Social welfare in New Zealand

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Social welfare has long been an important part of New Zealand society and a significant political issue.


[edit] Liberal Government reforms

Among the early forms of social welfare in New Zealand was the old age pension, introduced by the Liberal government in 1898. The scheme was introduced to avoid what MP William Pember Reeves described as the "worst social evils and miseries" referring to the British workhouses where the elderly lived in spartan institutional circumstances. The pension scheme was non-contributory and was available only to the "deserving poor"; men and women who had became destitute though no fault of their own. A decade later a widows' pension was introduced for women with children who had lost their husbands. The Liberals also passed the Workers Dwellings Act in 1905 allowing the government to buy land, build houses, and rent them to workers and their families. The small-scale scheme that resulted from this legislation can be seen as a precursor to the much larger state housing introduced by the first Labour government in the 1930s.<ref name=king>The Penguin History of New Zealand Michael King Penguin Books (NZ) 2005. pp. 269-270, 346-347, 356</ref>

[edit] State housing

Main article: State housing

[edit] Unemployment benefit

[edit] Unemployment Act 1930

In 1930, while Prime Minister George Forbes was in London for the 1930 Imperial Conference, the United Government passed the Unemployment Act, promising relief payments to those who registered as unemployed. Upon his return to New Zealand in January 1931, Forbes announced there would be no payments made without work, meaning those registered would have to participate in government 'make work' schemes such as building roads and working on farms or in forestry projects. When the register was opened in February 23,000 people put their names down; by June the number of registered unemployed had risen to 51,000 as the Great Depression worsened. The register did not include women, Māori, or boys under 16. In 1933 (by which time the number of unemployed had reached 80,000), MP Gordon Coates introduced the Small Farms (Relief of Unemployment) Bill to help turn unemployed workers into small farmers.<ref name=king />

[edit] Social Security Act 1938

After winning the 1935 election the newly elected Labour government immediately issued a Christmas bonus to the unemployed.<ref name=king /> However, a regular unemployment benefit was not introduced until the passing of the Social Security Act in 1938; that benefit was "payable to a person 16 years of age and over who has been in New Zealand for at least 12 months and is unemployed, is capable of and willing to undertake suitable work, and has taken reasonable steps to secure employment"<ref name=socialsecurityact>Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Unemployment Benefit today

The criteria for receiving an unemployment benefit remain similar to the original 1938 legislation, the main differences being that the applicant must now be over 18 years of age and have lived in New Zealand for two years. The requirement for the applicant to take reasonable steps to find employment is more enforced though a "Job Seeker Agreement", a contract between the applicant and Work and Income New Zealand. Current benefit levels are between $115.94 and $249.10 a week depending on the applicant's age and living situation.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Universal superannuation

The current successor to the Old Age Pension is called "Universal superannuation". It is paid to all aged 65 and over and is taxable. The amount depends on the superannuitant's household situation.

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[edit] Family benefit

The 1911 Widows' pension provided to some extent for families without other means of support, but it was subject to means testing. A family allowance was introduced in 1926, payable at two shillings a week for each child over two years old, but still subject to means testing. The Social Security Act of 1938 extended and modified existing pension arrangements, and added a social security tax to pay for them <ref name="1966 History of Monetary Benefits">Template:Cite web</ref>.

A woman with two children received the equivalent of at least a full day's pay for a labourer as benefits, unlike wages, were not taxed. Most women received more as the average number of children born to mothers in the 1950s was 3.4.

—Ann Beaglehole, Benefiting Women: Income Support for Women, 1893-1993, p 10

On 1 April 1946, the family benefit was increased to 10 shillings a week and the means test was dropped. The social security tax was raised but this was compensated for by the dropping of the national security (war) tax. This increased family benefit was payable for all children up to the age of sixteen, or up to the end of the year when the child turned eighteen if they were in full-time education or unable to earn a living due to incapacitation <ref name="1966 Social Services">Template:Cite web</ref>.

Since the benefit was normally paid to the mother, many women gained their first ever independent source of household income.<ref name="Monumental Stories UFB">Template:Cite web</ref> The family benefit was increased to 15 shillings per week per child in 1958-9, and was able to be capitalized up to a maximum of £1000 when buying, altering, or paying off a home from 1959-60.<ref name="War Economy">Template:Cite web</ref>

Family benefits were abolished on 1 April 1991.<ref name="CPAG">Template:Cite web</ref> In effect, they were partly replaced by more targeted allowances for low-income families.

[edit] Domestic purposes benefit

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[edit] Health benefits

[edit] Social Security Act 1938

Two types of health benefits were introduced with the 1938 legislation, the invalids benefit and the sickness benefit. The invalids benefit was paid to those permanently incapacited or totally blind. (excluding those already recieving an age benefit) Applicant must have been at least 16 years of age and residentially qualified. The applicant was residentially qualified when their incapacity arose in New Zealand or they were resident in New Zealand on 4 September 1936 and had lived in New Zealand for at least 10 years immediately before applying for the benefit. The sickness benefit was payable to those who were temporarily incapacited from working through sickness or accident, excluding the first seven days of incapacity. In order to qualify, an applicant must have suffered a loss of salary, wages, or other earnings, and have resided in New Zealand for at least 12 months. The rate of benefit could not exceed the loss of earnings through incapacity. As with other benefits introduced in 1938, the applicant had to be over 16 years of age.<ref name=socialsecurityact />

[edit] Controversies

In recent years the government has been accused of exaggerating drops in unemployment by transferring people to sickness benefits<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>, wellfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell wrote in an October 2006 press release "There is a constant flow between benefits. Taking this into account the net gain from the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit over the five years to April 2005 was 20,870. Over the same period the net gain from the sickness benefit to invalid's benefit was 26,302, bearing in mind the same beneficiary may have been transferred more than once."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> On October 26 2006 the government announced a number of changes to the welfare system. Minister for Social Development and Employment David Benson-Pope later stated that, when implemented, the reforms will move between 3,000 and 6,000 people off the sickness benefit.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Cutbacks of the 1990s

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[edit] References


Social welfare in New Zealand

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