Government to remove subsequent child policy from New Zealand legislation

The Government will remove a contentious welfare policy from New Zealand's legislation if it's re-elected.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni announced on Wednesday that the Social Security Act would be tweaked to administer the change.

The subsequent child policy, introduced in 2012, means single Kiwi parents on a benefit have an obligation to look for work and return to work earlier if they have an additional child.

Sepuloni says the legislative change will come into effect in November 2021 if Labour remains in power.

"Removing the punitive policy builds on the Government's work to make our welfare system fairer such as ... a $25 increase in main benefits, increased abatement threshold and the indexation of benefits to wage increases for the first time in New Zealand's history," she explained.

"By removing this policy, parents will have more flexibility to spend more time with their children in the first 1000 days of their life, which is a critical time period for a child's long-term development.

"It will also improve equity and simplicity in the welfare system and reduce stress in families."

The policy's removal builds on the repeal of Section 192 of the Social Security Act - a piece of legislation Sepuloni describes as a "harmful sanction that penalised sole parents and their children".

As it stands, Section 192 requires the Ministry for Social Development to "reduce rates of benefits for sole parents for failure to assist child support". The benefit is reduced by between $22 and $28 per week for each child if the beneficiary cannot identify the child's other parent.

Sepuloni says those parents who do want to work earlier will still have access to employment support and be helped in their transition into the workforce.

The change follows recommendations made by the Government's Welfare Expert Advisory Group in a February 2019 report, which suggested removing some sanctions and obligations, including the subsequent child policy.

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP), an advocacy group that has been campaigning against Section 192, says it welcomes the change but is "disappointed that it took this long".

"Removing the subsequent child policy recognises that caregiving is critical labour that needs to be supported," says spokesperson Brooke Fiafia.

"The Government needs to move faster to implement all of the recommendations from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group if they are to build a welfare system that upholds people's dignity, instead of punishing them.

"We are concerned that the meaningful structural changes needed in our welfare system, such as individualising benefits and addressing low core benefit levels, are still unaddressed.

"We are calling on the Government to speed up the overhaul of our welfare system that was agreed as part of the confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party and recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group."

But while the AAAP says the Social Security Act change hasn't come fast enough, the ACT Party leader says it shouldn't have been made in the first place as it "promotes welfare as a lifestyle option and will harm kids in benefit-dependent households".

"Many couples wait to start families in order to ensure they can afford to feed, clothe, house and support their children. Those couples who wait and plan are being forced to subsidise those whose lifestyle is dependent on welfare," the party's employment spokesperson Nicole McKee says.

"If we are to reduce child poverty, we need to encourage beneficiaries to work and support their families. Welfare should be a hand up for those in genuine need, not a lifestyle choice."