Calls for sanctions to be removed; committee report on Social Security Bill

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The Social Services Committee has published a report on their review of the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill.

The Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill was introduced in Parliament to replace the Social Security Act 1964. The bill is intended to modernise and clarify the delivery of social security benefits including obligations and sanctions.

The Social Services Committee report provides a brief review of changes as well as minority views from the Labour Party and Green Party. The report also includes the more than 400 pages of the revised legisation full text.

While the Labour Party does support the idea of the legislation, they have raised a number of concerns.

"There has been a high level of concern amongst key stakeholders both in what is and is not contained in this rewrite, as well as the length of time that has been allowed for analysing this bill. The length of this bill would suggest that the maximum time available should be allowed for the public to be able to offer considered and thoughtful feedback; however, despite attempts from Labour to extend the deadline, this was denied.

Of primary concern to Labour is the writing into law of the investment approach in the principles. This is further fortified by the high number of submissions that also raised concerns about this.

The increased ability for the Government to make and amend regulations as proposed in this bill is disconcerting as it considerably reduces the space for public accountability and scrutiny."

The Green Party does not support the bill and has also raised concerns about the legislation in their minority view comments:

"Our primary opposition is to the inclusion of a new guiding principle that promotes the identification and targeting of people at risk of long-term welfare dependency. This entrenches the problematic 'investment approach' into legislation as well as the harmful concept of welfare dependency as an inherently negative thing."

A number of agencies are calling for the removal of sanctions on beneficiary sole mothers who have not identified the father. Principal advisor, Ruth MacIntyre, Women's Refuge said the sanction "... fails to recognise the difficulties that exist for women living in violent situations." She also said "So they're being punished, even though there may be compelling and complex reasons why they actually haven't come forth with the identity of the father," such as family or sexual violence.

Labour’s Social Development Spokesperson, Carmel Sepuloni, said the sanctions disproportionately affect Māori women noting that 97 percent of those sanctioned are women, and 52 percent are Māori.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has said "In addition, women who try to have the sanction lifted are forced to share intimate details of their lives, including histories of violence and abuse, to Work and Income case managers in open plan offices, and then must have these stories verified by a lawyer." CPAG is supporting a campaign and online petition by Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) to Stop the Sanctions.

Minister Hekia Parata said the Social Development Minister Anne Tolley "... has asked for more information from the Ministry of Social Development on the effectiveness of this policy."

While the government has said the bill mostly rewrites the legislation with minimal changes, non-government agencies identified significant policy changes and negative impacts to families when the bill was first proposed.

Also see the previous NZFVC story on the recent CPAG report on relationship status, violence and benefits.

Selected and related media

Social Security legislation now easier to understand, Beehive Press Release, 18.09.2018

Benefit number obsession counterproductive, Waatea News, 14.09.2018