Govt urged to act over welfare issues

Brodie Fraser
Brodie Fraser
University of Otago researchers are calling for the Government to urgently implement recommendations made by its Welfare Expert Advisory Group which found social welfare rates are far too low and benefits are increasingly difficult to access.

New research by the university found life improves for young people experiencing homelessness once they are housed through the Government’s Housing First programme.

However, their incomes remain stubbornly low.

It is the first quantitative study of government service interactions for youth housed by Housing First, a holistic programme which focuses on housing people and providing wrap-around support without requiring them to first meet additional criteria, such as sobriety.

The researchers investigated the outcomes of 69 young people, ranging in age from 18 to 25, who received housing and support from The People’s Project, a Hamilton Housing First provider.

Lead researcher Dr Brodie Fraser, of Wellington, said the research found a significant reduction in the rate of hospitalisations and emergency department admissions once the young people had been housed.

Specialist outpatient visits to hospital increased, indicating they were more able to manage ongoing health conditions.

Income from wages and salaries also doubled in the two years after being housed.

Despite this, she said the young people remained below the poverty line with a mean annual income level of $15,900 two years after being supported into housing.

"Those supported by Housing First were still living in poverty, despite the lift in their incomes after they were housed.

"This is likely the result of many factors, including low social welfare rates, low incomes relative to the high cost of living, and pay inequities."

Young New Zealanders experience disproportionately high rates of homelessness.

Of the 41,644 people who were experiencing homelessness at the time of the 2018 Census, half were 25 years old or younger, and 60% of Maori experiencing homelessness were under 25.

Dr Fraser said the young people who were housed by The People’s Project were more likely to be female and Maori. Many were also parents themselves.

"While Housing First is providing unparalleled support, it is clear benefit rates need to be lifted."

Dr Fraser said the Government’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group review of the social welfare system found welfare rates to be far too low, benefits increasingly difficult to access, and young Maori women with children often facing benefit sanctions or being penalised, rather than supported by welfare providers.

"The Government needs to urgently implement their recommendations to ensure our welfare system is providing enough support for young people to prevent homelessness."

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

 

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