Tight times for ‘squeezed mid­dle’

The Press - - National News | Politics - Laura Wal­ters laura.wal­ters@stuff.co.nz

New Zealand knows it has poverty is­sues, and an emerg­ing class of work­ing poor, but we’re not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion to the ‘‘squeezed mid­dle’’, Jacinda Ardern says.

To­day, the prime min­is­ter and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Grant Robert­son will de­liver their first Bud­get.

Ardern has spo­ken ex­ten­sively about re­build­ing the foun­da­tions of good health and ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems, but there are spe­cific groups of Ki­wis she hopes the Bud­get will help.

Yes­ter­day, Ardern said as well as help­ing those in poverty, and the work­ing poor, the Gov­ern­ment also needed to help those mid­dle New Zealan­ders feel­ing the pinch.

‘There is this other co­hort of peo­ple who just feel like some of these ser­vices aren’t ac­ces­si­ble, and we don’t pay enough at­ten­tion to that,’’ she said.

Ardern was re­fer­ring to peo­ple who were work­ing, but were feel­ing the squeeze be­cause of a range of fac­tors, like high hous­ing costs.

Other costs, like the up­keep of a car and petrol, school-re­lated costs, and things like GP vis­its added to the daily strug­gle.

And, while un­em­ploy­ment is at its low­est in a decade – at 4.4 per cent in March – wage growth has stag­nated.

Al­most 50 per cent of Kiwi fam­i­lies say they’re just get­ting by day-to-day, ac­cord­ing to the Sal­va­tion Army.

Ardern said the Gov­ern­ment had changed the thresh­hold of Work­ing for Fam­i­lies pay­ments, to try to cap­ture more of the coun­try’s work­ing poor and squeezed mid­dle.

The pay­ments would mean 380,000 fam­i­lies would have an av­er­age of $75 more in their pocket a week.

In its De­cem­ber mini-Bud­get the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced its changes to Work­ing for Fam­i­lies tax cred­its, Win­ter En­ergy Pay­ments, and Best Start pay­ments for peo­ple with new ba­bies.

These changes were aimed at mak­ing a no­table dif­fer­ence to those in low to mid­dle-in­come brack­ets, Ardern said.

Na­tional Party leader Si­mon Bridges said the way to help was to make sure spend­ing was tar­geted. It wasn’t all about spend­ing more, it was about spend­ing smart, and ef­fec­tively, he said yes­ter­day.

‘‘This Gov­ern­ment, if they’re any­thing like the last [Labour] gov­ern­ment, will be spray and walk away.’’

The work­ing poor, and the ‘‘squeezed mid­dle’’, were be­ing hurt, not helped by Labour’s plans, Bridges said, re­fer­ring to things like re­gional fuel taxes.

‘‘A big tax, spend, bor­row and hope, is not the way to go.’’

How­ever, Labour said low­er­in­come house­holds con­sumed less petrol, so the im­pact on them was lower. Mean­while, the same fam­i­lies would re­ceive more on av­er­age from the Fam­i­lies Pack­age.

Sal­va­tion Army Lieu­tenant Colonel Ian Hut­son said the Gov­ern­ment needed to fo­cus on the ‘‘for­got­ten poor’’.

Poverty creep meant more Ki­wis were feel­ing the squeeze.

How­ever, those in the great­est need were the ones at the bot­tom of the pile, ‘‘the ones who are more than feel­ing the pinch’’.

There were peo­ple who were strug­gling to find a house, and to find food, Hut­son said.

Sal­va­tion Army sta­tis­tics said four out of 10 house­holds skipped meals or went hun­gry.

Hut­son said he hoped there would be a sub­stan­tial so­cial hous­ing an­nounce­ment in to­day’s Bud­get.

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