A chance to transform our welfare system
This post is by Jeni Cartwright who works for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). ActionStation is collaborating with CPAG to transform our welfare system so it works better for whānau, communities and children.
Every child deserves a good start in life, but right now people, young and old, face challenges, which oftentimes are unforeseen and make it difficult to manage.
People living with poverty suffer the worry of whether there is enough money on a constant, consuming basis. The challenges they face often impact on their lives far more than any one person, who doesn’t share their experience, can realise.
The good news is we have an opportunity to change all of this. The government has appointed a Welfare Expert Advisory Group who have been tasked with investigating what’s working and what isn’t in our welfare system and then making recommendations to fix it.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be collecting the stories of people with lived experience of our welfare system and putting that into a report along with 17 evidence-based recommendations developed by CPAG.
We know that one of the most powerful tools for systemic change are real experiences of people who know what it’s like to navigate life with little.
Do you have a story of the welfare system you would be willing to share? Or perhaps you could share the opportunity with friends or whānau?
When people in Aotearoa fall on hard times, or suffer illness, they need to be able to continue to lead a life that is free from harm and poverty. A life with dignity. They need to know their children will be fed well and clothed, and be able to go to school and learn.
Living with the stress of poverty hurts everyone.
For children and young people, it impacts on their ability to grow, to learn, to have good social skills, or to participate in out of school activities. For adults, it impacts on their ability to put food on the table, their confidence as caregivers, and their ability to go about daily life, to make crucial connections with other people in their community, to build a support network. The more they struggle, the harder it is to get ahead. For some, poverty leads to a downward spiral that is difficult to escape.
For everyone, poverty impacts on health, both physical and mental. The impacts of inadequate housing situations, from poor diets and from stress can have lifelong consequences. Here in our beautiful Aotearoa, we have the highest rate of youth suicide in the western world.
Debt, incurred out of sheer necessity, adds a further layer of stress to people’s lives.
Shamefully, New Zealand’s system of welfare is not responsive enough, nor does it provide adequate support for families when they have their greatest need.
Many people experience barriers when they reach out for support, including unfair treatment by those who are meant to help them. Government over-emphasis on paid employment requirements is stressful, and methods that seek to punish are unfair. What could be a positive experience towards improved situations is no less than a hard slog.
People feel worn down, and anxious about having to go to WINZ. We should be pulling people up, not pushing them down.
Our people in Aotearoa need better than this. And it’s up to the Government to make changes to ensure they get it.
We know that stories are powerful and can create change. Your experiences of the welfare system will guide the Welfare Expert Advisory Group to make recommendations that will improve the chances of all children to have good wellbeing.
The organisation I work for, CPAG, has narrowed down a long list of recommendations for welfare reform to 17. Your stories will sit alongside our policy recommendations in a report that we will deliver to the advisory group in a few weeks time. You can share your story anonymously if you wish.
One thing we can all agree on is that people need more money to get by. We only need to think about the cost of renting to know that everyone is affected, and those on the lowest of incomes are spending far more of their incomes on housing than anyone else.
We believe reform should be guided by principles of compassion and caring, and the real needs of families and individuals. 2018 developments such as the Families Package are a good start.
But so much more needs to be done to improve welfare in Aotearoa so that people living on welfare benefits and with the assistance of tax credits can thrive. We want to see policies in place that ensure benefits and tax credits do not follow a pattern of falling far behind the rising costs of living and housing.
We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to ensure that the wellbeing of all our citizens is prioritised. It’s critical that we get it right, for all children, communities and families.
Ngā mihi nui,
Jeni on behalf of Child Poverty Action Group (in collaboration with ActionStation).