Carmel Sepuloni promises massive boost to Jobseeker benefit - but won't say when

The Minister for Social Welfare has a goal of raising the unemployment benefit by $57 a week by 2023. 

Carmel Sepuloni told Newshub Nation on Saturday morning she was "confident" the Government would reach the $315 target set by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group for a single person on the Jobseeker benefit.

But she wouldn't be drawn on how soon the hike would come. 

"We will be addressing income adequacy this term, but I'm not going to rule in or out what will be in the Budget... I cannot talk about what might be in or out of the Budget before the 20th of May. We'll just have to wait until then."

For a single person 25 or over, it's currently $258 a week after tax

Asked what a "decent amount" to afford the "basics" would be for a single adult Kiwi, Sepuloni said it depends.

"That would vary. It would depend on the situation. Are you living at home with your parents? Do you have children? How much are you paying for accommodation? Where are you living? I'm not going to put an absolute amount on that."

The Living Wage Aotearoa campaign says it's $22.75 an hour - $910 a week, three-and-a-half times the current Jobseeker benefit. The Living Wage is said to be enough to "provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of life". 

Unemployment spiked in the wake of COVID-19, but nowhere near as high as some economists predicted. It's since come down to 4.9 percent, not far off where it was at the start of 2020. 

But for Maori, it remains stubbornly high - going from 8.7 percent pre-COVID to 9 percent now.  Sepuloni said it was "disappointing". 

"Every time there's some sort of crisis, every time the labour market is tight, who is most impacted? It is Maori, it is Pasifika, and in this instance too it is women." 

But a 2019 recommendation to implement a Maori employment action plan still hasn't been actioned. 

"That will be completed at the end of this year," said the minister. "That doesn't mean there's no action taking place... we've got a Maori advisory group that will provide the Government with advice over the course of the year and consult widely with regards to what needs to happen in this space. 

"That doesn't mean that we don't already have in place the targeted upskilling and training opportunities for Maori."

Carmel Sepuloni.
Carmel Sepuloni. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

The Mana in Mahi in programme, which has had $80 million in funding in the last two Budgets, has got about 2500 off welfare.

"Out of 2800 people who have taken up Mana in Mahi, I think it's up to 89 percent have either completed, gone into employment, upskilling and training; or left early... but not gone back on a benefit," said Sepuloni, defending the cost of the scheme - about $32,000 per person off the benefit.

"I think 2800 people... 11 percent of them ending up back on a benefit... is actually a really good result."

She said the Government had also created 20,000 apprenticeship schemes which would help people get into paid employment too.

Sepuloni has been the Minister for Social Welfare for four years now. She says she hopes to leave a legacy of transformation. 

"I would hope that it is going to be a transformation of the welfare system. We've already made significant changes. Despite the fact we know there needs to be more, I think that the changes that have been made have been significant. The culture change programme I think has been effective. The welfare system is not perfect, but it's a lot better than when we took over." 

In December the Child Poverty Action Group said the Government had successfully implemented zero of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's recommendations

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