The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) has expressed its great disappointment at the decision by the Prime Minister to reject a call in an open letter from 59 non-government organisations to increase benefit levels before Christmas.
NZCCSS, which includes Catholic Social Services, released a statement on November 10 which noted that the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, as Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, “is fully aware of the desperate situation of families and whānau reliant on social welfare”.
The statement pointed to a 2019 report Whakamana Tāngata by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group that showed that, every week, individuals and families on benefits received between $137 and $356 less than what is needed to live with dignity.
“While the Prime Minister suggested that most low-income families were better off by $100 a week since Labour came into office three and a half years ago, we know that the average cost of rent has increased by a similar amount over the same period and the basic cost of living continues to rise,” the statement continued.
“As the Prime Minister said, the kind of structural change that is needed to address the inequality that exists in New Zealand will indeed take longer than ‘one week, one month or one term’. However, we should not expect those with the least – people in receipt of social welfare – to continue to live without dignity in order for the country to pay off its debt more quickly. This is a burden that should be shared by all New Zealanders.
“Our call to Government remains the same: provide liveable incomes to all.”
Among the signatories to the open letter were Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, Sisters of Mercy Wiri, and the Auckland City Mission.
On November 9, Ms Ardern reportedly confirmed she would not be raising benefits before Christmas, saying poverty is not an issue that can be solved in a week, month, or Parliamentary term.
She also cited the permanent $25 a week boost to benefits introduced in April in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying this was a “substantial increase”.
Various signatories to the open letter were issued statements critical of this response.