Beneficiaries must seek work after child's third birthday
Solo parent beneficiaries will have to make themselves available for work when their children turn 3, if they are to continue receiving their benefit.
Previously, single parents and their partners had to make themselves available for 15 hours of part-time work once a child was 5 and ready for school. But from the start of April next year, they will be expected to seek at least 20 hours of work from the child's third birthday.
The work requirement comes alongside a Budget boost of an extra $25 a week in benefits for families with children.
Announcing the extra cash, Finance Minister Bill English stressed that work remained the ultimate solution for families in poverty.
The Budget also announced another $75 million for early childhood education to ensure more children are attending for longer hours.
But Federation of Family Budgeting chief executive Raewyn Fox said that, even with 20 hours of early childhood education being provided free, many solo parents could find extra childcare costs eating up much of the take-home pay from a low-income job.
"Free" early childhood education often came with costs attached, she said.
"Some childcare facilities you have to bring along food for them, and there's certain standards, though some provide it.
"There's the cost to get from home to the childcare facility and then get your transport to work and back again in the time you can afford to pay for. It sometimes means you have to have a car, depending on your location."
Fox said it would be "really tough" for some families with a child of 3 to seek part-time work.
"But actually that's a reality for many working families anyway ... It's going to be different for different people [and] in the big scheme of encouraging people to get into a better situation long-term, I can see why it's been introduced."
Children's Commissioner Russell Wills said many 3-year-olds would benefit from 20 hours a week of kindergarten, kohanga reo or other services.
"It is the poorest and most vulnerable children who benefit the most from regular attendance at high-quality early childhood education after 3 ... as long as parents are well supported to return to work, and the education is of the highest possible quality."
Wills said the weekly $25 boost for families on benefits was a surprise, but a pleasant one.
"A weekly rise in benefits of up to $25 for families at the hardest end will be helpful for a family with one child, though less so for those with more children, as the increase is per family, rather than per child.
"It's also a pity these children have to wait another year – a year is a long time in the life of a child."