Removing benefit sanction could help women leave violent relationships, domestic violence charity says

2019-05-03 05:36:41

Removing a benefit sanction on solo mothers could mean the difference between a woman being able to leave a violent relationship or not, a domestic violence charity says.

Shine is welcoming a decision by the Government to remove the sanction, which saw solo mothers who did not name their children's father on the birth certificate penalised up to $28 per week.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni announced the change on Friday in response to a report from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.

It "cruelly singled out 24,000 children raised by sole parents", Sepuloni said.

"The Government supports parental freedom, and ensuring sole parents and their children are not pushed into poverty because of a private parenting decision that the Government has no need to be involved in."

Removing the sanction would cost $113.4 million over four years and would come into effect on April 1, 2020.

Shine's senior manager of client services Cindy Kawana said the change would be financially beneficial for solo mothers.

"$28 could make the difference between having food on the table or not, or for our women, having the difference between being able to leave a violent relationship or not," Kawana said.

"We're not talking necessarily with the father of the children, it could be somebody else they're in a relationship with."

Kawana said it was ultimately the children of the solo mother who suffered from the penalty.

She said the decision to leave the father off the birth certificate often was not made by the mother, but by the father.

Fathers could often put pressure on mothers not to name them on the certificate, and could go about that in a violent or threatening way, she said.

Auckland Action Against Poverty said it was glad to see the Government "finally taking action to stop punishing sole parents and children".

It urged the Government to also ensure that every woman who had been penalised by the sanction receive back pay.

However, Sepuloni told media that would not happen.

Ricardo Menendez March, the advocacy group's co-ordinator, said he was disappointed the Government was only adopting three of the report's 42 recommended changes, despite the report showcasing the need for urgency.

"The Government needs to be clear about its timeline of when it introduces the other recommendations," he said.

"The main thing missing is the increase in core benefit levels. That is something the report was very clear that needs to happen.

'We know that people are going to Work and Income to get food grants because their benefit levels are far too low."

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