Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says the "Thriving Families" policy of The Opportunities Party (TOP) announced on Tuesday recognises New Zealand desperately needs a fundamental re-envisioning of the welfare and income redistribution systems.
"It is great to see that the principles of CPAG’s campaign to Fix Working for Families are being picked up. While there are still debates to be had about what a reform package would look like, CPAG agrees wholeheartedly with the TOP party, that less conditionality and much more generosity is needed," says CPAG co-convenor Janfrie Wakim.
TOP says that it will extend the In-Work Tax Credit (IWTC) to all low-income families with children under the age of 17, and remove the work hours test that currently means the worst-off children are excluded from the payment.
CPAG challenges other parties to agree that work incentives should not be confused with child-related payments. Not only has the IWTC been a failure as a work incentive, it has greatly complicated the lives of those whose variable work hours mean that on some weeks they are not entitled. Moreover what counts as ‘work’ is limited to ‘paid work’.
Parents may be looking after young or sick children or even trying to study full-time but still miss out on a huge $72.50 a week.
"The very poorest families have never got the full Working for Families package for their children because of cruel ideologically based work-incentive arguments, and they are falling even further behind every year," says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG economics spokesperson.
"The impact of this on our worst-off families is cumulative, that with each passing year it is more expensive to address. Low-income families become ‘low wealth’ or ‘no wealth’ families, many accumulating frightening levels of debt."
"We have a non-means tested payment for our over 65s, which aims to treat all those over retirement age equally and fairly," says Janfrie Wakim, CPAG Co-convenor.
"Australia has never had a child-related work incentive and all low-income children are treated the same for family assistance. We cannot say we are doing the same for our children - but we should be."
CPAG says that it should be paramount for any political party to make one of its core objectives ensuring that all children have equal opportunities for good outcomes, regardless of their backgrounds. Adopting the philosophy behind the TOP’s policies would be a significant step in the right direction.