COVID-19: Financial hardship assistance expanded to help more low income workers through lockdown

The Government has expanded financial hardship assistance to help more low income workers through Auckland's months-long lockdown. 

The income limits for Special Needs Grants, Advance Payment of Benefit, and Recoverable Assistance Payment, have been lifted temporarily by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), starting from November 1 and ending on February 28. 

"This is an investment of $9.6 million into low income workers," Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni said on Friday. 

COVID-19: Financial hardship assistance expanded to help more low income workers through lockdown
Photo credit: MSD

"We expect there to be up to 25,000 more grants made by MSD to people not currently receiving help from MSD, for needs such as food, clothing and additional costs for electricity.

"Currently, a single person working 30 hours per week on the minimum wage is not eligible for hardship assistance from Work and Income. We're lifting the income limits for assistance to 40 hours at the minimum wage, or $800 per week and $1600 per week for a couple with or without children.  

"Expanding the income limits for hardship support will mean more low income individuals and families will be able to get support."

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) spokesperson Mike O'Brien said it will do nothing to lift children in deepest need out of poverty. 

"The Government continues to say it is monitoring the situation, but 10 weeks into the lockdown we are still waiting for meaningful income-related support for children and their families," O'Brien said. 

"Today's announcement will make very little difference to families as they are one-off payments. Families need adequate regular income they can rely on."

The latest benefit numbers showed 193,635 working age-people were receiving the Jobseeker benefit at the end of September - a 5.1 percent decrease when compared to the same time last year. 

"It has been a tough couple of months as our nation responds to the Delta outbreak, but today's figures are encouraging," Sepuloni said. 

Beneficiaries got a $3.3 billion bump in this year's Budget, which saw the Government go beyond recommendations made two years ago by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, to increase benefit levels to help reduce poverty. 

The Government already increased the benefit by $25 a week last year. From July 1, it was lifted again by $20 a week, and a second increase will occur again next year. Families and whānau with children also got a further $15 per adult per week.

It meant a weekly increase of between $32 and $55 per adult by April 2022. The Government expects that 109,000 families and whānau with children will be, on average, $175 a week better off as a result of changes to income support, since 2017.

O'Brien says the Government should immediately bring forward the promised benefit increases.

A recent CPAG report found that poverty, inequity, homelessness and food insecurity were among the burdens which increased for tamariki Māori and other children in the first year of COVID-19. 

The Government's first Annual Report for the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy released in May found that one in five Kiwis kids were living in households where food ran out sometimes or often.

It's no secret housing is unaffordable in New Zealand. But the report showed just how bad it was: 36 percent of households with kids were spending more than 30 percent of their disposable income on housing, an increase from 35 percent in 2018-2019.

Rent is far too expensive for many Kiwis to afford. The median rent in New Zealand is $540 a week - the highest on record. 

"Labour's failure to deliver is hurting the more than 190,000 jobseekers dependent on the Government for an income and squandering their full potential," said National's social development spokesperson Louise Upston. 

"Billions of dollars were allocated to projects which were announced with great fanfare and photo opportunities at the time.  

"The Flexi-Wage extension, for example, was supposed to support 40,000 people off welfare and into jobs over two years. Barely 60 percent of this will be achieved at the current rate.

"More people moved onto Jobseeker during the first seven weeks of the Delta lockdown than flexi-wage supported into jobs in seven months."