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Greens launch CED / Income Support policy - Speech

Greens launch Community Economic Development / Income Support policy

14 July 2002

Greens launch Community Economic Development / Income Support policy Speech notes, Otara Market Sue Bradford MP

Kia ora koutou,

Thanks very much for coming along today to share in our launch of the Green Party's Income Support and Community Economic Development policies.

While a lot of people are focusing at the moment, for obvious reasons, on our position on GE, it is just as important that we continue to share with people the many ideas we have about Green solutions to things like poverty and unemployment - that we are on about social responsibility and economic justice just as much as we're on about saving the planet.

I don't need to tell you here today about the realities of life for so many people at the moment, even under a Labour-Alliance Government. The last Household Labour Force Survey in March of this year showed registered unemployment at 173,000; benefits have not been restored to their pre 1991 equivalent levels; and we all know that in many cases things like food bank use are actually going up instead of down.

Over the last two and a half years the Green Party in Parliament has done everything we could to try and advance the interests of unemployed people and beneficiaries and the organisations that work with and for them - but I'm afraid progress has been all too slow. On the other side of the coin, we have also been fighting for greater recognition of community economic development as one of the major ways out of unemployment and poverty, but again, to little avail.

We have developed detailed policy in both these areas. I don't have time to go into all of it today, but I will outline some of the main planks of our Income Support and Community Economic Development strategies this afternoon. If you'd like more information, feel free to ask questions or to visit our website at www.votegreen.org.nz .

Turning to Income Support first of all, our policy is underpinned by principles of sufficiency, simplicity and universality. That is, benefits should be enough for a person and a family to live on with dignity; the benefit system should be kept as simple as possible; and that as much as we can, we should aim to keep all elements of income support universal, as we do with national superannuation.

Alongside this, and equally important, we seek to make an overarching Government commitment to full employment, with a far more proactive role for Government in job creation. The Green Party is not, as some representatives of other political parties would have you believe, a party which advocates for benefit dependency.

Rather, we say that yes, we do have far too many people on benefits in NZ, but the solution is not benefit cuts and harassment of beneficiaries - rather it is to get everyone who wants and needs a job into decent work at proper wages as soon as possible.

Key elements of our income support policy include:

Introduction of a Universal Child Benefit at $15pw for the first child and $10 a week for subsequent children.

Setting benefit amounts at levels such that beneficiary income is enough for all basic needs.

Establishing a two-tier benefit system consisting of a universal base rate, with add-ons for specific circumstances or additional needs, such as children, disability or chronic illness.

Support for urgent Government action to address the problem of benefit abatement for those moving into employment, and the removal of the poverty trap created by high marginal tax rates that exist for people on low incomes.

Support for a full and wide ranging public debate on the possible nature of a UBI (Universal Basic Income) system as applied to NZ, with Government funding for detailed research into impacts and mechanisms for a UBI.

We'd also like to ensure that the Ministry of Social Development and the Dept of Work and Income treat people with dignity and respect; that they make positive efforts to inform all beneficiaries of their full entitlements right from the start; and that people who register unemployed get vocational guidance and careers assistance right through their time with the Dept, rather than having to wait for months or years for this kind of help.

We oppose stand-down periods, and want to bring to an end the regime which work-tests and sanctions people on the DPB and Widows Benefits and those who are the spouses of unemployed and sickness beneficiaries caring for dependents.

If in Government the Green Party would also do its utmost to ensure that those community groups who provide advice, support and services to unemployed people and beneficiaries and their families receive a much better deal in terms of funding and other forms of infrastructure support.

I tried very hard in our most recent Green Party Budget process to gain a small allocation of funding for beneficiary advocacy groups, but failed completely as the Labour Alliance Government would simply not accept that there should be dedicated funding for this purpose, even though the money came from the Green Party budget rather than their own allocations.

Nothing has changed since 1984, when before the election Labour promised to fund our groups, and never went through with it.

Turning to the other half of this presentation, the Green Party doesn't believe it's enough to bleat on about the problems facing people who've missed out on the so-called boom times of the last few years - we are also keen to show that we have a whole range of ideas about how unemployment and the withdrawal of services from some local communities can be solved. One part of this strategy is something we call 'community economic development'.

Some characteristics of CED from a Green perspective are that firstly, it is set within the context of the wider community sector, and is a different part of the economy than either the public sector (that is, Government and local Government) or the commercial, for-profit sector.

Secondly, CED encompasses organisations and enterprises that are under some form of community or collective control, and which have a commitment to generating employment and economic activity locally.

Thirdly, the processes of such organisations at least attempt to be bottom up rather than top down, and also work to retain their autonomy from control by Government, local Government or other funding bodies.

The wider community sector in this country already constitutes a major part of the economy. For example, one study carried out in 1996 estimated that at that time not for profit organisations collectively represented an annual income in excess of $2,000 million, and I'm sure it's gone up since then. Within the sector, tens of thousands of people work on both a paid and voluntary basis, creating jobs and products and providing services, both environmental and social.

Key elements of the Green Party's CED policy in this election include:

Improving access to both grant funding and capital for community enterprise, small business support centres and self and group employment creation ventures, which demonstrate adherence to principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Supporting local initiatives which keep finance and production of goods and services local. These include:

Creating an enabling environment for community banks, credit unions, cooperatives and regional business support schemes.

Supporting the development of local currency schemes such as LETS / Green Dollars, bartering and alternative currencies.

Supporting communities that wish to carry out an audit of their resources, skills, training needs and money flows in their local economy, so that they can work on how to keep and create more jobs.

We are also keen on doing anything we can to support the establishment of genuine community owned banking in this country, with the Bendigo Bank in Australia being the closest model to what we're looking at at this stage. The aim of this is to keep money circulating locally, to provide banking for both individuals and small business, farmers and community owned business, and to have a banking system which is genuinely in community ownership, including democratically elected, accountable shareholder directors.

In a slightly wider context we are also committed to decreasing our dependence on exports by things like encouraging buy local campaigns, import substitution strategies, and supporting the creation within NZ of durable high value products made by well trained, well treated and well paid workers.

We would also like to see greater Government recognition of the significant contribution of the community sector by improving resourcing, training and accountability mechanisms across all levels of Govt and local Govt, and as a first step, we would like to see COGS funding doubled immediately. We'd also like to see at least a percentage of the profits of non-casino gaming machines brought under community control in terms of where the money goes. These profits are taken from the poorest communities and the poorest people in the country. At least some of the proceeds should come back to those people through the organisations that serve them.

We have been following the progress of the Government working group on relationships between the Government and the community or voluntary sector - that process isn't finished yet, but we hope that in the end we will begin to see some real and actual changes on the ground, rather than just more fine words from the Minister.

There is more that I could say but I'm sure that's enough for now - I welcome your questions.

ends

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