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To deliver recommendations that are robust and rigorous enough to last the next 20 years, they must be based on the real experiences of those interacting with the system everyday. We were particularly concerned to hear from people who work in or require support from the welfare system, whether due to disability, responsibility of caring for others, a health condition, job loss, low wages, high housing costs or similar. It was essential we heard what happens to shape people’s lives and how we might make a positive difference in ways that benefit them, their families and whānau, and our communities.

We conducted an inclusive and consultative engagement process in which people could participate in ways that suited them. We provided as many options as possible for people to share their views and experiences. We heard from people through our a survey, submissions, community forums and hui. Feedback from all consultation channels is brought together in the background paper – 'Views on New Zealand's Welfare System' (WEAG 2019a) available from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s website.

Our overwhelming impression from this consultation is of a system in crisis – people find it judgemental, punitive and severely under-resourced. People do not have enough to live on, the support to help people to independence is inconsistent and punitive, the most vulnerable are becoming further marginalised and disenfranchised, and those working in the system are often frustrated and disappointed that they can’t do more.

Dignity and respect are missing. People want to see more compassion and empathy. They want those making decisions to understand their backgrounds, experiences and culture, current situation and constraints. They want access to toilets in Ministry of Social Development (MSD) offices, to be given enough time in appointments to explain their situation, and to proactively receive all the support they are entitled to.

There were strong calls for a simple, responsive and fair system as well as a desire for people to be connected with in ways and at times that suited them and that fit in with obligations such as childcare and work.

It was particularly disheartening to hear from MSD staff who had taken on roles out of a desire to help people, but felt the system stymied this. Staff spoke of inadequate training, severe lack of resourcing, a disconnect with head office that meant unrealistic caseloads and meeting schedules and performance measures and frameworks that had little to do with actively helping those they are meant to be supporting.

There were many ideas and suggestions for changes and solutions that would lead to improvements in the system, including:

  • an increase in benefit levels to ensure a reasonable standard of living for all New Zealanders
  • a system that reflects Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi)
  • a dedicated case management system
  • far greater cultural awareness
  • withdrawal of stand-downs and sanctions
  • changes to abatement thresholds and rates
  • the provision of warm, dry and safe housing
  • prioritising health and wellbeing.

The insights from the nearly 3,000 New Zealanders we have heard from are invaluable.

We heard from people who had interacted with the system in some way at some stage in their life and had a deep and profound knowledge of the system. Their stories were often harrowing, and we were shocked and saddened by the extent of the suffering and deprivation that is occurring.

This understanding of the reality in which people are living and working in the system has formed a solid basis for our report and informed our recommendations. We are extremely grateful to all the people who took the time to meet with us or let us know their views through the survey or submissions. We hope we have done their views justice in our deliberations.

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