Greens, ACT both condemn $20 benefit increase - but for very different reasons

The Greens and ACT have both condemned the Government's increase to welfare payments - but for very different reasons.

July 1 marks the day a raft of social development initiatives announced during Budget 2021 will come into effect, including a $20 increase to main benefits per week - a change that'll impact hundreds of thousands of Kiwis on the dole.

It's the first of two increases that will lift benefit rates by between $32 and $55 by April 2022, in line with a key Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommendation.

In a press release on Thursday, Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni celebrated the change as "directly addressing child poverty by putting more money in the pocket of parents".

"From today, 355,000 New Zealanders on benefits will have more money to meet their basic living costs and their children's needs," she said.

"This is part of this Government's key priority of laying the foundations for a better future and will also help secure our economic recovery from COVID-19, as this money will be spent in local and regional communities."

Greens, ACT clash on benefit increase

While it's being celebrated by the Government - and a new UMR poll shows the majority of Kiwis are in favour of increasing the amount of support paid to those on low incomes and not in paid work - it hasn't gone down well with everybody.

The Green Party says the benefit increase is a start, but must go further to help pull New Zealanders out of poverty.

"The Government's approach of staggering main benefit increases does not make sense when we have families desperately in need, using food grants just to survive," said social development and employment spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March.

"$20 now and $15 next year will not go far enough to address the overwhelming hardship people are experiencing. New Zealanders want to see better support, and the Government has the money in the bank to do it.

"We need to eliminate hardship with significant benefit increases now so people can thrive, not just survive."

Karen Chhour (left) and Ricardo Menéndez March (right).
Karen Chhour (left) and Ricardo Menéndez March (right). Photo credit: Twitter / Getty Images

The ACT Party is also unhappy with the benefit increase - though for reasons very different to the Greens.

The party's social development spokesperson Karen Chhour described the $20 a week lift as a "slap in the face to Kiwi battlers" and argued that increasing benefits would just result in more New Zealanders on the dole.

"It's an insult to middle New Zealanders who are working hard to get ahead but being squeezed in every direction to increase benefits today," she said.

"The Government is making it harder to employ people and easier not to work with its ideological policies. Middle New Zealanders work hard but they're also taxed hard. This increase isn't fair to them...

"There are too many children growing up without the positive example of a parent in work and too many adults suffer from chronic welfare dependency. The Government is showing no signs that it wants to change that.

"ACT has positive plans to use welfare as a hand up. The Government has an opportunity to make people's lives better but it seems more interested in keeping families in a cycle of dependency."

Why the Government is lifting benefits

The Government's benefit increase, announced in May for Budget 2021, comes after its Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommended the change in 2019. 

The Government says between 19,000 and 33,000 children are projected to be lifted out of poverty on the after-housing-costs measure in 2022/23 as a result of the $3.3 billion changes.

The year 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the so-called 'Mother of All Budgets', which saw benefits slashed and other social programmes cut. Finance Minister Grant Robertson says Budget 2021 repaired "some of that damage".

"Not only will this give a sense of dignity and hope to those who receive that boost in income, it will also help reduce inequality and provide ongoing stimulus to the economy."

Greens, ACT both condemn $20 benefit increase - but for very different reasons

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Budget announcement closed "a chapter on our past and take a big step towards our goal of making Aotearoa New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child".

"Increasing incomes for our most vulnerable both secures our recovery by adding targeted stimulus to the economy while also addressing one of our most pressing long term challenges - child poverty."

She said making these changes was not only "the right thing to do", but good for the economy.

"In the short term, these changes will help stimulate growth and in the longer term they’ll help break the cycle of poverty."

Since being elected, the Government says 109,000 families with children are on average $175 a week better off as a result of changes it has made to income support. That includes its implementation of the families package, as well as the $25 lift to benefits it made in the early days of COVID-19.