Voting is under way in the New Zealand general election. Explore the main parties’ pledges at Policy.nz; in the meantime here’s a whistlestop tour of what’s on offer when it comes to welfare and equity.
Read more two-minute policy wraps here
Welfare is always an election issue, but mass job losses brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have thrown it into sharp relief, and all the larger parties have policies aimed at addressing this. Equity is a less clear-cut area of policy, with some parties focusing on addressing social inequity by increasing wages, and others with no policies at all. Issues of representation are a particular area of interest for the Greens, who have comprehensive policies addressing Māori and Pasifika, rainbow and disabled communities. Labour, meanwhile, has several policies aimed at addressing gender inequity, while NZ First has a particular interest in older people.
Labour would continue providing Covid-19 income relief payments to those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic between March 1 and October 30 this year, and expand eligibility for the training incentive allowance, a payment to help cover the additional costs of studying while on the benefit. It would also increase the abatement threshold so someone on a benefit could earn $160 a week before their benefit is reduced, and also increase the second threshold for those on the sole parent and supported living payment to $250 a week.
National would maintain benefits at current levels and set targets to reduce the number of people receiving benefits. Under-25s receiving the jobseeker benefit would be required to create an intensive 40-hour a week “path to work” plan, with the help of specialist job coaches who would be employed at every WINZ office. Any not meeting these obligations would be subject to money management sanctions, whereby rent and bills are paid before a $50 allowance is provided. National would also improve support for foster and kin carers, as well as grandparents raising grandchildren.
The Green Party would establish a guaranteed minimum income for all adults not in full-time paid work, including students. Benefit sanctions would be removed and benefits for people without health conditions would be rationalised into a single system of support – more details of which are here.
The Act Party wants to return benefits to their pre-Covid-19 levels and reinstate previous conditions for claiming them. It would scrap the winter energy payment and apply electronic income management to most benefits: they would be issued on an electronic card that tracks spending and has restrictions on alcohol, gambling and tobacco. Act would establish an employment insurance scheme.
The Māori Party would double all core benefits, remove obligations, sanctions and financial penalties for receiving benefits, replace the youth benefit with the standard benefit, cancel income support-related debt and increase the abatement rate, as well as ensuring the special needs grant is culturally appropriate by acknowledging the extra costs of the tangihanga process.
The Opportunities Party (Top) would introduce a universal basic income (UBI) of $13,000 a year, which would be paid to all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents over 18. Parents would receive an additional $2,080 for each child. TOP would also review accommodation support payments and remove the penalty for beneficiaries whose children don’t attend ECE.
New Zealand First would continue to support people who lose their job due to Covid-19, and look at introducing a universal family benefit to support families into their first home and help care for their children.
Poverty, wages and social inequity
Labour would progressively extend the living wage to all contracted public service workers, increase the minimum wage to $20 by 2021 and extend sick leave from five days to 10. It would ensure there are better records of pay equity including by ethnicity and age as well as gender. It would implement fair pay agreements between unions and employers in competitive industries.
National would postpone the planned 2021 minimum wage increase.
The Greens would increase the minimum wage yearly in line with the median wage, abolish the youth minimum wage and extend the living wage beyond the core public sector. They would implement industry-wide fair pay agreements, introduce pay transparency legislation and increase support for preparing pay equity claims, and increase funding for community law centres and extend legal aid.
Representation: gender, rainbow, disabled and older communities
Labour would continue working towards 50% women’s representation on state sector boards by 2021 (as of December 2019, it was at 49%), and continue implementing its strategy to remove barriers preventing women and girls participating in sport.
The Greens would reform the Human Rights Act to remove the exception that allows pay discrimination for disabled people and to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. The Greens would also increase funding for disability advocacy services, and increase benefits for people with health conditions or disabilities to around $390 per week after tax (see benefits). The Greens would also create an office for rainbow communities, and guarantee equal gender representation in government appointments.
Top would support easy access to gender-affirming identity documents for transgender, non-binary and intersex people.
Explore the parties’ pledges in more depth at Policy. The essential campaign dates are here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here.