8 Dec 2021

Slow pace of welfare reform increasing pandemic-related inequity - report

5:09 am on 8 December 2021

Faster action on welfare reform could have eased some of the pressure on struggling families over lockdown, the Child Poverty Action Group says.

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The report acknowledged some changes, including the most recent increases to benefits, had a modest impact on the lives of some children in poor households. Photo: RNZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

In its new stocktake report, it said almost three years on, none of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's (WEAG) 42 recommendations for overhauling the system have been fully implemented.

It said there has been some action on about half the recommendations and nothing on the rest.

That slow pace of change was concerning, given the increased levels of hardship caused by the pandemic, the report said.

"If welfare reform had happened on the timetable envisaged by WEAG, communities would have the financial resilience to be able to face the challenges of Covid-19 with more confidence.

"As it is, the government's slow pace of reform is increasing Covid-19-related inequity and distress, and jeopardising public health measures."

At the current pace, CPAG said it could take "decades" to implement the reforms as set out in the WEAG report.

But the report acknowledged there had been some positive changes over the last year, including the most recent increases to benefits, announced in the May budget.

Those and other measures would have some - albeit modest - impact on the lives of some children in poor households.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the government has made tangible progress on addressing the concerns raised by the WEAG.

"The welfare system is old and clunky which is why we are overhauling it," she said.

"But, we have always been very up front. These reforms will require massive structural change and will take time."

Sepuloni said there was more to do, but it was important to recognise what had been achieved so far, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic.

That included increases to benefits, the removal of two sanctions impacting on children and the Families Package brought in after the 2017 election.

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