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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 3—Social Development and Employment

3. RICARDO MENÉNDEZ MARCH (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What steps does she plan to take this term to continue the welfare overhaul so that everyone in New Zealand can live in dignity?

Hon PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment: As the Prime Minister said in the Speech from the Throne, the Government will continue the overhaul of the welfare system, building on the changes already made, including the indexing of benefits to increases in the average wage. Additionally, we campaigned on lifting the abatement threshold for beneficiaries, reintroducing the Training Incentive Allowance, and extending Flexi-wage. Alongside this, we’re committed to tripling the emergency dental grant to $1,000 per year, expanding lunch in schools to 200,000 children, lifting the minimum wage to $20 per hour, and building an additional 18,000 public and emergency houses. These actions will go a long way to improving lives for our families on low incomes.

Ricardo Menéndez March: What is the time line for this Government to deliver on all of the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG)?

Hon PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN: There is already work under way on 22 recommendations of the WEAG report’s recommendations, and there is advice that has been sought on the remainder.

Hon Louise Upston: Supplementary.

SPEAKER: The member always gets two supplementaries; that’s the standard thing, and then we cut round to someone else.

Ricardo Menéndez March: Kia ora. What are the barriers to immediately raising the incomes of the poorest New Zealanders by 47 percent, as recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group?

Hon PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN: The Government has committed to lifting benefits at April every year by indexing them to wages, which was one of the recommendations of the report as well. If the member wishes a response to that specific question, I would request him to put that in writing so that the Minister responsible can give him a more fulsome response.

Hon Louise Upston: Will the Minister change the principles of the Social Security Act, that currently state “the priority for people of working age should be to find and retain work”, this term?

Hon PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN: This Government believes in supporting everyone who is able to get sustainable employment that pays them a decent wage so that they can actually live with dignity. Thank you.

Hon Louise Upston: Point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a straight question that I didn’t get an answer to.

SPEAKER: And it got a very clear answer, which was not supportive of the principle that the member put.

Ricardo Menéndez March: Has she received or requested any advice on whether increasing benefits to at least the levels recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group would reduce the growing need for discretionary hardship grants, particularly for food costs?

Hon PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN: As I said in a response to one of the previous questions around the WEAG recommendations, there is work under way on 22 of them and advice being sought on the remainder of those recommendations. In terms of hardship grants specifically, I can tell the member that the Ministry of Social Development has distributed 1,275,228 hardship grants since May this year and also allocated $32 million over three years to fund services that provide that support that many of our community members need at this time.

Ricardo Menéndez March: Has she received or requested any advice on options to provide additional income support in the lead-up to Christmas, whether permanent or temporary?

Hon PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN: On behalf of the Minister, the member will know that specifically lifting core benefits has been already ruled out. However, the Prime Minister has responded to a letter from NGOs around this issue last month and highlighted the work that has already been done to lift benefits, including the establishment of the Families Package, the COVID income support package, and additional programmes like lunch in schools. The combined effect of all the changes that this Government has made is substantial. For example, 85,000 sole parents are on average $101 a week better off as a result, directly, of the changes that this Government has made.

Ricardo Menéndez March: What further steps, if any, are planned to support migrant workers unable to meet housing costs on the emergency benefit alone?

Hon PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN: On behalf of the Minister, the member will know that there was a substantial programme in place for migrants who were experiencing hardship that was actually administered through the Red Cross. The member will also know that although benefits are generally only available to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, there is one exception: under section 64 of the Social Security Act, during a pandemic, foreign nationals can receive an emergency benefit, which is paid at a similar rate as main benefits and will support them to address or to meet the demands of the needs that they have when they’re experiencing specific hardship, as they are now.