19 Jan 2019

Government benefits still not enough a poverty action group says

9:15 am on 19 January 2019

A poverty action group says the government's benefit data shows many families are struggling and benefits are still inadequate.

The rates of child poverty have got worse since the 1980s.

Child poverty rates have got worse since the 1980s. Photo: 123RF

The latest statistics from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show that more than $100 million was spent on hardship grants in the December quarter of last year.

Susan St John from the Child Poverty Action Group said despite the 40 percent increase in emergency grants over the previous year, it was still not enough.

She said the situation was desperate for many families and the government needed to act quickly rather than waiting for the budget in May.

"What we would like [the government] to do is increase benefits by 20 percent immediately and to make sure that all low-income families get the entire Working for Families package," Ms St John said.

The latest benefit figures show that more than 385,000 grants were made in the December quarter - an increase of almost 95,000 on the same period the previous year.

People are able to access hardship grants to help pay for food, accommodation, medical costs and power bills.

The Child Poverty Action Group's Susan St John

Child Poverty Action Group's Susan St John Photo: SUPPLIED

Increasing demand for food assistance was one of the leading contributors to the growth in hardship grants, the Ministry said.

Spending on food grants alone was almost $20m, an increase of more than $5m compared to the last three months of 2017.

The number of people receiving a benefit increased from 289,800 in the December 2017 quarter to 299,300 this quarter.

As a proportion of the total working age population, that represented just a slight increase, from 9.8 percent to 9.9 percent.

The figures also showed that the number of benefit sanctions issued has continued to decline.

About 8500 sanctions were applied in the December 2018 quarter, a decrease of more than 6000 compared to the previous year.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said demand for hardship grants was related to the cost of housing.

"In places like Auckland, where rents and housing costs remain high, there's been an increase in people seeking extra support from MSD."

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