Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Go Go Go Child Povery Action Group, Boo Labour

There was some good news on the box tonight. The Human Rights Review Tribunal has begun to hear the case bought against the Government by the Child Poverty Action Group that the Working for Families programme discriminates against the children of beneficiaries.

The case centres around the the In-Work tax credit, worth around $60 a week. The Labour-led Government excluded beneficiaries from being eligible for this payment. CPAG say this is illegal discrimination because it is Government assistance given only to a select group. 220,000 children from beneficiary families currently miss out.

The Working for Families policy assumes that parents use the money to help with the costs of raising families. How can it be fair that children of beneficiaries are denied $60 a week on the basis of the source of their parents income? Are the Labour party seeking to encourage a new pester power, as in Mummy why don't you get a job? How can it be fair that families lose the $60 a week when a parent has the misfortune to be made redundant?

Prime Minister Helen Clark attempts to defend Labour's policy by claiming Working for Families has lifted 130 thousand families out of poverty. Even though Working for Families has improved the lives of many families, New Zealand's child poverty figures would suggest Clark's claim is somewhat of an exaggeration. Particularly when the Working for Families policy deliberately excluded the very poorest - beneficiary families. Clark also claims "[s]ince the in-work payment came in for the first time we've got the numbers on domestic purposes benefit going down, thats a great thing because it means we have more children seeing their parents going to work everyday to earn a living." Now Helen, can you please tell me how this is the fault of the children?

This and other comments made at the time by of the introduction of Working for Families make it clear that a key policy objective of Working for Families was to increase the difference between the incomes of those on a benefit and those in (low) paid work. The same policy principle underlay Ruth Richardson's 'Mother of All Budgets' in 1991, where Ruth Richardson slashed benefits. Despite making many complaints about these cuts in opposition, Labour have never made any real effort to restore benefit levels in 9 years of Government. Labour ensured beneficiaries did not get any benefit from the tax cuts announced in the Budget, which will only make the situation worse.

The Government's own Ministry of Social Development now say beneficiaries are now worse off now than they were under National in the 1990s. With such a record Labour do not deserve the support of beneficiaries, but neither do National as they have said they are happy with benefit levels as they are now. In contrast, the Greens have given consistent support to beneficiaries in Parliament, despite a great many beneficiaries continuing to support Labour out of habit.

In her recent speech on the 2008 Budget Green MP Sue Bradford said
"..,Dr Cullen certainly has a different understanding of labour history in this country than I do. I had thought that the first Labour Government under Michael Joseph Savage swept to power in 1935 as a result of the mass unemployment and poverty suffered through six years of the Great Depression. It was unemployed workers together with their comrades still in work who helped create and drive the great things Labour did in those early days, including taking the first steps towards getting a decent welfare system into place, and I see this generation of Labour’s approach to beneficiaries as a real betrayal of that proud history."

By excluding beneficiaries, Working for Families becomes an effective subsidy to underpaying employers. While many on the right such as Labour and National promote the virtues of a free market economy, they want to ensure the right of employers to offer underpaid jobs as a forced sale. If workers want higher wages, they should support CPAG's case against the Government, as giving low paid workers the choice to tell underpaying employers to go to hell is one way to ensure wages in New Zealand are lifted for all.

PS: It is an irony that my very first post on this blog, now four years and a few days ago, I criticised Labour for making cynical use of the Bill of Rights Act to justify a cut in student allowances, at the same time they were defending the continued discrimination of parental income tests on the basis of age on the grounds it would cost them too much money to do otherwise.

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