Sixty-nine percent believe Government should increase income support for those in need - survey

By Harry Lock of RNZ

A survey has found seven out of 10 New Zealanders believe the Government should increase income support for those on low wages or not in paid work.

The UMR poll was commissioned by a group of more than 40 organisations, including unions, social service providers, and kaupapa Māori groups. It found approval for increasing income support was largely consistent across salary groups, age ranges, renters and owners; and across the political spectrum.

There was a majority of support by voters for the four major parties, led by Greens' supporters at 89 percent in favour.

"This poll shows that ensuring liveable incomes for all would be a popular move for the government, across the board, as well as the right thing to do," Janet McAllister from Child Poverty Action Group said.

"Even two-thirds (66 percent) of those with high household incomes - over $100,000 - agree the Government should increase income support for those financially less fortunate than themselves.

"Our compassionate and inclusive approach to caring for the most vulnerable during COVID-19 outbreaks served us well. We must take the same common-sense approach to ensure everyone, whether they are working, caring for children, living with a disability or illness, learning, or have lost their jobs before or because of COVID-19, has a liveable income."

Market rents driving people into poverty

Save The Children New Zealand child rights advocacy and research director Jacqui Southey said increased income support is needed now more than ever.

"Market rent is an example of this - we can see that market rents are outpricing families on low incomes. A key indicator of that is the emergency housing waitlist, which is now over 22,000 people, and that has grown exponentially over the last two years.

"Clearly, everyday people, regular families, are not able to afford market rent prices.

"It's a phenomenal cost for families if they're spending the bulk of their incomes on paying for housing costs. It clearly puts pressure on being able to purchase nutritious food."

Data from Stats NZ showed the cost of living is growing at a faster rate for beneficiaries than it is for non-beneficiaries.

In the year to December 2020, inflation for beneficiary households increased by 1.9 percent, while overall annual inflation increased by 0.7 percent.

It was driven by escalating prices in the rental market, with rent making up nearly 30 percent of all household spending for beneficiaries. The average is just over 13 percent.

What did the survey show?

A total of 1158 people took part in the poll, which was done over four days across January and February this year.

The poll asked whether the person agreed that "the Government should increase the amount of income support paid to those on low incomes and not in paid work".

It found:

  • Overall, 69 percent of respondents agreed, while 26 percent disagreed
  • There was more support amongst those living in rural areas: 78 percent of those living in rural areas agreed, compared with 67 percent of those who do not live in rural areas
  • Eighty percent of renters agreed, and 62 percent of non-renters agreed
  • The younger the person, the more likely they were to agree: 73 percent of 18-29 year olds agreed, compared with 63 percent of those who were 60+ years
  • The less they earned, the more likely they were to agree: 74 percent of those who earn less than $50,000 a year; 66 percent of those who earn more than $100,000
  • ACT (52 percent) had the lowest agreement rate, followed by National (56 percent), Labour (78 percent), and Greens (89 percent)

The poll did not specify what type of income support it referred to.

"The Government have a number of levers they can use, we haven't actually stipulated what they are," Southey said.

"We're not asking for one singular ask, we're leaving it up to the government to use the levers that they've got, to make good judgements about how they can advance people's incomes, whether you're a beneficiary or a low-income family."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

'A clear social licence and mandate'

The Stats NZ data, released earlier this month, also showed rent for Māori takes up a much larger proportion of household spending, than the average.

Dee-Ann Wolferston, chief executive of Te Kāhui Mana Ririki, said Māori were disproportionately represented in the unskilled and low-paid jobs in communities and therefore Māori were more likely to be impacted by job losses as a result of COVID-19, according to a BERL study.

"Family violence is one of those behaviours that will escalate as a result of cost pressures, job losses and housing shortages.

"In the past 12 months, family violence has increased in areas as much as 33 percent, within which Māori are disproportionately impacted. Raising income support rates will reduce financial pressures for whānau Māori who are already in crisis."

The 43 different organisations are calling on the Government to make [a] meaningful investment in the next budget, to tackle poverty.

"Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to govern for all New Zealanders but right now many members of our communities are being locked into poverty by low-income support rates," Ruby Powell, the economic fairness campaigner from ActionStation said.

"The time for excuses is up. This poll shows the Government has a clear social licence and mandate, on top of its moral obligation, to lift inadequate welfare payments to 'liveable' levels, and it needs to be done now, in this Budget round."

No date has yet been fixed for Budget 2021.

A report from the Child Poverty Action Network showed that none of the recommendations from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group has yet been implemented.

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, however, the Government did boost benefits by $25 per week

RNZ