(Photo: Getty Images/Graphic: Tina Tiller)
(Photo: Getty Images/Graphic: Tina Tiller)

OPINIONPoliticsMay 20, 2020

Marama Davidson: The budget falls short for people on low incomes

(Photo: Getty Images/Graphic: Tina Tiller)
(Photo: Getty Images/Graphic: Tina Tiller)

We need an overhaul of our social safety net, with more of us needing help than ever before, writes Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

A genuinely transformational overhaul of our social safety net would mean supporting everyone to live the life they want with dignity. A fit-for-purpose set-up means prompt, kind, understanding support when you need it, and benefit rates that don’t require weekly top-ups from foodbanks and accommodation supplements. It’s a kind system, based on an obligation to create social and economic justice for all.

This year’s budget contains many important initiatives. There are thousands of green jobs, warm, dry housing, more support for family violence agencies, and a massive extension to the food in schools programme. But while there is plenty to celebrate – including billions of dollars in investment which will directly help low income families – there’s still more to do. We need to make sure we keep pushing to improve the lives of people on the lowest incomes. People struggling to keep a roof over their heads, and food on the table.

Many people in Aotearoa agree that we need an overhaul of our social safety net, with more of us needing help than ever before. In 2002, the Auckland City Mission gave out 3,000 food parcels, but in the 2018/19 financial year, they gave out 23,000. In the last three months alone, demand for food parcels has doubled again. In the wake of Covid-19, huge numbers of people are seeking support to pay the bills. We must ensure we have the right support, and enough of it, to offer them.

It’s been almost 30 years since the Mother of All Budgets plunged our welfare state into crisis, where it has been ever since. The Greens have a vision of a social safety net which gives people enough money to live with dignity. A system which doesn’t get involved in their relationships, or punish them with unfair sanctions. Only the Green Party is committed to overhauling our welfare system and rebuilding our social safety net. It is a key part of our Confidence and Supply agreement, and something we won’t stop pushing for.

But that’s not the end of the work. After addressing the immediate needs, we need to go further. We need to explore the impact of the Covid crisis on the cost of living, on food and rent and power bills, and we need to make sure benefit levels and minimum wage keep up with these changes. This crisis of income and inequality has been building for decades, and we must put measures in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated how quickly our systems can change when they need to. The Green Party worked hard for changes to our welfare system. This helped bring an up to $25 boost to weekly benefits, and saw the doubling of the winter energy payment. These are a start, and we know how much of a difference these changes will make. In this situation every dollar makes a difference but it falls short of what is required for people to live in dignity, children to be taken out of poverty or to address inequality. We need to urgently go further, and to keep pushing for a complete rethink of how we look after people who need help, when they need it most.

In the aftermath of this pandemic, we have a chance to hit reset, and reimagine Aotearoa exactly how we want it. Now is the time to ensure everyone is cared for, and to create a future where we can all thrive. It has never been clearer how much we need each other. During this crisis, we’ve talked a lot about kindness, and seen it too. Now is our chance to really demonstrate that kindness, through an overhaul of our social safety net. The lives of so many in Aotearoa depend on it.

Keep going!