Image design: Tina Tiller
Image design: Tina Tiller

PoliticsJune 5, 2024

Layoffs, tax cuts and flat dinners: The sitcom life of a Wellington twenty-something

Image design: Tina Tiller
Image design: Tina Tiller

Life in Wellington in 2024 feels like being trapped in a sitcom, with a bizarre cast of characters and no laugh track.

For a few years now, especially in Wellington, the political scene has been all-consuming. It used to be that you could show up, you could vote, you could laugh when Steven Joyce had a dildo thrown at his face, and that was all that was expected of you. Or maybe that’s just me – that’s what it felt like in 2017, when I was a privileged, naïve uni student voting for the first time. I stupidly believed that I didn’t need to pay attention, that no matter which major party was in charge, we wouldn’t stray too far off the beaten path.

But now, living in Wellington feels like being trapped in a sitcom, with a bizarre cast of characters and no laugh track. Everyone’s talking about the latest developments, plot twists, cameos, and terrible scripting. Worse still, we’re being rocked by the current storyline of policy reversals, cost savings, and redundancies. And the season finale is nowhere in sight. 

I live in a flat of five, with two public servants (Cyrus and Aishu), two in the private sector (myself and Virat), and one student who also runs a tutoring business (Isla). We learn about ministry updates directly affecting two-fifths of us in the news each day. I see the human behind the headlines at the dinner table every night. Like with many families and communities throughout Aotearoa, sharing kai and having these conversations has expanded my understanding of how politics plays into everything – and why we should all be playing close attention. 

Episode one: The redundancy process begins

It was a bright, pleasant November evening. My flatmate Virat had cooked Thai basil chicken, a flat favourite from the RecipeTin Eats website. It’s so quick, rich, and tasty. But we weren’t really paying attention to the food – we were thinking about layoffs.

The coalition government had only just managed to pull themselves together (literally), and they were already putting campaign promises into effect. David Seymour had been in and out of the news, talking about shrinking government agencies, and how the loss of 15,000 roles wouldn’t increase unemployment rates because 3,000 people move jobs every day

“So if you think about it, 15,000 people is actually a week of people leaving one job and going to another,” he said, confidently.

“The thing is, we’ve actually already restructured twice,” said Cyrus, one of our flat’s ministry workers, as he helped himself to another serving of rice. “We’re losing people on fixed-term contracts, and they’re not being replaced. But the process is so drawn out – I just want it to be over.”

Act leader David Seymour campaigned on cutting 15,000 public service jobs. Image: Tina Tiller

“What I don’t understand is, how are we going to deliver priorities with 15,000 fewer people?” asked Aishu, our other public servant. “We have this massive agenda, and we’re going to deliver it with, like, a 7.5% cut to our budget? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Are you worried about your jobs at all?” I asked. I’d worked at tech companies since graduation, and redundancy had never been a fear for me. Not even during the Covid years. I’d always been reassured and well looked after – despite the fact that the most important thing I’d ever done was write a well-received blog article about report consolidation. 

Meanwhile, my flatmates had both entered the public sector to make a positive difference. They both paused. 

“I’m a little worried,” said Aishu, finally. “But I’m actually more worried about the wider public service. Even if a few of us lose our jobs, that still impacts all of us. I just don’t see this going well at all.”

Episode two: Tax cuts for all

For his night on dinner, Cyrus made a ratatouille replete with bread baked from scratch. After we were done urging him to try out for New Zealand Masterchef, talk turned to my new favourite toy – National’s tax calculator. They’d released it as part of their Back Pocket Boost marketing pre-election, and we were pretty late to the game. It was fun to plug in our own numbers, and see how much we might save. (National’s tax calculator has since been taken down and replaced by an official government calculator.)

But I wasn’t prepared for what this meant in practice. The four of us who were in full-time employment were set to save around $40 a fortnight. Isla, the only student, would only receive an extra $4. 

“That’s amazing!” she said, as we all stared at the screen in horror. “I think I’ll treat myself to a few extra pears.”

For the past few months, I’d watched Isla carefully budget, save, and scrimp to make sure her expenses didn’t blow out of hand. As the cost of living rose, she took on more and more work where she could to support herself. Meanwhile, the rest of us had international holidays lined up, to attend friends’ weddings and escape the Wellington winter. The extra money for us was a nice-to-have – but to Isla, it would have made all the difference.

Episode three: Coffee and entitlements

Isla made her iconic pumpkin and spinach lasagne. In the back of all our minds, the cost-saving measures at the ministries rumbled on. The Ministry of Social Development had just announced they would reduce the amount of times the office was cleaned (thereby reducing custodial staff hours), move from plunger to instant coffee, and get rid of the “nice teas”. 

