New Zealand’s current welfare system is no longer fit for purpose and needs fundamental change, according to the government appointed Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
The group’s report says the current social security system ‘was set up in a different time and no longer meets the needs of those it was designed to support’. Successive governments have implemented changes to the system with intended and unintended consequences.
It adds: ‘Agreement is near universal that the benefit and tax credit systems are unmanageably complex. The level of financial support is now so low that too many New Zealanders are living in desperate situations. Urgent and fundamental change is needed. This change will be challenging because the problems are large and the system complex.’
The group’s recommendations seek to embed a new basis for social security, restoring trust in the system. ‘Adopting this approach will lift outcomes for Māori and others who are particularly adversely affected under the current system’, the group finds.
The report calls for amendments to the Social Security Act 2018:
- To ensure people can live a dignified life through providing adequate financial security and supporting people to achieve their potential
- Designing and operating the system to be person centred and wellbeing focused
- Establishing a cross ministerial approach to monitor effectiveness and outcomes
- Ensuring the Ministry of Social Developments involves users in designing the new system
- Publish information on the key outcomes
- Embed competencies to ensure greater equity for Maori people in management and staff of the ministry, and to achieve more equitable outcomes for Pacific people.
The report includes evidence from WelCond International member Louise Humpage from the University of Auckland. It says: ‘We are also persuaded by the recent review of compulsory income management in the Youth Service system that this aspect of it serves no useful purpose and should be discontinued (Humpage, 2018).’ As such it argues for compulsory income management to be abolished and for the youth mentoring aspect of the Youth Service to be separated from case managing entitlements.
Since the WEAG report was published, the NZ government has moved to end sanctions on lone parents who do not name the other parent of their child, and will index benefits to average wages, rather than inflation, effectively raising benefit levels from next April. But campaigners and opposition politicians say the changes are far too little, given that WEAG made 42 recommendations for fundamental reform of the system.