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Aotearoa's welfare system contributing to hardship, says law academic

3 October, 2023

By Olivia Bing

Concerns have been raised that Aotearoa’s social welfare system has several “fundamental problems” that contribute to hardship.

University of Auckland Associate Professor of Law, Hanna Wilberg, told 95bFM’s The Wire, that she opposes the continuation of repayable grants, where money is taken from people's benefits each week to repay debt to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) they have taken on to access essential items. 

Wilberg believes this policy is problematic as current benefits levels are already too low. 

“The benefits are already not enough to live on and often $40 or $50 per week is deducted to repay debt they have."

Wilberg noted that some benefits like job-seeker support also have strict “work obligations”. To access benefits, people need to fulfil these work obligations. 

“Essentially people have to accept any kind of job that MSD refers them to.”

Wilberg argued that people who are pushed into “precarious and unsustainable jobs” often lose them quickly, and have to go back on the benefit.

“Rather than allowing people to look for a decent, sustainable job that could lift them out of poverty, these work obligations keep them on the benefit.” 

Wilberg said investing in welfare is not seen as politically advantageous and that it is up to politicians to shift the narrative about spending money on welfare.

"We have had a mainsteram political narrative of 'beneficiary bashing' for too long." 

"This is important for a more productive society." 

Listen to the full interview