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‘It’s not as easy as telling a young person to go out and get a job’ - benefits sanctions cause concern

Te Ahikaa Trotman

New proposed benefits adjustments concern young parents’ support system.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

“We’re pōuri that potentially our whānau are gonna face a whole lot of new stresses on this journey as new parents” - that’s the reaction of a parent support organisation for young parents on hearing of government benefit sanctions.

E Tipu E Rea Whānau Health and Social Services supports mātua taiohi (young parents) navigate the world of housing, financial support and work.

E Tipu E Rea chief executive Zoe Hawke has worked in the hauora sector for over 20 years, and she has worked in leadership positions in Māori public health locally and nationally.

Hawke shared her immediate response to learning of the benefits sanction amendments.

“Our first reaction was mixed, a little bit of sadness and a little bit of concern because we know first-hand how hard it is, we support young parents, and we know there’s a whole lot of barriers for people to get jobs when you’re young and you’ve got a baby.”

Hawke reiterates the difficulties that housing problems can cause for young parents.

‘Not as easy as it seems’

“One of the first things that springs to mind is: Where are we going to live? Where are we going to raise this baby? And already housing is such a big issue, so it’s hard enough to house yourself, even harder when you’ve got a pēpi.

“We’re about to start our own conditional housing and that will be for a specific young hapū māmā, pāpā and their tamariki. We know that if we get housing sorted, they have a strong foundation to start that parenting journey without the stress.”

“The other thing that comes from not having a place to live is mental health, and our māmā have really high mental health issues. We do not want our young whānau to have mental health issues when they’re trying their best for their tamariki too.”

Social Development Minister Louise Upston says that, compared to when Labour came to power in 2017, “70,000 more people are on the Job Seeker benefit at the same time that we’ve seen a 58 per cent reduction in the use of sanctions”.

But Hawke says telling a young person to go and get a job isn’t as easy as it seems.

“Often they don’t want to not get mahi. This isn’t about them not wanting to work. It’s just when you’ve got an extra mouth to feed, you’ve got nowhere to live, there’s a waiting list at your local daycare, at your local kōhanga for about six to seven months. You don’t have the luxury of applying for jobs, you’ve got no one to look after your tamariki or you have to wait until that kōhanga is ready, so it’s not as easy as telling a young person, go and get a job.”

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