Bold pol­icy to ‘mend safety net’

The Southland Times - - NEWS - STACEY KIRK

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.

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