Oranga Tangata | Income Policy

Incomes Policy

Executive Summary

We have an economy and social security system that is broken, and that have never worked for Māori.  No one should suffer the injustices of poverty, inequality, and a lack of life opportunities.

Everyone should enough income to live dignified, and meaningful lives. Lifting whānau out of poverty is impossible if they do not have adequate incomes to survive with an ever-increasing cost of living.

The Māori Party will;

1. Immediately raise the minimum wage to $25 per hour and legislate for an annual increase to keep up with cost of living increases

2. Guarantee pay equity for Māori nurses and teachers

3. Double baseline benefit levels

4. Individualise benefits

5. Remove financial penalties, sanctions, and work-test obligations

6. Cancel income support related debt and ensure that additional grants do not need to be paid back in future

7. Raise abatement rates for benefits and student allowances

8. Create a universal student allowance and double student allowance rates

9. Introduce free public transport for students at all levels

10. Write off the living cost component of all student loans and work towards writing off the total student loan for those who work in Aotearoa for a period of five years

Context

There are hundreds of thousands of whānau living in poverty in Aotearoa and material hardship is increasing. Around two hundred thousand children are living in poverty. Half a million people experience hardship in education, health, income, housing, material well-being, or employment.

Aotearoa has a social security system that is broken, and a low-wage economy that is increasingly comprised of insecure jobs with no guarantee of hours and pay, forcing many to work two or three jobs. Māori unemployment is double Pākehā unemployment, while Māori disproportionately work in low-wage jobs.

In 2019 the Government’s Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) released its report, Whakamana Tāngata – Restoring Dignity to Social Security in New Zealand.

They found that evidence is overwhelming that incomes are inadequate for many people, both those receiving a benefit and those in low-paid work. Current levels of support fail to cover even basic costs for many people, let alone allowing them to meaningfully participate in their communities.

Due to global economic effects of Covid-19, we are also likely to be entering a significant economic recession, and so lifting incomes will not just help ensure people can continue to survive with a rising cost of living, but also help to stimulate the economy with increased spending.

By setting the unemployment payment for people out of work from COVID at nearly double the normal unemployment benefit, the Government was acknowledging that normal benefit levels force whānau to live in poverty and hardship.

This economic recession will also no doubt have a significant increase in unemployment, which will be even worse for Māori. Māori workers are already losing their jobs because of the crisis. There is an even greater need than usual for a strong Government-led programme for creating jobs,
apprenticeships, and training opportunities.

Solution

The core principle that is the foundation of this policy is that everyone should enough income to live dignified, and meaningful lives regardless of whether they are in work or not. No one in Aotearoa should suffer the injustices of poverty, inequality, and a lack of life opportunities.

We need to do everything we can to ensure whānau have what they need to do well. We need to focus on lifting wages and incomes, helping people into meaningful employment, and recognising the value of all work in whānau, hapū, iwi and communities, regardless of whether its paid work or not.

The policy will support whānau to lift themselves out of poverty and hardship by focusing on lifting the incomes who have the least; low-wage workers, beneficiaries, and tertiary students, ensuring that they have a guaranteed minimum income that they can afford to live on.

Wages & Pay Equity

Recent increases in the minimum wage have provided some welcome relief for low-wage workers, but given the COVID-19 economic impacts, this urgently needs to go much further. We need to put a stake in the ground and make clear that no one should be paid anything less than a living wage.

Therefore, the Māori Party position is to immediately raise the minimum wage to $25 per hour and legislate for an annual increase to keep up with cost of living increases. Doing this will ensure that all private sector workers and workers who are contracted by the Crown or through their procurement are paid a living wage.

We are deeply concerned by reports that current Government has not progressed negotiations to ensure that Māori nurses achieve pay equity and are paid both what they deserve, and what our counterparts earn. The Māori Party would progress the pay negotiations and guarantee that DHB procurement policies adequately fund Māori health providers to ensure pay equity is achievable. We would also guarantee that Māori teachers and support staff are paid fairly and in line with what are additional responsibilities that they often hold.

