Greens plan dramatic welfare system reform

Metiria Turei. Photo: Getty Images
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei announced today the party's plan to overhaul the welfare system. Photo: Getty Images

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei has admitted she once lied to authorities to keep her benefit.

In her biggest speech of the year, Ms Turei made the extraordinary confession while announcing her party's plans to dramatically reform New Zealand's welfare system.

Speaking at the Green Party AGM in Auckland, she said that while she was receiving the domestic purposes benefit as solo mum in her 20s she had extra flatmates who paid rent but she did not tell WINZ.

"I knew that if I told the truth about how many people were living in the house my benefit would be cut," she told an audience of around 250 Green members at the Auckland University of Technology.

"And I knew that my baby and I could not get by on what was left.

"This is what being on the benefit did to me - it made me poor and it made me lie."

The audience was silent as she revealed her story, but nodded along and made encouraging noises, one member saying "ka pai Metiria". She admitted that her admission could hurt her or the party, but said she wanted to talk about "what life is really like for beneficiaries".

"Nobody wants to be defined by a lie. Nobody - where you're a politician or a solo mum.

"We want to be defined by our truths. And the truth is, everyone needs enough to get by on."

Ms Turei's experience on the DPB was one of the driving forces behind the new "Mending the Safety Net" package, which she said was the result of 15 years' work in Parliament.

In all, the package will lift the incomes of 500,000 low and middle-income families. It goes further than families packages recently announced by National and Labour and had an estimated cost of $1.47 billion a year, though the tax changes will collect $163 million in revenue.

The party is promising to:

  • increase all core benefits (Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support, Supported Living Payments, Student Allowances) by 20%
  • reduce the bottom tax rate from 10.5 to 9% for people earning less than $14,000 per year
  • raise the top tax rate to 40% for people earning more than $150,000 per year
  • raise the minimum wage from $15.75 to $17.75 in the first year, and eventually to 66% of the average wage
  • scrap the In Work Tax Credit and create a children's credit for low income families worth $72 per week
  • lift the amount people can earn to $200 before their benefit is reduced

"These are the most significant changes to our welfare system in a generation," Ms Turei said.

"Our plan will lift people out of poverty and guarantee a basic, liveable income for anyone working or on a benefit."

The Greens would put an end to all benefit sanctions, an announcement which was met with a standing ovation from the Green crowd.

In particular, the Greens would scrap the penalising of women who do not reveal the name of the child's father - a measure which Ms Turei described as sexist and punitive.

Other sanctions to go will be "excessive" appointment attendance requirements, forced budgeting appointments, work testing for solo parents when their children turn 1, repeated proof of disability or sickness.

Single parents would not be penalised for seeking stable relationships, or face "intrusive" investigations into their relationships.

Ms Turei said the "punitive culture" at the Ministry of Social Development had trapped people in a life of poverty rather than provide them with incentives.

"We believe that poverty should never be used as a weapon, especially when children are involved."


"Mending the Safety Net" package

Single parent not working, 2 children: $7197 per year ($138.40 more than National Budget package)
Single parent on student allowance, working part time, 2 children: $7197 per year ($138.40 more)
Two parents, one earning $70,000, 2 children: $2797 per year ($53.78 more)

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