Annette King’s speech to the Labour Party conference over the weekend was all about how Labour’s policy will focus on children and “put our children first”.
It all sounds quite familiar, but, all cynicism aside, it is really good to hear Labour talking like this. The more political parties put children at the heart of their policy development, the better off we’ll all be.
The proof though is in the degree to which Labour will risk votes in the centre to truly work for the poor.
So, I’d invite the Labour Party to take a look at our Mind the Gap package for reducing inequality in New Zealand, especially if they really are committed to breaking the cycle of poverty.
If they are serious, then here’s something they can adopt right now –we’ve already done all the work for them – extend the In-Work Tax Credit (IWTC) to the children of beneficiaries.
A bit of background: under Working for Families, Labour introduced the IWTC as an additional way to support low-income families with dependent children. It’s a tax credit available to parents on low incomes, to ensure that their kids get the basics: food, clothing, a warm, dry home. For families with 1-3 kids its worth an extra $60 per week.
But there’s a catch. The IWTC is only available to parents who are in employment, and not to families in which the parent/s are on a benefit, even though they are the poorest families. For the children of these families, who need the basics just as much, this is just discrimination. Why should some kids from some low-income families get extra support, but not others? The Human Rights Review Tribunal agrees that the IWTC amounts to real and substantive discrimination, and yet it persists.
140,000 of our poorest kids are missing out on vital support because their families are denied access to the IWTC. With the level of child poverty we have in New Zealand, this is just not ok.
Extending the IWTC to the children of beneficiaries is part of our Mind the Gap package, and we also have a members’ bill drafted and ready to go.
I’d be delighted if Labour showed their commitment to “breaking the cycle of socio-economic deprivation” by adopting our policy especially since it was Labour’s decision to exclude beneficiary children in the first place.