Bold policy to ‘mend safety net’
Benefit sanctions will be lifted, the poorest taxed less and the richest more, while a Green Party in Government would also seek to raise all benefits by 20 per cent.
In a bold new policy launch, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei also revealed she lied to her case workers when she was a solo mum and studying for a law degree, while collecting the domestic purposes benefit.
Speaking to a fervent core base of party faithful, Turei told the conference of her parents’ struggle to find work and her own battle as a mum on the benefit, lying to the state about how many people were living in her house.
Her experiences have shaped the party’s welfare policy, dubbed ‘‘mending the safety net’’, which will likely prove controversial and draw an ideological line in the sand over the presence of the welfare state.
The $1.4 billion policy would provide a suite of major changes that would effectively dismantle the Government’s welfare reforms introduced in 2012, that placed obligations for beneficiaries to prove they were looking for work, not taking drugs, and showing up for appointments and courses.
The Greens policy would lift nearly all penalties and obligations for beneficiaries, and raise the amount they were receiving for as long as they needed.
‘‘Our plan will lift people out of poverty, and guarantee a basic liveable income for anyone working or on a benefit,’’ Turei said.
‘‘We believe that poverty should never be used as a weapon, especially when children are involved.
‘‘Our plan to mend the safety net will ensure that all families in New Zealand can afford to put food on the table, keep a roof over their head and pay their power bill.’’
The Greens would change the Working for Families ‘‘in-work tax credit’’ to a Children’s Payment that goes to all families who currently qualified for it.
The current qualification thresholds would not be changed.
The poorest families could receive up to $72 a week extra as a result, on top of changes to tax thresholds and the minimum wage. Those changes would include reducing the bottom tax rate from 10.5 per cent to 9 per cent for anyone earning less than $14,000, while anyone earning more than $150,000 per year will have their tax rate hiked from 33 per cent to 40 per cent - expected to generate about $605 million in revenue. It assumed the proposed tax changes already outlined by the Government in the May Budget would be reversed in a Labour-led Government.
In her speech, Turei talked about raising her daughter while on the benefit in the early 1990s.
‘‘What I have never told you before is the lie I had to tell to keep my financial life under control.
‘‘Because despite all the help I was getting, I could not afford to live, study and keep my baby well without keeping a secret from [Work and Income NZ].’’
She and her daughter were forced to move around a lot; five different flats with various people.
‘‘In three of those flats I had extra flatmates, who paid rent, but I didn’t tell Winz. I didn’t dare.’’
So, Turei said, she was announcing ‘‘the most fundamental changes to our welfare system in 30 years’’.
She expected the policy to lift 179,000 children out of poverty.
Former social development minister Paula Bennett, also a former beneficiary, introduced the welfare reforms of 2012.