Auckland Action Against Poverty says Government's Income Relief Payments create 'two tiers of unemployed' people

The Government's new Income Relief Payments designed to help people who've been made redundant due to COVID-19 has been criticised by an anti-poverty group for "creating two tiers of unemployed" people.

Eligible full-time employees no longer working can receive $490 and part-time workers can receive $250 under the new scheme.

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) says it welcomes the new payments, but it separates those who deserve liveable incomes and those who don't. It says Income Relief Payments acknowledge that benefits are "too low to live on".

"A single adult on a Jobseeker benefit would receive $250, compared to $490 for those on the [full-time] Income Relief Payment. All unemployed people deserve liveable incomes."

AAAP believes the new payments are evidence that welfare payments can be individualised, something it has been campaigning for, it says.

"The Government is creating a two-tier welfare system where the newly-unemployed receive higher incomes than those on main benefits who live below the poverty line. It is a slap in the face for the hundreds of thousands of people on a benefit who rely on food grants to survive because their benefits do not cover basic expenses."

In order to be eligible for the payments, people must have lost their job after March 1.

Unite Union national secretary Gerard Hehir says the Income Relief Payments are a step in the right direction, but it leaves behind "those that need the most help right now".

"These are all very good moves and long overdue, but why do those without jobs after 1st March get this support, while those without jobs before then get half as much, are effectively taxed at 70 cents in the dollar if they earn more and get nothing if their partner is working.

"If you were unemployed before 1st March your chances of getting a new job have plummeted along with everyone who lost their job after 1st March."

He says even though the Government has signalled benefits need to increase, it has taken "no steps to do so" even during an economic crisis.

"It is hard not see this as dividing the 'deserving' poor from the 'undeserving' poor."

Hehir believes it's time to overhaul the welfare system to meet the expectations of Finance Minister Grant Robertson's comments on how it's important people have a safety net to support themselves and their families as they job-search or retrain.

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