By Marama Davidson, co-leader of the Green Party
OPINION: As an MP, I have visited the queues of people lining up outside Work and Income offices in my community trying to get a break from the daily struggle of not having enough income to cover basic costs.
Even in the middle of winter, people line up from as early as 5.30am in the morning to get a better chance of putting decent food on the table, paying the expensive power bill and meeting high rents.
Everyone has different stories. One elderly woman needed help to buy a new bed so she didn’t have to bend down and sleep on a mattress on the cold floor any longer. One single mum wanted to be able to work part-time to supplement her income but would lose too much of her benefit to make it liveable and doable. One young man was in and out of precarious casual low-paid work and was penalised every time he had to try and seek financial support once he was out of work again.
All of them would have preferred not to be in that queue. A queue which in my community often stretched around two corners of the building. No seating or shelter or even privacy is provided so people are just ‘exposed’ for hours. I often wondered at what point would I be willing to put myself in that queue. This cannot be a simple choice to have to make.
Benefit sanctions can mean a person has their benefit immediately cut after missing a Work and Income appointment. The majority of times these people have missed their appointments due to things outside their control like late buses, child sickness or even hospitalisation. Chopping the income of a household already struggling is devastating, not encouraging.
Last week, National Party leader Simon Bridges called for tougher benefit sanctions. International reports counter this argument and confirm that sanctions just make things harder for those already struggling. Benefit levels have been inadequate for decades and in the face of rising household costs this has entrenched poverty.
Poverty is immoral and fiscally expensive. People just want to be able to take care of themselves and their families. The Greens will keep pushing for a social security net that supports people rather than punishes.
New Zealanders have consistently said they want strong actions to reduce poverty. This is one of the many reasons that the Greens are in government.
Marama Davidson is co-leader of the Green Party.