10 June 2014
Steven Joyce and Paula Bennett announced changes today which will extend support available to sole parents in study. New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) president Daniel Haines “welcomes these changes but believes they need to go further”.
“Anyone with limited income is able to receive an Accommodation Supplement up to a maximum of $225, unless you are a student. Students have their own accommodation support called the Accommodation Benefit, paid in conjunction with the student allowance. This is capped at $60 per week for students with dependent children, or $40 a week for all other students. Only forty percent of full time students qualify for allowances and therefore the Accommodation Benefit”, says Haines.
“The recent announcement allows students with dependent children to apply for the Accommodation Supplement instead of the Accommodation Benefit, which could mean a weekly increase of $165. This makes sense but if the Government really wants to make a commitment to educating and up-skilling its citizens it needs to ensure that none of them face barriers to becoming a student.
“As we pointed out last month, the student Accommodation Benefit has had a $40 maximum since 2001. This cap was hit in 2003 in Auckland, in 2005 in Wellington and in New Plymouth in 2009. Even in relatively low-cost Dunedin, where rents are below the national average, the cap means that rents have increased but support has not since 2012. In Christchurch the cap was hit in 2008 and as rents have rocketed since the earthquake – now significantly above the national average – support has been stuck at a level of increasing insignificance.
“In this announcement, the Ministers have recognised that the student support system is grossly unfair. We welcome the initiatives which make it easier for sole parents to engage in tertiary study, but if the current scheme is unfair for sole parents it is also unfair for everyone else seeking a tertiary education”.
The three recently announced policy changes are:
- Extending support for sole parents so they are eligible for the Accommodation Supplement instead of the Accommodation Benefit.
- Amending the rules so that student parents outside of semester are not penalised from receiving voluntary arrangements for child support.
- Removing the stand-down period when transitioning from a student during semester to a job seeker during the summer.
“What is called a stand-down is a week without income. It is right that the Ministers are removing this. But the stand-down still applies to all other students. The irony is that to receive support over the summer you need to demonstrate hardship, yet the rules impose that very hardship. It is worth remembering this used to be called Unemployment Benefit Student Hardship (UBSH). The week without money should be removed for everyone.