We know that an important way for workers to increase their wages is with union membership and collective bargaining. The Māori Party will legislate to protect collective bargaining and ensure that all workers are easily able to join a union.

The Māori Party will;

• Immediately raise the minimum wage to $25 per hour and legislate for an annual increase to keep up with cost of living increases

• Guarantee pay equity for Māori nurses and teachers

• Eliminate starting-off / youth rate wages

• Legislate to ensure the ability for multi-employer collective bargaining and collective bargaining for contractors

Welfare & Social Security

No one receiving income support should be living in poverty, and therefore baseline benefit levels must be above the poverty line.

Over a year ago the WEAG recommended an increase in baseline benefits levels of between 12% to 47%, but the Government declined to implement that or most of the other WEAG recommendations.

In response to the Covid-19 situation, the Government announced an increase in baseline benefit levels. This was welcome support for low-income whānau at a time of stress and difficulty, however it only equated to a 13% increase, which is very much at the lower end of what the WEAG recommended. It was even less for couples and sole parents, and for those on the supported living benefit.

The Māori Party will resist the Government’s attempts to entrench a two-tier welfare system and instead we would ensure that no one lives below the poverty line.

We still need further significant increases in baseline benefit levels, and wider reform of our social security system, in the effort to eliminate poverty in Aotearoa. The Māori Party would double benefit levels, so that the combined increases reach the upper end of the WEAG recommendation.

There is little evidence in support of using obligations and sanctions to change behaviour; rather, there is research indicating that they compound social harm and disconnectedness.

The Māori Party will remove obligations, sanctions and financial penalties including:

• Excessive appointment requirements

• Repeated proof of disability or sickness

• Relationship investigations

• Work test obligations

The Māori Party will remove the youth benefit which pays a lower rate than standard benefit for 17, 18 and 19-year olds, and forces them to meet extra obligations. Māori young people are overrepresented. There is no reason why young people should receive a lower rate, especially when often they have to find their own two feet and may have additional income support needs.

We will also ensure that the special needs grant is culturally appropriate including by acknowledging the extra costs of the tangihanga process, such as unveilings and a much longer process.

Recently revealed information from Work and Income NZ (WINZ) shows that 100,000 Māori owe financial debts to WINZ.  Nearly 1 in 7 Māori are indebted to state for income support needs. The information also shows that repayment rates higher than non-Māori.

Seeking help for income support from WINZ shouldn’t put people in debt. The Māori Party would cancel income support related debt and ensure that additional grants do not need to be paid back in future.

The Māori Party will;

• Double baseline benefit levels

• Remove financial penalties, sanctions and work-test obligations

• Individualise benefits

• Increase the amount people can earn before benefits are cut by raising abatement rates

• Remove the youth benefit

• Cancel income support related debt and ensure that additional grants do not need to be paid back in future

• Ensure the special needs grant recognises additional cultural costs such as with the tangihanga process

Student Support Plan

Māori are more likely to face barriers to tertiary education from the low level of income support for students to the high cost of the tuition itself.

We need a fair, liveable student allowance for all tertiary students: part-time, undergraduate, postgraduate, students of all ages and long courses. This universal student allowance must be individualized away from parental earnings and contain less penalties for extra income earnings. The
student allowance should cover accommodation, course related costs, living and health costs.

Getting a tertiary education should not mean a huge debt burden for students. The Māori Party would write off the living cost component of all student loans and work towards writing off the total student loan for those who work in Aotearoa for a period of five years.

The Māori Party will:

• Create a universal student allowance and double student allowance rates, in line with benefit increases

• Restore full student allowance eligibility for postgraduate, part-time, and long course students

• Raise abatement rates for student allowances

• Extend free public transport to tertiary students

• Write off the living cost component of all student loan debt and work towards writing off the total student loan for those who work in Aotearoa for a period of five years

Get involved!