An event organised by Wellington archdiocese has prompted a call for the abolition of a provision of social security law that sanctions women on benefits who don’t name the fathers of their babies. In June, the “Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington Benefit Impact” made a submission on the Social Security Legislation Rewrite Bill, being considered by Parliament’s Social Services Select Committee.

The submission focused on concerns that arose out of an archdiocese-organised Benefit Impact event in Upper Hutt in May, in which beneficiaries were invited into the local parish to check their benefit entitlements with trained advocates.

Key partners in the project were Wellington Catholic Social Services, Hutt Valley Benefit Education Trust, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and St Joseph’s Parish, Upper Hutt.

Wellington Catholic Social Services director Lesley Hooper was named as the contact on the submission.

Mrs Hooper was one of the presenters who shared concerns that arose out of the Benefit Impact event with the select committee.

One of the concerns in the submission was about the Section 70A provisions of the Social Security Act, 1964.

According to a recent article in the New Zealand Herald, this “sanctions women who cannot name the fathers of their children by docking their benefits — initially by $22 a week and later by $28”.

The submission spoke of an experience from the Benefit Impact event in this regard.

“We took two Review of Decision cases for women who were receiving Section 70A deductions for not having named the fathers of their children,” the submission stated.

“In both cases, we believe the women meet the exemptions for this sanction, but were not aware of the exemptions or the process required to go through to be considered for it.”

The submission noted that “advocates who dealt with these cases reported that they were concerned about the letter of personal detail required to apply for an exemption, which they found unnecessarily intrusive of personal privacy, and unlikely to contribute to the goal
of this policy, which is to ensure that more fathers support their children”.

“When this sanction is imposed, the primary people affected are the children.”

The submission stated: “We support the abolition of this policy.”

“If the select committee chooses to retain this provision, there needs to be a review of the way this is being administered, and the process for applying for an exemption,” the
submission added.

Speaking to a separate submission, Caritas’s Wellington Catholic Social Services, Hutt Valley Benefit Education Trust, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and St Joseph’s Parish, Upper Hutt. said: “We add our voices to those asking for the removal of Section 70A sanctions which penalise mothers and children, where the father has not been named.”

“This sanction causes unnecessary and unhelpful distress to people, while in many cases not
succeeding in its aim, which is to ensure that more fathers take responsibility for and contribute financially to their children,” Ms Beech told the select committee.

“The Ministry of Social Development should develop policies and processes which focus on fathers, rather than trying to have an impact on their behaviour through penalising mothers and children,” she said.

The Benefit Impact submission noted other particular concerns arising out of the Benefit Impact event – communication issues with Work and Income offices, disability allowance and child disability allowance, shared parenting and transition from prison to the community.

The submission noted that the issues it raised should “be understood as systemic or structural issues rather than relating to one particular office of Work and Income”.

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