Some of you may have seen on Facebook or in the mainstream media the campaign we ran over the last week. For those who have not, you can see it here. Gareth has just turned 65 and is now able to receive the New Zealand Superannuation. The purpose of the exercise was to show how we are spending billions on welfare for pensioners like Gareth and Winston Peters, all the while having some of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world.
Unfortunately many missed the point of the message we were trying to deliver. “If Gareth’s so rich he shouldn’t claim it”, “Why does he have to make a song and dance, he should just give it to charity”. In the grand scheme of things, Gareth donating the money to charity will not change a thing. Without actually changing the system, we will continue to have this gross misallocation.
Of course there will be some who donate it to charity, but it would be foolish to expect universal acts of altruism from the country’s wealthy pensioners. After all, how much wealth should one have before they consider donating it? Yes, it is easier for someone in Gareth’s position, where the money will make no material difference, but there is literally billions of dollars of welfare being funnelled to those who are supremely comfortable and will not think twice about claiming the full amount of Superannuation. This is not even a criticism of these people, they are simply doing what the system allows. It’s the taxpayer that is the mug.
The whole reason behind the campaign was to start a conversation about welfare going to the wrong group. To be clear, TOP policy will actually give more money to those pensioners who really need it ( you can read it here), the impact will be on those like Gareth and Winston Peters, taking the top half of their Super ( they will still get the Unconditional Basic Income rate) and transferring it to young families in need. This will provide the funding for the start of for our Unconditional Basic Income for all New Zealanders. No old people will starve, it just means a few will not be able to rely on the Government to fund their Mediterranean cruises and quick flocks to Fiji. We understand that for years the Super has been sold as an entitlement, but the reality is, it’s our kids that will be hit with the bill. They’re already the first generation who are predicted to be worse off than their parents, so is it reasonable to expect them to pay for Gareth’s new motorbike too?
Looking at our welfare situation objectively, means testing Super is a pragmatic way to make a tangible difference for our young kids, and families who are in need. For a lot of us it’s hard to really understand the extent of poverty we have in New Zealand. We see examples such as beggars on the streets, more often than not these are the ones who have fallen through the cracks ( this is not to say we should ignore them), and it becomes hard for everyday Kiwis to relate. The real face of poverty are the families who face rising rents and stagnating wages, stuck with a punitive welfare system that gives them little hope of crawling out. Perhaps it’s not so obvious when parents work multiple jobs, go without so their children can eat, or a forced to live in vans because the price of rents are now so high. It’s hard to properly grasp the reality unless you really experience it.
Yes, these are dramatic example, but don’t be fooled into thinking scenarios like these are sad but just occasional. It is far more common than you think. Consider that half of all families with new-born children will experience at least a year of poverty, and for 1 in 4 that poverty will last for 4 or more years. It’s these people that we will help, and if the cost is that Gareth doesn’t get a extra few dollars a weeks, then it’s one we are pretty happy with. Every cent raised from this means testing will be redirected toward our “Thriving families” policy, giving all families with children under three $10,000 per year as a “Young Familes” UBI. It will also fund further support for poor families, and free, full time, high-quality early childhood education.
The evidence is clear that the return on investment for society is much higher when investing in children early, so by doing this we can help nurture the most vulnerable sector of our society, all at the expense of a few less overseas holidays for our wealthy retirees.