Friday, May 03, 2019

Removing WINZ's boot from people's necks

If you've ever had to interact with New Zealand's welfare system, then you'll know that its a punitive nightmare. Beneficiaries are kept on benefits deliberately set at below starvation levels, with punitive clawbacks preventing them from supplementing their income or moving into the workforce via part-time work. Meanwhile, a Victorian definition of relationships that is inconsistent with all other law on the topic (and internally inconsistent in whatever way benefits WINZ) turns WINZ into a Saudi-style morality police snooping on the sex lives of its victims. All to satisfy the cruelty and viciousness of the rich, or those who have a little and lack the imagination to consider that they or their families might ever suffer misfortune (or simply be a student).

The Greens demand an inquiry into this punitive system as the price of support for a Labour government, and they got it. Now it has reported back, and there will be change:

The Government will remove a benefit sanction which saw solo mothers who did not name their child's father penalised up to $28 per week and increase the amount that beneficiaries can earn through employment before their benefit is cut.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni announced the changes on Friday in response to a report from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.

The report warned urgent and fundamental change was needed to redress a level of financial support so low in New Zealand that too many were living in desperate situations. It stated the current system no longer met the needs of the more than 600,000 Kiwis it was supposed to support.

However, Sepuloni said the Government had decided against a recommended move to increase benefit levels by up to 47 per cent immediately so Kiwis could "live in dignity", and was instead "looking at a staged implementation" of change.

This is going to make a difference, and a big one. And while the timing of the report's delivery relative to the budget cycle basicly rules out an immediate increase (the budget having been nailed down months ago), I hope they'll be moving on that soon. Because while removing WINZ's boot from people's necks is good, fundamentally what beneficiaries need is more money, so they can meaningfully participate in society. And in Labour wants to plead poverty on that, maybe they should have implemented a capital gains tax (or one of its alternatives e.g. a land tax, or an outright wealth tax) so we can afford the sort of society we want, rather than being constrained by self-imposed austerity.