“My friend at MSD is really confused about that,” Aishu told us. “She’s spent the last week trying to find these mythical fancy teas.”

It was also the week of Luxon’s “entitled to the entitlement” accommodation supplement debacle. The savings measures MSD were taking amounted to around $70,000. Nowhere near their 7.5% target. Meanwhile, the ex-CEO of Air New Zealand was pocketing an extra $52,000 a year that he didn’t seem to need. 

Prime Minister Chris Luxon promised to pay back his $52,000 accommodation supplement. Image: Tina Tiller

“He could use that money to buy coffee for MSD,” said Isla. “That’s immediate productivity gains, totally worth it.”

“Maybe those fancy teas are in Luxon’s apartment,” mused Virat.

Episode four: 50,000 off the benefit by 2030

Aishu made us enchiladas, and as we ate, we pondered the impacts of business stagnation in a way the economists definitely weren’t. The government had just announced its target to get 50,000 people off the benefit by 2030. 

“They’ve put together this number in the context of a cut back on emergency housing, social support – I just think this isn’t going to work,” Aishu said. 

“The redundancies also don’t help,” Isla pointed out.

“Exactly,” said Aishu. “People are actively being moved out of employment. Which is the opposite of what we want.”

“Speaking of which, did I tell you James from work got let go?” asked Virat. 


“Yeah. He’d just moved his family down to the project region and everything. But after we lost government funding for one of the projects we were working on last year, we couldn’t keep him on.” Virat works for a private construction company, with public implications.

For a moment, we were all silent. 

“Did you say earlier you had good news?” Isla asked me, trying to change the subject.

“Um,” I said uncomfortably, shifting in my seat. “I just got a raise at work?”

Episode five: Voluntary redundancies and forced farewells

“So, we had a farewell party today for the voluntary redundancies,” Cyrus told me. He was sitting at the dining table, watching me chop carrots for my one-pan Mediterranean chicken bake (another RecipeTin Eats special).


“Picture this: a room full of people, and a few hundred dialling in virtually.” 

“Uh huh?”

“The chief executive gives a lovely speech, thanking everyone for their hard work.”


“But we don’t actually know who we’re farewelling.”

“What?” I put down the knife and stared at him. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“For privacy, they decided to keep the people who accepted a voluntary redundancy anonymous.”

“That sounds bizarre.”

“It was! Everyone who gave a speech had to keep it totally generic, and there was so much awkward silence,” said Cyrus. “It should have been bittersweet, but the mood kept swinging from like, happy but not too happy, to sad, but not too sad.”

“What did people say?”

“Strange things. Platitudes. Like, ‘you have to have a goodbye, to have a hello,’ and, ‘you will be missed,’ even though no one knew who we were missing. Or ‘you had an impact’, except we don’t know what it is.”

When the rest of the flat had gathered for kai, we asked Aishu how the voluntary redundancies were going at her ministry. 

“My colleague actually put in a request, and was rejected,” she said. “Half the applicants were, in the end. Which is so uncomfortable, because it’s bad either way – like it’s either ‘thank you for your work, you’re no longer needed’ or ‘you’re too important, we won’t let you leave.'”

“I mean, it could be kind of good, right?” I ventured. “At least some people feel valued?”

“But they’re at a risk of leaving anyway,” said Aishu. “We’re going to be severely under-resourced very soon. The people who are left will buckle under the pressure. We’ll still have the same targets and priorities, but with a dwindling workforce.”

Please believe me when I say that we don’t just talk about politics. We have a good time in our flat, getting up to the usual hijinks of 20-somethings the world over. We’re lucky to be privileged in the way that we are. There’s been so much warmth and laughter in our home, it might as well have been an unbelievably spacious apartment in New York City. 

But when I look at Cyrus, I see him getting more and more frustrated with certain policy decisions. I look at Aishu, and remember the 60-hour weeks she worked for two months straight, trying to get important projects over the line. The company Virat works for relies on the government staying the course on infrastructure. And Isla deserves far more than $4 saved a fortnight in tax.

Politics right now is permeating every layer of how we live, especially in Wellington. What might be just a news story about redundancies for some is a life-altering moment for local families and communities. We all know someone who’s lost their job, or is at risk in the near future. And now the budget is released, it’s clear there will be more influence still. 

What I hope for is that this government remembers that they’re responsible for all of us, not just the people who voted for them. Because while we may disagree on the solutions, if they’d ever like to hear about the people behind the headlines, there’s always a seat for them at our dinner table.

Keep going!