A progress review has found the Government has failed to fully implement any of the 42 key recommendations from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) in three years.
In 2018, the Labour-led Coalition Government convened the WEAG to provide advice on a programme of 'overhaul' for the welfare system.
In February 2019, WEAG's experts delivered their report calling for complete reform of the welfare system. It provided 42 key recommendations and 126 detailed recommendations.
However in the second annual review, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has found progress to be "slow, patchy and piecemeal" with 22 key recommendations minimally or partially implemented.
CPAG researchers and report co-authors Caitlin Neuwelt-Kearns and Professor Emeritus Innes Asher warn at the pace the Government is moving, it could take "decades" to implement the proposed welfare reforms.
"We were concerned by a lack of progress when we wrote our inaugural report in November 2020, and now as 2021 draws to a close, we are even more concerned given increased levels of hardship associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," they say.
"While a handful more detailed recommendations have now been addressed, our findings remain consistent with 2020 that none of the WEAG's 42 key recommendations have been fully implemented."
In the past two years, the number of children living in benefit-receiving households rose by over 15 percent to 208,000 children, roughly one in every five in Aotearoa.
But CPAG warns Budget 2021's benefit increases will not meet WEAG recommendations for many benefit recipients when wage inflation is taken into account.
"Even with the increases, couples with children will face a weekly shortfall of $10-14 when April 2022 increases are rolled out, compared to wage-adjusted WEAG rates."
Furthermore the WEAG-recommended increases to Working for Families tax credits haven't been delivered.
"The Government has signalled a review of Working for Families, but as yet we have no timeline or details," says Professor Asher. "Children can't live on promises."
Prof Asher says that due to "slow Government roll-out", a couple on Supported Living Payment with one child will have been denied over $25,000 by April next year.
"These are significant sums that could have made a vital difference to family and whānau wellbeing, particularly during the pandemic," she adds.
"If transformative welfare reform had been introduced as WEAG recommended, our communities would have been better equipped to withstand crises.
"Accelerating welfare reform would be an appropriate response to COVID-19 - but so far we have seen slow implementation progress, with no acceleration from last year."
CPAG is concerned Cabinet papers suggest that the Government may no longer be committed to delivering welfare reforms it signalled for delivery by the end of this electoral term due to - as Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni put it - "their scale and complexity".
CPAG has issued a list of WEAG recommendations to the Government to prioritise during its current term, including:
- Reforming the purpose and principles of the Social Security Act
- Implement Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles in every part of the welfare system
- Fix Working for Families by increasing the Family Tax Credit to WEAG's recommended rates and extending the In-Work Tax Credit to all low-income children regardless of their parent's income source
- Increase benefit levels for all youth payments 16-24 years to their adult equivalent
- Significantly improve financial support for disabled people, people with health conditions and their carers
- Rapidly escalate building of social housing on an industrial scale