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 –
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.