Lisa Beech, Caritas
Caritas has welcomed the Budget announcement, on 21 May, of an increase in base rates for beneficiaries with children. It is a long overdue step towards addressing poverty experienced by too many Kiwi families.
For vulnerable families on the lowest incomes, $25 a week will make a significant difference. It will put more food on the table and this should not be underestimated.
Caritas has been asking successive governments to address base benefit levels. We welcome this increase as a signal Government is willing to start to engage seriously with the child-poverty debate.
However, Caritas notes this modest benefit increase does not provide a lasting solution to poverty. The anticipated $2.5 billion being set aside for tax cuts in the 2017 election year runs counter to Government assurances about prioritising poverty. The tax cuts equate to 10 times the amount of a single year’s spending on the child hardship package ($240 million). We still have an economy that alienates and marginalises people.
Increasing the work-testing requirements for beneficiaries with three-year-old children is also cause for concern. This may undermine the benefit increases.
We often see a mismatch between available childcare and increasingly casualised, part-time work.
We welcome the increase in the formal childcare subsidy, but it is of little use to a parent working on casual rosters or when subsidised childcare is unavailable. We should not put pressure on parents of young children to work unless good quality childcare is available.
Families are the first protectors of their children’s rights, but state and society structures should enable parents to meet these responsibilities. Ultimately, it would be great to have a society where we don’t need benefits. But our social-welfare system is an essential aspect of our support for the most vulnerable people in our society. This needs to be done adequately and justly.