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Coalition of campaigners calls for changes to relationship rules in welfare system

A coalition of welfare advocacy and child poverty action groups is doing something a little different this Valentine’s Day.

Fairer Future – a group that campaigned successfully for higher benefit levels ahead of the 2021 budget – is launching a new campaign this Valentine’s Day to challenge the way the welfare system deals with relationships.

The relationship rules used to assess welfare entitlements mean that a person’s entitlements can be drastically reduced when it is understood that a person is in a relationship.

Fairer Future is calling for these relationship rules to be overhauled, since they result in intrusive investigations of relationships, unfair outcomes including backdated debt, and people being hesitant to enter into relationships out of fear of losing income support.

Fairer Future is hosting several “Alternative Valentine’s Day” events, under the banner “Let Love Thrive”, where individuals affected by the rules and supporters have sent alternative Valentine’s Day cards to the Government calling for the rules to change.

“Everyone deserves the chance to enter into a relationship without fear that falling in love will radically undercut the income they rely on,” said Vanessa Cole, campaigner at ActionStation and co-convenor of Fairer Future.

Last year, Project Gender in conjunction with Ngāti Kahungunu launched a report on single parents, Mako Mamo, surveying 3,545 single parents, and earmarking the welfare system’s relationship rules as a key source of injustice and harassment for single parents. It reported that 51% of low-income single parents surveyed avoided dating and/or entering a relationship because of their benefit payments.

“Project Gender and Ngāti Kahungunu’s report, and the stories we hear from people we work with, show the relationship rules are outdated and a real restriction on people’s freedom,” Cole added.

The “Let Love Thrive” campaign will see three in-person card-writing events being held in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, a card-writing event in Pōneke Wellington, and a protest in Wellington outside the Ministry of Social Development on Valentine’s Day.

“This policy is eroding, not building, connections between people in our communities. It prevents people entering relationships because they might lose some or all of their financial independence. The policy’s impact on people’s financial independence also risks trapping people who are in dangerous and unsafe situations, making it even harder to leave”, said Cole.

“We are calling on the Government to overhaul relationship rules, individualise income support and let love thrive,” observed Cole.

Relationship rules also affect students through partner income testing as part of the Student Allowance. The 2022 People’s Inquiry into Student Wellbeing called for the scrapping of partner income testing. Students in Wellington are also supporting the “Let Love Thrive” campaign.

 

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