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Children failed by Labour's Bill block

6 May 2004

Children failed by Labour's Bill block

Green MP Sue Bradford is disappointed that the Labour Government seems determined to block meaningful debate on improving support for children and families.

The first reading of Ms Bradford's Social Security (Child Benefit) Amendment Bill was at the halfway point when the House rose at 10pm last night. Both New Zealand First and United Future, parties not known for supporting Green initiatives, are supportive of the Bill proceeding to the Select Committee for detailed consideration but Labour has indicated it will vote against the Bill going any further.

"Even if Labour had decided to vote against this Bill in the long run, they could have at least had the decency to allow it to go to Select Committee," said Ms Bradford, the Green Spokesperson on Children's Affairs and Social Services.

"Surely Labour, a party that traditionally supports families and principles of equity, can allow this option to be considered alongside the other welfare and family support reforms they put forward in this year's budget.

"New Zealand has now been well and truly alerted to the situation of families like the one quoted in the Sunday Star Times last weekend, who are struggling to make ends meet on what appears to be a reasonably high income. Quite apart from such struggling 'above-average' income earners, nearly a third of our children still live in true poverty. It is time we put children first and foremost in Government policy making.

"The intention of my Bill is simply to restore the Family Benefit which was lost in 1991. Surely $15 a week for the first child and $10 for subsequent children is not such a radical and fiscally irresponsible idea that the public submission and Select Committee consideration process couldn't have been permitted to occur. Even in the UK a universal family benefit has been retained at around $47 a week for the first child.

"Universal provision of benefits is one simple way to get beyond the constant contradictions posed by the infinite graduations of targeting. Targeted systems create poverty traps where, for some, increases to parents' incomes are less than the subsidies and benefits lost. In some families, even comparatively well-off ones, the small amount of money paid through a Universal Child Benefit could well be the only discretionary income that primary caregivers have to spend on their children.

"Under the previous Family Benefit, many people were only able to afford their first home because they could capitalise the benefit for a deposit, a scheme that would be one remedy to the current housing crisis.

"If we can provide national superannuation at hundreds of dollars per week I fail to understand why we cannot afford to provide a small universal benefit to all children. The Greens have costed this proposal at roughly $650 million a year, a small amount compared to the cost of national superannuation and the current budget surpluses," said Ms Bradford.


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