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'Relationship status' and the welfare system in Aotearoa New Zealand Olivia Healey and Jennifer Curtin

By: Healey, Olivia.
Contributor(s): Curtin, Jennifer.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: Auckland, New Zealand : Public Policy Institute, University of Auckland ; Child Poverty Action Group, 2019Description: electronic document (48 pages) ; PDF file.Subject(s): Child Poverty Action Group | CHILD POVERTY | FAMILIES | GOVERNMENT POLICY | PARENTS | POVERTY | SOCIAL POLICY | SOCIAL SERVICES | SOCIAL WELFARE | TAXATION | NEW ZEALANDOnline resources: Click here to access online | CPAG media release Summary: This report argues that New Zealand’s benefit system reflects traditional thinking about dependence on a partner and relationships within a family. However, relationships can be complex and the family unit has changed considerably in the last 60 years. Current rules can act as a disincentive for family relationship building which is good for both adults and children. The definition of what constitutes a relationship is unclear, and decisions are often left in the hands of Work and Income staff. The penalties for getting this wrong can be long lasting for both women and children. This can lead to accusations of ‘benefit fraud’ and possible conviction in court. The investigative process during a review of entitlements can be intrusive and demeaning. There is growing concern regarding the reliability of the anonymous tip-off process. This report finds Ministry staff are urged to be mindful of informants’ motives yet it appears that the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ rhetoric often prevails. New Zealand, Australia and the UK have similar punitive approaches to beneficiaries. A ‘dob in’ culture is particularly strong in New Zealand while tip-off recording systems and relationship verification forms are common forms of surveillance elsewhere. Relationship rules require immediate reform. A system based on kindness and empathy rather than distrust should form the basis of our welfare system. Further work would require a qualitative study, supported by sole parents, organisations assisting sole parent beneficiaries, and advocacy groups such as Auckland Action Against Poverty and Child Poverty Action Group. (Executive summary). This report was published following the release of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report (#6242). There is comment on that report in the CPAG media release. Record #6319
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A report prepared for the Peter McKenzie Project, May 2019

This report argues that New Zealand’s benefit system reflects traditional thinking about dependence on a partner and relationships within a family. However, relationships can be complex and the family unit has changed considerably in the last 60 years. Current rules can act as a disincentive for family relationship building which is good for both adults and children.

The definition of what constitutes a relationship is unclear, and decisions are often left in the hands of Work and Income staff. The penalties for getting this wrong can be long lasting for both women and children. This can lead to accusations of ‘benefit fraud’ and possible conviction in court.

The investigative process during a review of entitlements can be intrusive and demeaning. There is growing concern regarding the reliability of the anonymous tip-off process. This report finds Ministry staff are urged to be mindful of informants’ motives yet it appears that the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ rhetoric often prevails.

New Zealand, Australia and the UK have similar punitive approaches to beneficiaries. A ‘dob in’ culture is particularly strong in New Zealand while tip-off recording systems and relationship verification forms are common forms of surveillance elsewhere.

Relationship rules require immediate reform. A system based on kindness and empathy rather than distrust should form the basis of our welfare system.

Further work would require a qualitative study, supported by sole parents, organisations assisting sole parent beneficiaries, and advocacy groups such as Auckland Action Against Poverty and Child Poverty Action Group. (Executive summary).

This report was published following the release of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report (#6242). There is comment on that report in the CPAG media release. Record #6319