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Advocacy group launches campaign to change ‘archaic’ relationship rules for welfare support

19 February, 2024

Interview by Olivia Bing, adapted by Mahdhi Osman-Penrice

Welfare advocacy group, Fairer Future, has launched the “Let Love Thrive” campaign, demanding the government overhaul what they describe as “archaic” relationship rules for welfare support. 

Current rules for welfare support from the Ministry of Social Development and Studylink require recipients to disclose their relationship status to the government to receive financial support. 

Advocacy group, Fairer Future, has raised concerns about the system, as many are scared of entering relationships over losing substantial monetary aid, and are at risk of being trapped in harmful relationships over forced financial dependence.

Co-convenor for the organisation, Vanessa Cole, told 95bFM’s The Wire that such laws actively produce harm and need to be repealed.

“Unlike the tax system and ACC which regard people as individuals, if you are assessed as being in a relationship in the nature of marriage, you might lose some, or all of your income.”

Civil servants responsible for administering welfare can define a relationship at their own discretion. However, Cole says the criteria used to reach that decision is “ridiculous”.

“[It could mean] you live together, share responsibilities, socialise on holidays together, share money, and household responsibilities. Without mentioning the sexual definitions, that could mean flatmates, friends, or people you live with.”

She believes the definition of relationships used by the government, much like the policy itself, is outdated and patriarchal.

“Our system is based on really old-school understandings of welfare, which see a family as a nuclear family with a single breadwinner, and this is just not the reality of relationships today.”

“It’s certainly not the reality of our economic conditions, in which many households rely on multiple incomes to survive.”

Fairer Future’s “Let Love Thrive” campaign calls on the government to commit to making steps towards the individualisation of welfare. 

This includes making the couple’s welfare payment double the individual income support and ceasing investigations into welfare recipients in relationships.

“No one should be penalised for being in love,” says Cole.

Fairer Future has launched an open letter to the government, demanding changes to the law.

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air