Social security legislation rewrite and family violence

Tue 09 Aug 2016

Social security issues have been highlighted as the Government revises social security legislation. The Government is currently rewriting the ...

Social security issues have been highlighted as the Government revises social security legislation.

The Government is currently rewriting the Social Security Act 1964 (SSA) under the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill. 

In March 2016, the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill was introduced in Parliament to replace the Social Security Act 1964. Parliament invited submissions as part of this process and the bill is now being reviewed in Select Committee.

The Social Security Act has been amended 153 times since its introduction in 1964. The Government asked the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to look at rewriting the Act "... so it’s easier to understand and reflects a modern approach to delivering assistance to New Zealand families." A press release from the Office of the Clerk says most of the Bill is rewriting existing law, however it outlines some of the proposed policy changes. The MSD website provides additional information including a diagram of the proposed changes. You can read the Bill and find the current status of the legislation on the Parliament website. It is proposed that the new Act be implemented in July 2017.

MSD says, "There are no changes to the amount of payment people receive and people will continue to receive their payments as usual. There are no proposed cuts to your benefits as a result of this new Bill."

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) has described the Bill as:

“significant changes to social security law that further cement an approach to social security that is neither ‘social’ nor ‘secure’. The underlying focus of the Bill and the current approach to welfare is one built on driving people towards paid employment and a highly targeted and punitive approach to incentives and income support.”

NZCCSS said:

“The so-called ‘investment approach’ to welfare is further embedded through a new Section 4(e) of the Bill that introduces a new principle aimed at ‘people at risk of long-term welfare dependency’. This is aimed at using the government’s ‘big data’ to profile those considered to be most likely to be receiving welfare assistance long term and target them for focused ‘assistance, support and services’.

There are many good reasons to question the ethics and the effectiveness of this approach and The Treasury has recognised that making such linkages does not truly identify causes. In addition there is growing unease about issues of privacy and tendency to ‘machine bias’ with such risk assessment approaches.”

NZCCSS has called for the welfare reforms to be child-centred.

The Morgan Foundation has also commented on the effects on children of forcing parents into paid work.

Further information, including an analysis of provisions of the Bill, is available on the NZCCSS website.

The Government has recently flagged that it plans to “take an investment approach similar to that taken in the context of welfare entitlements” in family violence. An April 2016 Cabinet paper says “While the portfolio analysis and other work has provided a broad foundation of  knowledge about the distribution and the effectiveness of  our  current investment, we are not yet at the point of being able to take that kind of approach. The scale of unreported violence, inconsistent assessment of risk and need for those who do report, and inadequate information about the distribution and effectiveness of our current interventions prevents us doing so. The Ministerial Group work programme is designed to overcome some of these difficulties.”

Update: The Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill had its third reading in September 2018 and will become law.

Further research and resources

For information about the links between poverty and violence and abuse, search the NZFVC library under poverty. Below is a selection of resources:

Kathryn's Story: How the Government spent well over $100,000 and 15 years pursuing a chronically-ill beneficiary mother for a debt she should not have, by Catriona MacLennan and the Child Poverty Action Group (2016). See this Clearinghouse news story for a summary of this report.

The complexities of relationship in the welfare system and the consequences for children by Susan St John, published by Child Poverty Action Group (2014)

Te Ohonga Ake: The determinants of health for Māori children and young people in New Zealand: Series 2 (2016)

The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect: An evidence review from the UK Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2016)

Child abuse: what role does poverty play from the Child Poverty Action Group (2013)

Goodman, L., Fels Smyth, K., Borges, A.M., Singer, R. (2009). When Crises Collide: How Intimate Partner Violence and Poverty Intersect to Shape Women’s Mental Health and Coping? Trauma Violence Abuse, 10(4): 306-329.

The Child Poverty Action Group provides information and regular updates.
Research and resoures on violence and housing are listed in the recent Clearinghouse news story on the current inquiry into homelessness launched by the Labour, Green and Māori Parties (submissions open until 12 August 2016).

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

Data-driven social welfare policy lacks humanity - economist, Radio NZ, 02.09.2016

Beneficiaries 'scared stiff' of Work and Income, Stuff, 18.05.2015

Image: iStock