This research project sought to understand the circumstances behind MSD-applied sanctions and the impact of sanctions on beneficiaries in New Zealand. We found that research participants lacked an adequate understanding of the Work and Income sanctions regime. In particular there was significant confusion surrounding what constituted an obligation failure and participants often reported being sanctioned as a result of unintentional non-compliance. A significant number of the research participants who had received a sanction indicated that they were unable rather than unwilling to meet the obligations associated with their benefit.
There were two notable impacts of sanctions on those who took part in the research. The first was an increase in poverty. That sanctions increase financial hardship is self-evident and our research has highlighted the ways in which participants were forced to fend for themselves during a sanction period, and the concomitant mental and physical effects of this. The second significant impact to emerge from the research was the increase in demands on people’s time. Reports from survey respondents and interview participants suggest that administrative requests and poor communication from Work and Income often led to people becoming excessively focussed on the tasks necessary for avoiding
a sanction. Only two people in our survey and one person interviewed for our research advised that they found work in response to receiving a sanction. This suggests that sanctions in the New Zealand welfare system are not encouraging job-seeking behaviour. This finding aligns with a growing body of literature from around the world suggesting that sanctions are ineffective in realising their stated goals of improving job readiness while at the same time having an adverse effect on already vulnerable welfare recipients.