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Anti-poverty Groups Call For Support Package And Pause To Benefit Sanctions Following North Island’s Severe Weather

Published: Tue 31 Jan 2023 12:00 PM
A coalition of anti-poverty and welfare advocacy groups has called for urgent government action to support people affected by flooding in Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, and Waikato.
The Fairer Future group - which called for increases in income support ahead of the past two budgets and has worked on changes to the welfare system - has set out three key policy changes (below) that it says are urgently needed, alongside practical support, a high-trust approach to welfare support, and attention to particularly affected groups, including renters, people who are uninsured, senior citizens, disabled people and children.
Fairer Future is calling for:
An urgent support package for affected individuals and families in the North Island, including helicopter payments (of the kind announced in the 2022 Budget to deal with the cost of living crisis). Affected people might include those displaced by the floods and those facing significant changes in material circumstances.
Brooke Stanley Pao, coordinator of Auckland Action Against Poverty and member of Fairer Future, says: "It's been awesome to see communities come together to provide supplies and shelter, and now the Government needs to back that up with urgent, sufficient financial support. Civil Defence payments are an important start but they do not go far enough given the scale of the impact and the damage we are seeing."
A pause to welfare sanctions. During COVID-19, the Government suspended the sanctions regime, recognising it was impractical for people to attend work seminars. Similar conditions now apply.
Brooke Stanley Pao says: "So many of our worst affected whānau are finding shelter, cleaning up houses, or looking after loved ones with flooded homes - and it would be totally unfair and wrong for the Government to punish these people further by keeping the sanctions regime operating at this time."
A doubling of the amount of hardship assistance that is accessible to people before they have to prove exceptional circumstances.
Brooke Stanley Pao adds: "The reality is that a large and increasing number of people are facing immediate hardship now, and need financial support without delay. The Government has made some support available but lifting hardship assistance would give people the chance to get through the next few days and avoid further distress."
As well as these three urgent actions, Fairer Future is calling for information about the Civil Defence payments to be translated into different languages and alternate formats, amid reports of people not being able to understand what they are entitled to due to language and communication barriers.
Fairer Future also urges the Government to direct that the Ministry of Social Development and Work and Income implement a high-trust model as the impact of the floods becomes clear, waiving some documentation requirements that might be impractical in the circumstances.
Fairer Future notes that people who do not have a current visa may be in need of particular attention, since they may be ineligible for emergency support. Fairer Future observes that renters, people who are uninsured, senior citizens, and disabled people have particular needs that may require additional government assistance.
Fairer Future will shortly be writing to relevant ministers detailing these calls and concerns.
ENDS
NOTES:
Brooke Stanley Pao is available for interviews. For more information please contact Max Harris (Fairer Future co-coordinator) on 022 426 8939.Fairer Future's Auckland Flood Response Call to Government:
Provide an urgent support package for affected individuals and families, going beyond Civil Defence payments, including helicopter payments to individuals and families who are displaced or face significant changes in material circumstances.
Pause benefit sanctions so that people are not punished for meeting welfare requirements at a time of significant distress for struggling individuals and families.
Double hardship grants before people have to prove exceptional circumstances to provide immediate relief.
Translate Civil Defence payment information into more languages to ensure the payment is accessible and available to all.
Implement a high-trust model, recognising that it would be impractical and unfair to require proof of documentation and other onerous conditions at this time as people need immediate support.
Ensure urgent policy attention is given to the position of people without a current visa, renters, uninsured people, senior citizens, disabled people and children (among others) who appear to be facing particular needs in the aftermath of the Auckland floods.
Take a child-sensitive approach to the emergency recovery to ensure whānau have the essentials they need to care for their children.
Civil Defence payments are currently capped depending on the impacts felt: for food, bedding, and clothing needs they are capped at $400 for a single person, $600 for a couple, $900 for a couple or sole parent with 1-2 children, or $1,110 for a couple or sole parent with 3+ children (https://www.workandincome.govt.nz/products/a-z-benefits/civil-defence-payment.html).
Currently there is only a phone number for Civil Defence payments; a phone number is inaccessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who have verbal communication difficulties. A text service is also needed.
Fairer Future has in the past called for seven steps to change the welfare system, including an end to sanctions, in a report called Seven Steps for a Fairer Future.

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