Welfare system has 'lost' what it 'should be about' - PM Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the welfare system has "lost" what it "should be about" amid claims the Government's welfare changes didn't go far enough. 

The Prime Minister addressed criticims over the Government's announcement on Friday that it would implement three out of 42 recommendations made by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group on welfare reform. 

"There will always be those who ask us to move faster and to make significant changes that are more rapid pace," she said at her Monday post-Cabinet press conference. 

The Government announced it would scrap a disciplinary sanction imposed by the former National-led government that cut income to women and their children if the name of the child's father is not declared. 

But the Greens have a promise from Labour that the Government will work towards overhauling the welfare system. The agreement explicitly says "excessive sanctions" need to be removed - and the latest announcement only addressed one.

National's Social Development spokesperson Louise Upton said the announcements were "another case of the Greens being promised action in their coalition agreement and receiving nothing when it comes to delivering on that agreement". 

Asked why the Government only acted on removing one sanction, Ardern said: "We're not making changes to the wider sanction regime at the moment; at this point, we're just asking it to be applied accurately, and that's making a difference."

The Prime Minister speaking at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference.
The Prime Minister speaking at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference. Photo credit: Newshub

She said Work and Income has been asked to "make sure that they apply the policy accurately" and that the Government will be making sure "checks and balances are in place". 

"There are a number of administrative sanctions - if you miss a meeting it's only fair that you ensure that the person was properly notified and that they did indeed break an appointment before a sanction is applied."

The Prime Minister rubbished claims the announcements didn't go far enough, pointing to the Government's Families Package, which included the winter energy payment and increasing paid parental leave to 26 weeks, among other changes. 

"The Government has already made significant changes to our welfare system in order to make sure that, in particular, we're supporting children who might be in families on government support," Ardern said. 

She also highlighted the increased rate of the Family Tax Credit last year to $5878, making it $575 higher than in Budget 2017. The abatement threshold for Working for Families payments also increased from $36,350 to $42,700. 

"There are financial restrictions on any government. We are, however, a government that proudly can say that it's made a difference already having lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty, and we know there's more work to do."

The total estimated expenditure impact of the Families Package is $5.53 billion. This includes approximately $2 billion in Working for Families increases, $1.81 billion for Winter Energy Payments, and $1.14 billion in Best Start payments. 

The Government says these high costs have been offset by reversing the previous government's income tax cuts. It estimated that removing those tax cuts would raise revenue by $8.36 billion over five years. 

Ardern said the Government's goal is to support people into work and provide care "for those who need it during the period they need it for those who cannot work".

"That's what our welfare system should be about, and it's lost a lot of that."


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