Government under-delivery continues with ‘dismal’ social welfare tweaks

The Government year of under-delivery continued last week with an announcement of social welfare reforms tweaks being buried on Friday afternoon when it would have been anticipated that most news coverage would have been of Pike River mine re-entry – which also didn’t deliver.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson sounds deflated and resigned to under-delivery this term at least.

Yes I affirmed that these first steps and changes have come too late for too many.

I know change is long overdue, and people deserve support now. Can guarantee I’m committed to that change and the hard work it requires. It’s right people demand we just sort this out asap.

Sue Bradford:

“The government’s response to the findings of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) is dismal.”

A Welfare Expert Advisory Group was set up with an expectation it would report back with transformative reforms – which it did, with 42 recommendations. But the Government announcement on Friday indicated that only one of these would be implemented straight away, and another two would have to wait another year. And these are really only relatively minor tweaks.

In the 2017 election campaign the Green Party nearly died in a ditch when  co-leader Metiria Turei launched a major promotion for social welfare reform by revealing her experiences with claiming more benefits than she was eligible for. Support for the Green Party slumped.

Turei resigned and the Greens survived the election, but their number of MPs dropped from 14 to 8, and their share of the vote dropped from10.7% to 6.3%. They managed to negotiate their way into Government with Labour, but outside of Cabinet, and with what have turned out to be vague commitments. On social welfare the Confidence & Supply Agreement states:

Fair Society

10. Overhaul the welfare system, ensure access to entitlements, remove excessive sanctions and review Working For Families so that everyone has a standard of living and income that enables them to live in dignity and participate in their communities, and lifts children and their families out of poverty.

In April 2018 Marama Davidson was appointed as the new female co-leader of the Greens – Marama Davidson wins Green Party co-leadership race

She spoke about winning back voters who the Green Party had lost to Labour in the 2017 election – but also reaching out to new voters from her own background in poorer communities.

“In order to be a genuine and relevant voice for modern Aotearoa, we need to reflect its diverse reality. We need more members from all backgrounds and communities,” Davidson said.

“I know what it is to struggle to find a home to rent. I know what it is to not have enough food for your tamariki. And I know that no parent should have to go through that.”

“The community I come from is at the coalface of the most pressing issues we face as a society: rising poverty and inequality, the housing and homelessness crisis, polluted rivers and poor health and education outcomes.”

She said a massive economic shift was needed to a system that put the wellbeing of people and the environment above simple GDP growth.

Co-leader James Shaw said Davidson’s campaign had “lit a wildfire through the party.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called Davidson to congratulate her.

“The Green Party is a valued confidence and supply partner of this Government and I look forward to working with Marama to build a stronger, fairer and more inclusive country,” Ardern said.

“I am sure our work will be strengthened with the addition of Marama Davidson helping to leading this important work alongside me, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, and Green Co-leader James Shaw.”

It looks like Davidson has not strengthened much if anything on social welfare reform.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) was established in May 2018, with twelve ‘experts’ appointed. The Terms of Reference stated:

1. …It is timely at this critical juncture to evaluate whether our social welfare system remains fit for purpose in contemporary New Zealand.

2. The Government’s vision is for a welfare system that ensures people have an adequate income and standard of living, are treated with and can live in dignity and are able to participate meaningfully in their communities.

Objective

5. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group (the WEAG) is being established to provide advice to the Government on options that could best give effect to its vision for the future direction of the social welfare system.

They delivered their Report to the Minister for Social Development on 26 February 2019.

On Friday afternoon (3 May 2019) the Government announced that “its vision for the future direction of the social welfare system” would amount to a few minor tweaks.

Marama Davidson’s initial response promoted just one of the tweaks:

The Confidence and Supply Agreement between the and commits to removing excessive sanctions. This starts with today’s announcement.

In response to comments on Twitter she acknowledged the failure to deliver urgent reform.

Davidson:

I know change is long overdue, and people deserve support now. Can guarantee I’m committed to that change and the hard work it requires. It’s right people demand we just sort this out asap.

She sounds disappointed and deflated.

Sue Bradford (The Spinoff): No hope for progressive welfare reform from this government

The government’s response to the findings of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) is dismal.

It appears the only substantive welfare reform we can expect during this parliamentary term is the removal of the financial sanction against sole parents who can’t or won’t name their child’s father. That’s great, but that’s it.

Both Labour and the Greens went into the 2017 election promising the elimination of this sanction. It could have been axed as soon as they took power. Instead, it is now clear that the government has deliberately delayed action until the WEAG reported back, just so they could point to at least one reform of substance after the expenditure of $2 million on the working group.

The sole parent sanction won’t be removed until April next year, and the Government has confirmed there will be no backdating.

…I am so angry that this government has not had the courage of any convictions in responding to the WEAG’s heartfelt mahi.

We are seeing the weakest possible response to the WEAG’s sterling efforts. There is no commitment to any significant change during this parliamentary term. To talk about transforming welfare in three, five or 10 years as Sepuloni does is simply meaningless.

Any beneficiary expecting a sudden onset of empathy from this government can forget about that, apart from those who will directly benefit from the ending of the naming-father sanction.

None of the existing lot are going to do anything serious. It would require a kind of courage and commitment not in evidence when it comes to standing up for the rights and wellbeing of beneficiaries. The Greens have a legacy of fine welfare policies and Marama Davidson and others do seriously support the kind of recommendations made by the WEAG. However,  this is not backed up by the practice of the Greens in this term of Parliament, near-silenced in their role as support party, and with a tendency to skitter away from hard battles under any kind of pressure.

That’s scathing of the Government, but especially scathing of Bradford’s own Green Party (she may have ditched them now but was an MP and stood for leadership in the past).

If we’re ever going to hope for transformative and progressive welfare reform, it is now clear it will need to be championed by a party that is not yet in Parliament.

There is no sign of such a party, so it not just a dismal under-delivery, the outlook for social welfare reform looks dismal.