Housing is a barrier, but Government 'on the right track' in addressing poverty, minister argues

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni says housing continues to to impact people's budgets heavily and that there's more for the Government to do on poverty and wellbeing, but that they're on the right track.

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Carmel Sepuloni talked about how housing continues to impact people’s budgets, but said the Government is on the right track. Source: Breakfast

Ms Sepuloni spoke to TVNZ1's Breakfast today after the Government announced on Monday that benefits were set to rise by 3.1 per cent this April, with an increase of $10 on the way for some beneficiaries. 

The Government announced at Budget 2019 in May it would begin indexing benefits to average wage growth instead of inflation. 

But while there's been small movements in most measures, social agencies have said it's not enough. 

On Tuesday, New Zealand's Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft called on the Government to be "bold and courageous" in lifting benefits, suggesting 20 per cent.

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Andrew Becroft spoke to TVNZ1’s Breakfast ahead of data on child poverty in New Zealand being released today. Source: Breakfast

This morning, Ms Sepuloni said seven out of the nine measure of poverty were "moving up", adding it was clear the Government was "on the right track".

"We know that there's more to do but clearly some of what we're doing is making a difference."

But when asked by Breakfast host John Campbell about how difficult housing is on Kiwis, Ms Sepuloni recgonised it is a barrier.

"Housing plays a massive impact on people's household budgets and how much more money they have freed up for other things, and one of the things that we've committed to since we've come in [to Government] is making sure that we do have housing available so 4000 additional public houses - so we're not selling state housing off anymore, John. We're actually building state houses and trying to address that."

However, National deputy leader Paula Bennett too joined Breakfast and critisised the Government for causing rent prices to increase and for the petrol tax, which she said hits families in their pockets.

She said there were 15,000 more children living in benefit-dependent households now compared to two years ago, as well as material hardship going up.

"You can see families really doing it hard by increased costs in the household - rent going up, fuel prices going up for them. It's just really tough for them."

Ms Bennett said having families on benefits wasn't the right way to address issues.

"We see a lessening of the rules around those that need to look for work and be in work," she said.

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The National Party leader talked to TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning about how he would tackle poverty in New Zealand. Source: Breakfast

"It is about giving them work opportunities. It is about better education earlier. It is about then making sure we've got the right childcare options for them, so the work that you do with teen parents so that they can actually get themselves still educated so that they can get those good jobs and see those careers progress."

But Ms Sepuloni said this Government has the lowest unemployment rate at four per cent.

There are 10.4 per cent of Kiwis of working age on the working benefit, but she said it was considerably lower than a lot of the past decade.

Ms Sepuloni also said the Government had invested in more frontline staff at MSD offices to help people into work.

"We don't have a, compared to other developed countries, a disproportionate number of people on benefits," she said. "Our focus, though, is making sure that people have the skills to get into the jobs that are actually available."