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Metiria Turei on the Greens’ Budget for All Mothers

Yesterday the Green Party announced a major policy platform aimed at parents and children in New Zealand. In her own words, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei explains the Budget for All Mothers.

All Kiwi kids deserve the best great start in life, right? And what better country to raise kids: we are blessed with a beautiful environment, caring people and a country that prides itself on being fair. But it’s not easy for everyone. When my daughter was born, I wasn’t sure that I could give her that great start in life. I had no money, and sometimes I felt overwhelmed by that. I know lots of other parents who have had that same feeling – that they just don’t have the means to give their kids all the opportunities they deserve. Time is the other thing I felt like I didn’t have enough of. If I was going to provide for my daughter, it meant juggling childcare and study, which as any parent can tell you is not easy. But I was lucky – I had a great support team and lots of resources to draw on. Many parents in New Zealand don’t have that. Sometimes it’s because they didn’t get the best start in life themselves and they’re trapped in a cycle they can’t get out of.

SOURCE: CHILD POVERTY MONITOR / CHILDPOVERTY.CO.NZ

It’s been 26 years since National’s ‘Mother of All Budgets’, which made devastating cuts to welfare, and threw thousands of families and children to the bottom of the pile. We’re still feeling the echoes of that budget today; in the increasing gap between rich and poor, in the kids being tucked into bed at night not in homes, but in the back of cars; and in the stressed out families trying to keep all those plates in the air, trying to give their kids that great start in life, but just not able to get there.

We say it’s time that we fixed that, and had a ‘Budget for All Mothers’ – not just mothers, but all parents and caregivers too doing the work of raising the next generation of Kiwi kids. We want to help parents when it matters most, by ensuring they have the time and the money to focus on raising happy, healthy children right from the start. Kids who get the best start in life go on to be happy healthy adults, so it’s in the interests of all New Zealanders to support parents and children to make this happen.

How are we going to do this? We want to help families in a way that’s simple and fair, so we’ll give parents more time and support when their babies are born, and more flexible working arrangements for when they go back to work.

Right now, some 20,000 babies a year are born to Kiwi families with no income support. While working parents can get paid parental leave, those receiving a benefit, ACC payments or a student allowance miss out. By extending the Parental Tax Credit, we can put $220 a week for 10 weeks into the hands of new parents who don’t receive paid parental leave. This means all parents can get help and won’t have to navigate a confusing maze of processes to figure out what they are entitled to.

Metiria Turei and Sifatama Tamu with a wahakura (flax bassinet)

I was so inspired by what I saw when I travelled to Finland a few years ago, by how they help their newborns and parents by giving them a box of goodies to help them in the first months of life. We’ll do the same, giving every new baby a wahakura (flax bassinet) – a baby pod pack with basic essentials like nappies, clothes and bedding, and a safe place to co-sleep. Finland has seen their rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SUDI) decline in the 75 years since ‘the box’ was introduced there, and here in New Zealand we know that wahakura and baby pods can keep baby safe if parents choose to have them co-sleep in their beds  with them. This will help with those early, heady days of parenthood!

When children move on to childcare and parents head back to work, there’s even more juggling to be done. How many times have parents sent their kids off to school knowing full well they’re too sick to attend, but it’s just not possible to take any more sick leave off from work to look after them at home? We have a solution! By giving all Kiwis a minimum of 10 days a year sick leave, parents have a bit more space in which to do the most important job of all – looking after their children. We’ll also extend the OSCAR subsidy available for after school care and holiday programmes to all-low income families, whether parents are in paid work or not.

Caring work is important – and I can see in my own daughter how having support right from the start has made all the difference. I want other families and children to be able to grow up healthy and happy too. Don’t we all?

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