An extra 0.51 percent!

Today, benefit rates increased in line with the Consumer Price Index, a whopping 0.51%! This means that a Jobseeker aged 25 or over will receive an increase of $1.07 per week, bringing them up to all of $210.13 per week after tax. Such wealth. Riches! An 18-25-year-old living away from home has the even more princely sum of $175.10 per week after tax. For comparison, a 40-hour week on minimum wage will give you a take-home pay of $505.60.

I’ve never laid out benefit numbers like that before, and it’s frankly horrifying. The amount we hand our poor to live on is so far below the amount it costs to live that it’s criminal. A person living on minimum wage is persistently broke, because it’s not enough to really save for unexpected expenses, and it doesn’t even cover everyday expenses very well. It’s far from the living wage of $19.25 per hour, which works out to $654.10 in hand each week, and is an amount calculated to allow people to fully participate in society rather than missing out on important things (like dental work) and even having to ability to save. But minimum wage is a survivable wage. Just.

$210.13 is not enough to live on. It’s obscenely low, and it speaks volumes about what our society thinks of people who are out of work. It’s a shameful attitude, and one that is shamelessly propagated by our current government. Focusing on benefit fraudsters, and methods to try and force people into work, further demonises people who are in a vulnerable position.

To be blunt, we are abusing the poor, in our attitudes and in our actions. I refuse to pass judgement on anyone on a benefit, because it is not my place to judge people whose lives I have no understanding of. I know enough sociology and psychology to know that I cannot understand all of the forces acting on a person’s life and how they shape their world, and I am not arrogant enough to pretend to understand. Without understanding, judgement is wholly inappropriate.

I don’t care if someone is a ‘dole bludger’. They do not deserve the abuse they get. I am ashamed of the treatment of people who do not have the resources to live a waged life, whether temporarily or permanently. The artificial division between the deserving and the undeserving poor is cruel, because it allows people to continue to condemn beneficiaries in general, while accepting that there are a few (mostly the people they know on benefits) who really need them to help them get back on their feet, or because they’re ‘legitimately’ ill or disabled. The truth is that most people on the non-sickness part of Jobseeker Support are back in the workforce within a year. Sick people on the Jobseeker Support (whose dumb idea was it to moosh together people looking for work and people currently too sick to work? Really!) have to prove, repeatedly, exhaustingly, expensively, that yes, they are actually really sick. You can’t just grab a sickness benefit because you feel like it. As for people on the Supported Living Payment? You have to make a deal with the devil and seal the pact in the blood of a consecrated newborn to get that!

I don’t really care, though, whether a beneficiary is ‘deserving’ or not. They all deserve a decent amount of money, enough to live on and not have to choose between having food or power this week. Why? Because I don’t class human beings as ‘deserving’ or ‘not deserving’ of having a decent quality of life. Everyone should be able to have shelter, food, warmth, and health care. Being too poor to buy groceries or go to the doctor is simply unacceptable.

Yet I saw yesterday an ACT party member bewailing the burden an extra dollar or two per week puts on the taxpayer. Yes, people who work for their money deserve their post-tax earnings. But to complain that other humans will get not even enough money for a bottle of milk extra each week is churlish in the extreme. Where, sir, is your humanity?

I don’t know what I can do for people on benefits. I will never be a policy maker or politician. I can petition and variously agitate for change, but it seems like it’s not enough. I give to charities that focus on New Zealand poverty – I can only hope that little bit makes a difference.

Beneficiaries are people. That’s the bottom line. And people deserve the basics of life. Benefits do not pay enough to provide those basics.


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