Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni understands the impacts of being on a benefit first-hand. On Thursday she came full circle from claiming a benefit to delivering a massive $3.3 billion welfare package, writes political editor Jo Moir.
Carmel Sepuloni described “relief’’ at being able to announce a significant boost for benefits in this year’s Budget.
“It means a lot because I know how much it means for people who are on the receiving end of that.’’
Also satisfying for the Minister was reinstating the Training Incentive Allowance for Levels 4 to 7 on the NZQA framework.
“The ability to study at this level was taken away by the previous government and this is a change I personally have wanted for a long time,’’ she said.
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As a single mum on a benefit, Sepuloni accessed the Training Incentive Allowance, which ultimately lifted her off the benefit and into work.
She says studies show that the level of a child’s achievement is linked to the qualifications of their mother.
The $3.3 billion welfare boost will see all main benefits increase by $20 a week from July 1 this year.
Then in April a second wave of increases will come, boosting benefit levels by between $32 and $55 per adult, per week.
On top of that, families and whānau with children will get an additional top-up of $15 per adult a week.
Students will also be celebrating next year when allowances and loans for living costs increase by $25 a week.
Sepuloni says some people say the Government hasn’t done enough – or anything – to meet the recommendations outlined by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) in 2019.
“Obviously today is a milestone, and in some instances we’ve exceeded the WEAG recommendations.
“We’ve come a long way in terms of restoring the dignity of our benefit system.”
Surviving on a benefit has always been difficult, and there’s still a lot of stigma about it, Sepuloni said.
She doesn’t shy away from the criticism she receives from child poverty campaigners about progress, or the perceived lack of, in the welfare portfolio.
That’s because one of hers and the Government’s objectives is to “change the narrative around people who are accessing the welfare system’’.
“When we are … held to account then it actually does help with regards to the public narrative.
“I think it’s really important that we talk about it, it also helps behind the scenes because it puts pressure on the Finance Minister and others,’’ she said.
While it’s for the Finance Minister to decide how much more will be invested in the welfare system, Sepuloni said she had the “political will to continue to do everything we can to reduce child poverty’’.