Labour leader Phil Goff is reported in the NZ Herald as:
…challenging the Government to seriously consider temporarily paying the full unemployment benefit to workers laid off because of the downturn regardless of the income of their spouses.
He said those losing their jobs were carrying a “disproportionate burden” of the recession and the National Government was not doing enough to help them.
He suggested the requirement that a spouse’s income be means-tested be suspended, if only during the recession.
Why only during the recession, Phil? Despite the Human Rights Act, New Zealand’s welfare system continues to discriminate on the basis of family status. If someone is unemployed and their partner earns over $80 a week, their benefit entitlement is abated by 70 cents for every additional dollar earned. If their partner earns as little as $534 a week (before tax), they are entitled to no benefit at all.
Couples are taxed as individuals, so why don’t they receive benefits, which are really just negative taxation, as individuals?
And, in contrast to unemployment and sickness benefits, weekly compensation under ACC is an individual entitlement, and has no spousal income test.
Isn’t it time we started to bring the welfare system into the 21st century and get rid of the spousal income test there too – not just for the recession, as Phil Goff has suggested, but permanently.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett scoffed at the Goff’s suggestion:
I doubt many Kiwis would consider that a good use of the considerably fewer resources this Government now has. I’d be interested to hear what Mr Goff would cut, or which taxes he would put up, to fund such an initiative.
Well, okay, it would be expensive, but the discriminatory provisions applying to benefits could be progressively phased out over a period of time so the cost doesn’t all hit at one. Fairness and justice don’t always come cheap.
And how to fund it? Well we could start by reversing last year’s income tax cut, so the money goes to those who most need it.