No beneficiary sanctioned for not having had a child at school or registered with a doctor, despite the law | 1 NEWS
No one has ever seen their benefits cut for not having their children in school or preschool, or for registering with a doctor.
By Sarah Robson from rnz.co.nz
And this despite the obligation for parents receiving benefits to fulfill a number of so-called social obligations to continue to receive their payments.
The Department of Social Development (MSD) said checking people’s compliance had become a “tedious administrative process” – and it couldn’t offer people meaningful help if they couldn’t comply. .
And even if social obligations were not met, the Government did not say whether or not they would be removed as part of its review of the sanctions regime.
Social Obligations, which came into effect in 2013 under the previous national government, require parents receiving the allowance to register their children with a primary health care agency and ensure that children under the age of five are up to date with their Well Child checks.
Children must also be enrolled and attend early childhood education or school.
If the parents do not comply, their benefits can be suspended.
Social obligations were identified by MSD as one of the four initial focus areas of the government’s sanctions review.
In a July 2020 report to Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni, released under the Official Information Act, MSD said the social obligations were aimed at “encouraging clients to use services essential to well-being. of children, including health checks and participation in early childhood education and registered schools “. .
But he said MSD’s own research had found no evidence that the suggested sanctions could be used to improve non-work or long-term well-being outcomes.
The report adds that to date, no sanction has been applied for breach of social obligations.
“A lack of enforcement can undermine the importance of obligations and compliance in general,” he said.
“Clients often recognize the value of education and health care for their children, but may face additional barriers (for example, inadequate access to child care).
“Sanctioning clients will therefore be limited in achieving broader welfare outcomes because they will not remove external barriers to meeting social obligations.”
With limited impact, MSD said social obligations have become an “administrative obligation for customers, while MSD’s only role is to verify compliance, rather than significantly helping customers to comply. comply “.
MSD said the review could examine how the dynamic between grantees and MSD could be altered by removing “what has become a tedious administrative process and instead helping clients focus on their employment outcomes.”
Child Poverty Action Group spokesperson Janet McAllister said there was no reason to keep social obligations on the books.
“We all care about the health, education and well-being of families and this law is not designed to improve any of those things,” she said.
It doesn’t matter that recipients don’t see their payments reduced if they don’t comply, McAllister said.
“Wondering if your child is attending kindy when it is impossible or inappropriate for them to do so always makes you feel stinky.”
McAllister asked why the government had not already made the decision to remove social bonds.
Carmel Sepuloni could not say whether social obligations would be removed or not.
The government was still on track with its review of sanctions and obligations, which was part of the medium-term welfare reform program, the minister said.
“I don’t like the idea of sanctions that are there only for some sort of punitive attempt to punish families in one way or another,” Sepuloni said.
“But what I enjoy at the same time are some of the whānau-centric wellness conversations that need to take place on the front lines – these are things we need to keep doing, but find some really constructive ways. to do.”
National Social Development spokeswoman Louise Upston said social obligations made “common sense.”
“The consequence is part of the social contract, if someone has a moment in their life when they need it, they are taken care of by the social protection system.
“But part of that is fulfilling certain obligations – most of those obligations are common sense, they are not strenuous and people are expected to fulfill their responsibilities and if not the case, there is a consequence. “
In 2019, the Expert Advisory Group on Wellness recommended the removal of social obligations, along with a number of other sanctions and obligations.
The trust and labor supply agreement with the Greens during the last term also provided for the removal of excessive sanctions.
But progress so far has been slow.
The sanction that reduced payments for lone parents who failed to name the other parent was removed in April 2020.
A bill to remove the subsequent child policy – which requires parents to seek and return to work sooner if they have another child on the benefit – is being passed by Parliament.