4 September 2011: News from CPAG
CPAG v Attorney General
Justice sought through the courts for New Zealand’s poorest children
Child Poverty Action Group takes an appeal in the Wellington High Court this week in a historic human rights case affecting 233,000 of New Zealand’s most disadvantaged children.
“New Zealand has a terrible problem of child poverty, accumulated in large part by the government operating very poor policies for children over a long period of time. Child poverty diminishes the very fabric of society, now and for the foreseeable future” says spokesperson Susan St John.
“A highly discriminatory government policy with serious implications for beneficiary families is being challenged in this appeal. The Working for Families package which provided tax credits for parents with dependent children was intended to lessen child poverty. However children whose parents are on benefits have received very little or nothing from the package. Over half such children live in severely disadvantaged circumstances”.
Beneficiary families are excluded from receiving the In-Work Tax Credit, a payment of $60 per week (or more for larger families) that was intended to help alleviate child poverty. For a variety of reasons including lack of jobs, health and caring responsibilities, parents in those families are reliant on a benefit for their income and so excluded from the payment. Although the Working for Families package did increase the rate of another tax credit which is available to both working and beneficiary families, many beneficiary families had this increase off-set by simultaneous benefit cuts.
“Using the In-Work Tax Credit, a payment for families of $60 or more per week, to achieve both poverty alleviation and work incentive objectives has been a disaster for families that cannot move off benefits. As a result, 233,000 children in beneficiary families are missing out on this desperately needed income. Also, the loss of the In-Work Tax Credit is a grossly unfair penalty for the child when hours of work reduce in a recession or when natural disasters occur such as in Christchurch” says Spokesperson Janfrie Wakim.
Child Poverty Action Group is claiming that the ‘off the benefit’ requirement of the In-Work Tax Credit breaches the right to be free from employment status discrimination and is unjustified. In 2008 the Human Rights Review Tribunal held that the IWTC was discriminatory and disadvantages children in beneficiary families who miss out “in a real and substantive way” but that the discrimination was justified in a free and democratic society.
CPAG is appealing the Tribunal’s finding on justification and the Crown has also appealed the Tribunal’s finding that the IWTC is discriminatory.
The two-week appeal begins in the Wellington High Court on 5 September 2011.