Kiwis say latest benefit boost still not enough - poll

The recent boost to benefits has satisfied few Kiwis, a new poll has found, with most still believing income support levels are too low. 

The Government in May announced the biggest rise in benefits since they were slashed 30 years ago - a $20 jump from July 1, and another increase next April - bringing them into line with what the Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommended in 2019. 

The increase followed a poll commissioned by Fairer Future group of organisations in January, which found 69 percent of Kiwis wanted more income support for those struggling. Its latest poll, carried out after the Budget, found that's since dropped to 60 percent. 

"It's clear that our communities really care about each other and understand that at the moment, people don't have enough to live on and we don't have income adequacy," said Janet McAllister, spokesperson for Child Poverty Action Group - one of 26 members of Fairer Future. 

Bernie Smith, CEO of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, said the increase this week would quickly be eaten up by increasing electricity prices. 

"It was good to see the Government take this first step, but right now we’re still playing catch up and there’s a lot of ground left to cover if we want to genuinely lift families out of poverty."

Inflation tends to run higher for people living in poverty, Statistics NZ data shows, largely thanks to the seemingly unstoppable rise in housing costs. The median rent has gone up an average 4.5 percent a year in the past decade, well above inflation. It increased $30 a week between the first quarters of 2020 and 2021.

"We have rising housing costs and inequitable wealth distribution - it's really, really important that we ensure that all our communities have enough to live on and don't have to deal with financial distress, which is unnecessary," said McAllister. "It is in the Government's power to do something about this terrible situation that too many of our family and whanau find themselves in." 

People in rentals are more likely to recognise the need for better income support, the poll found - 72 percent saying more needs to be done, compared to just 53 percent of homeowners. Wealthier households were also less likely to think more assistance is needed. 

McAllister said the need for those living in poverty is "urgent", particularly for children, whose education can be disrupted by the need to find paid work - reducing their chances of making it out of the poverty trap. 

"It's vitally important that we do this earlier rather than later," said McAllister. "The longer we leave inequality and poverty, the more severe the effects of the toxic stress and the financial distress on our families and whanau. Poverty has an effect on the development of children, and the longer that poverty is, the worse the effects are."

The poll of 1191 Kiwis was carried out by UMR in late May and early June. It has a margin of error at the 50 percent mark of 2.8 percent.