where they have the option to be anonymous... So we were trying to give people an accessible way in which they could share their stories and their experiences."

Ms O'Connell Rapira says the report highlights the diversity of people needing welfare support.

"I think we start to envision that it's one type of person who is having challenges in their life relying on the welfare system.

"Solo mums were prominent in our stories, but it was not the only experience, it was people who have retired, people with disabilities, people who have lost their partners, etc."

Laura O'Connell Rapira
Laura O'Connell Rapira Photo credit: Supplied

Advocacy group Auckland Action against Poverty (AAAP) says it's not uncommon for people with such negative lived experiences of the welfare system to become vocal advocates for change themselves.

Iris Morunga, a Māori single mother of two, who has received income support since 1995, says she began advocating with AAAP based on her own experience of a system she describes as "shocking".

Ms Morunga says her debt to WINZ increased considerably due to the costs of school uniform and stationery for both children, and that a lack of timely support from Work and Income perpetuated a culture of loan sharks taking advantage of beneficiaries.

"I started doing advocacy because I knew what people were going through. I can see where they're coming from," she says.

"If the welfare system was working well, more single parents would be able to work, and slowly get off the benefit, because it is all about the cost of living, especially with kids."

Iris Morunga.
Iris Morunga. Photo credit: Supplied

Action Station is not the first to collect stories and present them to Government officials during this Parliamentary term.

It is a tactic the We are Beneficiaries social media campaign employed late last year by pairing those stories with art, in the wake of former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei's resignation.

Sam Orchard, one of the movement's founders, says it's about "hearing voices of people who had been told to be quiet for such a long time."

"If you're a leader of a political party and can't talk about your experience without losing your job, it creates a pretty scary precedent for someone wanting to create change within the welfare system."

He says that the response from ministers to the compilation of 200 stories that the campaigners submitted was limited, but that the initiative has helped those speaking out to feel more connected.

"Heaps of people were getting behind it, so people didn't feel so alone.

"That's the power of community story-telling; you don't just share your own story, you also see yourself reflected in other people's stories."