Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March 'disappointed' Government hasn't 'acted with urgency' to raise benefits

The Green Party is pleading with the Government to further increase core benefits as a slight boost comes into effect on Thursday.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says about 400,000 families will be better off as main benefits increase by 3.1 percent. Since 2019, benefits have been linked to the average wage as opposed to being adjusted in line with the Consumer Price Index. 

But the Greens say a single person over 25 years old will only receive an extra $8 per week from Thursday. Party Social Development and Employment spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March says living is unaffordable.  

"We're disappointed that the Government hasn't acted with urgency to lift people on the benefit out of poverty," he told Newshub.

"We are disappointed that the indexation changes, which have been every year, have been touted as 'incredibly significant' when the Children's Commissioner and many other organisations have made it clear we need an extensive increase on baseline benefits.

"Until baseline benefits are lifted many families will continue to struggle and this indexation change won't make the impact that the Government claims it's doing."

He said things aren't getting better for beneficiaries.

Ricardo Menéndez March.
Ricardo Menéndez March. Photo credit: File

"We know record numbers of families are needing hardship grants to survive. Many people are being put into debt with Work and Income and other loan companies in order to meet basic expenses.

"The end result is people growing with health conditions that are preventable, people not being able to pay their rent and ending up in emergency housing." 

Just over 1.5 million food grants were granted in 2020 and the Government spent a whopping $82.5 million on emergency accommodation in the three months to December 2020, compared to $6.6 million during the same period in 2017. 

Sepuloni said on Monday said COVID-19 had created uncertainty, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern argued the Government had made moves on income adequacy issues.

"These are not single, one-off investments. This is ongoing spending throughout the years," Ardern told reporters.

Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March 'disappointed' Government hasn't 'acted with urgency' to raise benefits
Photo credit: Getty/File

"We have to make sure what we put in place is sustainable.

"When you're talking about benefits … these are changes that we hope to sustain forever, and so we have to make sure we factor that in."