MPs grap­ple with in­equal­ity

Ques­tion num­ber two to Mana elec­torate can­di­dates Kris Faafoi and Hekia Parata asks about an is­sue that has been get­ting much at­ten­tion in this coun­try in the past few years: in­equal­ity. The gap be­tween the haves and have nots is widen­ing in New Zealand –

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I’ve got great elec­torate of­fice staff. They’re empathetic and pro­fes­sional, but to be frank they’re over­worked.

The majority of the del­uge of is­sues that come through our doors stem from in­equal­ity.

There are no sil­ver bul­lets, but a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors that we as a com­mu­nity and as a na­tion need to tackle. Quite sim­ply they are jobs, homes and fam­i­lies.

I’m not go­ing to spend 500 words paint­ing a grim pic­ture, peo­ple strug­gling to make ends meet al­ready recog­nise the lives they live. But we do need more higher pay­ing jobs in our com­mu­ni­ties. And for that we need to think and plan smart.

Like mak­ing lo­cal IT busi­ness­man Rob Neru at Ad­van­tage4me a happy man. Rob’s a proud Porirua man who has set up his on­line video rugby coach­ing business in the city cen­tre.

He needs skilled IT staff and he needs them now. That’s why I took our Labour Party leader David Cun­liffe to visit him. Rob needs more trained staff and in the fu­ture he wants to give our lo­cal kids a job.

Labour will meet Rob’s short term need with more fo­cus on tar­geted IT train­ing and in the long term we’ll en­sure ev­ery lo­cal child has a tablet or lap­top to use at school.

Our kids will be do­ing jobs we haven’t even dreamt up yet. And per­haps, that will be with Rob.

We’ll also make sure those fam­i­lies who earn the least get a fair go; we’ll in­crease the min­i­mum wage to $ 15 per hour be­fore Christ­mas and again to $16.25 by next April.

To any­one who says that will cause un­em­ploy­ment, look at the last Labour Gov­ern­ment’s track record of nine in­creases in the min­i­mum wage in nine years and the low­est un­em­ploy­ment level in the OECD. Enough said.

With homes, I re­it­er­ate my mes­sage from last week. Homes are an­chors. They al­low fam­i­lies to set up in com­mu­ni­ties, they al­low com­mu­ni­ties to bond and pro­vide a safe place for our kids.

We’ve got too many boarded-up homes, too many peo­ple on wait­ing lists, too many homes that are cold and damp – the list goes on. I’m com­mit­ted to work­ing with other agen­cies, our lo­cal gov­ern­ment lead­ers and lo­cal business to make sure we have a well-planned so­lu­tion to en­sur­ing our fam­i­lies have a place to call home.

Fam­i­lies are at the heart of ev­ery­thing. Labour and I are com­mit­ted to giv­ing ev­ery child the best start to life.

Our Best Start pol­icy will en­sure 26 weeks paid parental leave and child support pay­ments for most fam­i­lies. We’ll also tackle the is­sue that haunts many par­ents – be­ing able to af­ford to take the kids to the doc­tor.

Un­der Labour, GP vis­its and pre­scrip­tions will be free for un­der 13s. I’ve sat at Kenepuru Ac­ci­dent & Med­i­cal and seen par­ents baulk at the cost. If kids need to see the doc­tor, they need to see the doc­tor.

I’ve been work­ing and fight­ing on th­ese is­sues for four years. In­equal­ity is real – and there is a way to tackle it with a plan around jobs, homes and fam­i­lies and a lo­cal MP who’s pas­sion­ate about ex­e­cut­ing it. Ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment are the an­swers to hav­ing bet­ter op­tions and a bet­ter qual­ity of life – they are also the sus­tain­able so­lu­tions to poverty and hard­ship.

Na­tional be­lieves that a stronger econ­omy, pay­ing down debt, en­cour­ag­ing busi­nesses, and sup­port­ing fam­i­lies to be suc­cess­ful are the in­gre­di­ents for ev­ery­one to do well.

There’s no doubt some fam­i­lies are in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. But there is no ev­i­dence of ris­ing in­come in­equal­ity.

In fact, the OECD has re­ported that New Zealand is one of only six de­vel­oped coun­tries where in­come in­equal­ity was flat or slightly bet­ter be­tween 2007 and 2011, de­spite the re­ces­sion.

In the past year, 83,000 more new jobs have been added to the econ­omy, 8600 solo par­ents have come off ben­e­fits and there are nearly 30,000 fewer chil­dren in ben­e­fit- de­pen­dent house­holds com­pared to two years ago.

But we recog­nise more needs to be done to support our most vul­ner­a­ble fam­i­lies.

Which is why, on top of free break­fasts to all schools that want it and warm­ing up nearly 300,000 homes, in this year’s bud­get we in­vested nearly $500 mil­lion over four years in ser­vices and support for fam­i­lies.

Free doc­tors’ vis­its and pre­scrip­tions are be­ing ex­tended to chil­dren un­der the age of 13 and we’ve put $20m more to­wards fight­ing rheumatic fever.

Over the past six years Na­tional have in­vested more than $65m into pre­vent­ing this de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness – and we have seen how ef­fec­tive this is be­ing in Porirua.

Paid parental leave will be ex­tended by four weeks and the el­i­gi­bil­ity ex­panded to in­clude care­givers other than par­ents and peo­ple in less-reg­u­lar work or who re­cently changed jobs.

We’re in­creas­ing the max­i­mum parental tax credit from $150 a week to $220 a week, and in­creas­ing the en­ti­tle­ment from eight to 10 weeks.

Help­ing chil­dren out of poverty also means help­ing their par­ents out of poverty. Na­tional’s wel­fare re­forms are get­ting peo­ple off wel­fare and into work. We be­lieve that means a bet­ter life, bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties, and a brighter fu­ture for peo­ple and their fam­i­lies.

We be­lieve any­one who can work should be in em­ploy­ment, in train­ing, or look­ing for a job.

The wel­fare sys­tem will al­ways be there to support peo­ple who gen­uinely need it. But we also be­lieve that long- term wel­fare de­pen­dency can be­come a trap, lead­ing to a life of limited out­comes and limited choices.

So we want to give peo­ple that hand up to op­por­tu­nity.

At the same time, Na­tional will do more to help them into work through things like child­care, train­ing, work­place support, and ac­cess to health and dis­abil­ity support ser­vices.

The lat­est ben­e­fit fig­ures show our ap­proach is work­ing – the num­ber of peo­ple on wel­fare is the low­est since 2008. There are over 16,000 fewer peo­ple on wel­fare com­pared to last year.

Na­tional is de­ter­mined to im­prove the lives and fu­tures of Kiwi chil­dren in low in­come fam­i­lies.

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