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The number of people receiving a main benefit has continued to fall, with a drop of 5,172 (1.8%) according to the latest data [June quarter, 2016], and the official word is people receiving Sole Parent Support are driving this fall.

The introduction of the Child Hardship Package and the extra $25 a week (minus reductions) on the condition of increased (work) obligations is given as the main reason for this new on trend.

Sole Parents have shown they are willing and able to move into independence, with a reduction of 965 in the last quarter, or 3,818 in the last year in the numbers receiving Sole Parent Support”.

The same data source also points to 2.1% drop in the number of Jobseekers with health conditions and disabilities in the last 12 months reflecting the provision of intensive-work-focused case management.

But if we take a look closer at the data there is a limit to what it says and as Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw, Morgan Foundation, discussed in a recent blog, data is not a replacement for a robust evaluation of policies.

The NZCCSS Vulnerability Report endeavoured to ask – how are social policies impacting on people and on their local communities? And through our wide membership networks, the report provided a glimpse into the challenges people face complying with work and income processes to receive benefit assistance [cost of formal identification, visits to GPs for medical certificates], the ease at which people can go off benefits if they are not compliant with obligations, and the hard reality for sole parents when they do find low paid, temporary work but find the work is outside standard hours and the local childcare centre is closed. 

Much more analysis and critical reflection is needed to fully understand what happens to people and their families (children and older people) when main benefits are cancelled, and what are the differential impact of a work-focussed welfare policy on different groups of New Zealanders?

Official data on main benefit trends tell a story, but it only tells the barebones of a story. Many more questions and answers are needed to fill the flimsy pages of this book.