The Green Party’s first major election announcement is a beautifully conceived social security package based in the concepts of manaakitanga and compassion. It insists on giving people income security and treating them well. It’s fully costed, and financed by taxing some of the assets and income of wealthy people.
In her livestreamed speech yesterday (starts at 14m), Marama Davidson led with how we stepped up, collectively, and helped those in need with our Covid response. She then pointed out that we have had people in similar need for a very long time and it’s time to do something about that.
When someone reaches out, our first response should be to help, not to interrogate them or demand that they prove their desperation. Because when a family member turns up at the door, you don’t ask for receipts or question why they are there. You put the kettle on, give them a kai and show them manaaki. It does not matter why they need help. All that counts is that we are all supported.
The gist of the policy,
Here’s how our Poverty Action Plan works for all of us:
A Guaranteed Minimum Income of $325 per week for students and people out of work, no matter what.
A Universal Child Benefit for kids under three of $100 per week.
A simplified Family Support Credit of $190 per week for the first child and $120 per week for subsequent children to replace the Working for Families tax credits with a higher abatement threshold and lower abatement rate.
Additional support for single parents through a $110 per week top-up.
Reforming ACC to become the Agency for Comprehensive Care, creating equitable social support for everyone with a work-impairing health condition or disability, with a minimum payment of 80% of the full time minimum wage.
Changes to abatement and relationship rules so people can earn more from paid work before their income support entitlements are reduced.
A 1% wealth tax for those with a net-worth over $1 million.
And two new top income tax brackets for a more progressive tax system which redistributes wealth.
There is also additional support for disabled people, including morphing the old Sickness Benefit into the Supported Living Payment at the new initial rate of 60% of full time net minimum wage (around $390/wk).
So many good things here. The reframing into a GMI rather than a UBI means we get the necessary welfare bolted on. We don’t need a universality that gives money to everyone at the expense of those most in need, we need guaranteed minimum income security for those who truly need it when they need it. We also need sufficient income for those that cannot work.
Gone are the married/de facto rates that have long penalised couples. The ACC changes have been a long time coming, to settle inequity issues in disability from accident vs health. I’m focussed on the disability side of welfare, but it looks like there is much that is good specifically for children and parents. I expect more worker-specific policy in a later announcement, the GMI offers important support to part time workers in particular as well as the ACC reform providing extended sick leave to all workers.
One of the biggest challenges I see is how this policy will hold up in post-election coalition negotiations. Obviously if NZ First is involved it will get trashed (Peters is already being all hand wavy about taxing rich folk). Even with just Labour it’s hard to see if Labour will manage the ideological shift away from welfare as a necessary evil that can only be solved by jobs.
The other big challenge is how to reform the cultures of WINZ/MSD, ACC and the MoH so that those departments are capable of delivering such a policy in practice and philosophy. That mending is a big job and I don’t hold a lot of inherent trust that such mending would automatically follow from legislative and policy change. The Greens’ document talks about training, but Sepuloni has largely failed to make headway on this kind of cultural in her three years and has sided at critical times with Bennett-era management against the needs of beneficiaries.
I see this directional change working if someone like Davidson was heading it, someone with the understanding of manaakitanga and the commitment to embedding it more fully. Which inevitably requires enough party votes for the Greens that they can bring the MSD portfolio to negotiations post-election.
There’s political savvy in this package and presentation. The Greens just reappropriated three years of Ardern’s kindness rhetoric and did three things. One is they funded it for everyone that needs it. No more empty promises or ‘just fuck off and wait‘ subtext for disabled people and others that can’t work. In the Covid world we’re all in this together.
The other is that they’re saying increased income is absolutely necessary but it’s not sufficient, we also need our government departments to treat people fairly and well. Everyone knows by now how much WINZ sucks, it’s well past time to sort that out.
Thirdly, they’ve made another big jump left like Turei did in 2017, which lays down the challenge for Labour to reposition itself, and opens the discussion publicly about how to solve welfare in meaningful, values-based, beyond neoliberalism ways.
It’s wonderful move from the Greens. Some of the shortcomings I see:
Can’t wait to see more detail and analysis over the next few days. There’s already a move in the debate away from the manaaki aspects to the tax funded aspects (with much discussion about whether National’s response is incompetence or lies). I hope that the cultural and social intelligence embedded in this policy doesn’t get lost in the bickering, and that the left doesn’t let the right define the debate solely in terms of money. This is a bold policy with much in it that the left values, let’s keep our focus on that. We still have the task of convincing parts of the electorate that welfare values are sound and desirable.
Finally, always, thank-you Metiria. I still see what you did and how you got us here. You were right, New Zealand at the time was wrong, but we will get there in the end. Green Party, you did really good on this, again.
We can support the Greens’ policy petition here.
The Greens’ announcement page is here.
Full Poverty Action Plan/Ahi mai Ahi atu policy document (PDF)
WINZ benefit rates for comparison.
Some analysis of costings from Henry Cooke at Stuff.