24 Jul 2015

Thousands of children hit by benefit sanctions

8:34 pm on 24 July 2015

Thousands of children have been affected by benefit cuts in the last two years because parents failed to meet work obligations set out by the Government.

New figures obtained by Radio New Zealand show about 43,000 sanctions have been issued against beneficiaries with children during that time, which could mean their payments were cut by as much as half.

The figures show 20,363 main benefits involving children were cut back in the year to July 2014, and another 23,066 the following year.

Each cut could involve more than one child, and some beneficiaries could have been penalised more than once.

Lisa Woolley, the president of the Council of Christian Social Services, said the numbers were shocking.

She said the first thing to go when budgets were cut was food, but some may also be struggling with rent, which could lead to overcrowding.

"The impact on the health for children on overcrowding is huge and also when you think of the children being moved from house to house, it's their education that gets impacted," she said.

"These have far-reaching implications. Not just the income, it's what happens in the family when that income is reduced."

The council earlier this month released a report, which found more than 80,000 beneficiaries had benefits sanctioned between July 2013 and September 2014, with the main reason being missed appointments with Work and Income.

Sanctions are also given if beneficiaries don't provide evidence they looked for a job, don't take or fail a drug test or travel overseas without telling Work and Income.

Labour's social development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni said the Government needed to better monitor the children being affected by the sanctions.

"The real concern here is that the Government is not reporting properly on any of this stuff. Given these are vulnerable families. We need to know what exactly were the sanctions, how much do they lose and what were the impacts on the families affected."

Ms Sepuloni said it's particularly concerning that the majority of sanctions were against those on the sole parent benefit.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said people were told what their obligations were when they first signed up for a benefit.

"Being on a benefit is not a lifestyle," Ms Tolley said in a statement today.

"We expect beneficiaries to comply with their obligations, such as turning up for appointments and job interviews, as well as their social obligations, such as having children attending ECE and enrolled in a Primary Health Organisation.

"The best route out of poverty is work, which is why we work intensively with sole parents to get them back into the job market. We have the lowest number of sole parents since 1988.

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