Greens' Bill to overhaul welfare system aims to 'eliminate hardship', rather than 'help alleviate' it

The Greens say rather than "help alleviate hardship", the welfare system's goal should be to "eliminate hardship" altogether. 

Changing the wording of the Social Security Act 2018 is one of the goals of Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March, whose new Member's Bill would be the first step towards overhauling it altogether.

"Everyone deserves to live with dignity, but our current social safety net doesn’t do enough to help people get by and fully participate in their communities," said Menéndez March, a first-term MP and the party's social development spokesperson. 

Section 3 of the Social Security Act outlines its purposes - one of which is "to enable in certain circumstances the provision of financial support to people to help alleviate hardship". This would be changed to "eliminate hardship".

"My Bill will be a significant step in our plan to totally rewrite the social security legislation and eliminate hardship, not just alleviate it. This Bill will be the start of changing the way Work and Income works on a day-to-day basis and the decision-making framework they must use when assisting people."

The Bill would also incorporate two of the 42 recommendations made by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) in 2019.

"The WEAG said the current system is not delivering for our most vulnerable New Zealanders," said Menéndez March. "Too many people are leading desperate lives with seriously inadequate incomes. The WEAG was clear and unequivocal that significant change is needed."

While two out of 42 might not seem like many, it's more than have currently been implemented - the Child Poverty Action Group saying in December none of them had been achieved

"That report was delivered more than two years ago. People are struggling right now and we cannot wait any longer to get the help they need to live with dignity," said Menéndez March.

The newest quarterly benefit statistics are due on Thursday. The most recent report, which covered the December 2020 quarter, showed rising need for hardship grants and financial assistance - some of the numbers, such as special needs grants and benefit advances - were already showing significant growth before COVID-19 hit. 

Labour has increased benefits since coming to power in 2017, but they've been nowhere near the amounts recommended by the WEAG, which was launched by Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni in 2018. The Greens' confidence and supply agreement with Labour in 2017 included an overhaul of the welfare system. The Greens in 2020 accused Labour of breaking that promise. 

The Greens have proposed a Guaranteed minimum income of at least $325 a week, a step towards a Universal Basic Income that would replace much of the complexity of the existing welfare system.

"We will work with affected communities and experts to develop new social security legislation," said Menéndez March.

"New Zealanders have been waiting too long for the Government to make the Social Security Act fairer and simpler, so the Green Party is going to do it.