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May 27, 2019 | by  | in News Opinion | [ssba]

The best things in life aren’t free

We all know someone who’s been on a benefit. Maybe you were on one over the summer break, or a mate back home is living off one. More and more young people are enrolling with Work and Income New Zealand. As of March 2019, over 854,000 New Zealanders were on a WINZ benefit. I’m one of these people.


I’ve been on the “Jobseeker – sickness” benefit over a year now, since I dropped out of uni in 2018, when my mental health and study got too much to handle.


In mid-2018, the government set up a Welfare Working Group, to assess the state of the welfare system in NZ. Since the release of their report, the government has committed to only three of the 42 recommended changes.


One of the main recommendations, not yet committed to, was raising benefit levels from 12% to 47% of their current rate, which would be a huge increase in funds for beneficiaries. There hasn’t been a raise to main benefit incomes since the last National government.


Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni confirmed that there would be no raises to main benefits under the 2019 Budget. Sepuloni said that the coalition government’s three proposed responses were just part of the “first phase of the two-phased approach” to welfare reform and that “we need to consider this [report action] as a part of phase two.”


This means that New Zealanders like myself will continue to live in poverty and face ongoing inequality until the government decides it’s time to do more about it. The current response to this report is not enough to spare people from hardship and suffering.


WINZ gives me $187.45 a week. After rent, food and transport, I only have $25 spending money. What can you do with $25 a week? Not a lot. You can’t get a gym membership. You can’t go to gigs or movies with friends. You can’t get a warmer jacket for winter. You can’t just go to the doctor or dentist when you need to. It takes away the option of getting a Uber after a late night, or ever buying yourself something nice, or knowing if something bad happened you’d have money to fix it. It means that every payment I make causes me deep anxiety—if I bought the right thing or if I’m wasting my dollars. I try to use what little money I have to the best of its ability. But you just can’t win. Because I get so little money, I have to live week-to-week. This can mean going days with only $13 in your bank account. It means I can’t create any savings. WINZ provides just enough money for the bare necessities, but this means I can’t live with dignity. The things that give life colour, aren’t free.


I’d get paid more if I worked part-time on minimum wage. I’d get more money from Studylink for being at uni than I do from WINZ. I’d get more money from WINZ if I was well enough to work or if I didn’t live at home with my parents, who are also beneficiaries. I can’t partake in any of these things because of my ill health, so am forced to live off something that isn’t liveable.


As bad as it is, I’m lucky. I don’t have children to support, I’m not a single parent, and don’t live with a severe disability. If my life wasn’t the way it is, trying to get by on $187 would be a lot harder than it already is.


What would you do with $187 a week? With $25? Would you still get to do the things you enjoy, to fix what is broken, and to experience new things? Maybe. But the things we need most to thrive cost money, time and time again. We can’t expect the status quo to change by chaining people to a broken system.


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