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Metiria Turei’s 2015 Budget Speech: The abandoned generation

21 May 2014

Metiria Turei’s 2015 Budget Speech: The abandoned generation


Introduction

Mr Speaker

Today John Key could have kept his promise to reduce child poverty.

Today John Key could have backed all those young New Zealanders out there doing it tough.

Today, children in poverty needed a game-changer.

But instead, the Prime Minister chose to do the barest minimum for poorest children and to abandon the hopes of our younger generations.

In a classic display of smoke and mirrors, John Key gave to our poorest children with one hand today, while taking away with the other.

An increase to benefits, desperately needed and woefully overdue, is eroded in many cases by reduced accommodation and emergency payments.

Meanwhile, instead of fixing Working for Families, it remains broken and unfair with only those on the very lowest incomes set for an increase – in most cases the equivalent of a block of cheese.

Perhaps its cruellest reveal today was John Key’s plan to force young mums of toddlers in to work, when their child is barely three years old.

Mr Speaker, forcing the parents of toddlers in to work is not a solution to child poverty.

Denying young New Zealanders the $1,000 KiwiSaver kickstarter that older generations got is not helping them make their way in the world.

This Budget is not for our kids and it’s not for those under 40, the abandoned generations.

This is the Budget of a Government that has abandoned those under the age of 40.

John Key boasts that he is building a stronger economy.

But I want to know who he’s building it for?

Because unless the economy is working for everyone, it is not working.

When a young couple is trying to save for a deposit on a home, but the price of a house is rising by $1000 a day, don’t tell them the economy’s working.

When Kiwis in their 20’s spend four or five years at university, but the only job they can find at graduation is in a call centre, don’t tell them the economy is working.

When nurses and teachers are getting a one to two percent pay rise this year, but the CEO of ANZ is pocketing more than $4 million, it is clear as day who John Key’s economy is working for.

When thousands of our children show up to school hungry every single day, it can’t be right to say the economy is working.

An economy that delivers so much for so few, while abandoning the rest, is broken.

But there is an alternative.

A good economy - one that works for all of us.


Inequality is wrong

And all of us includes our kids. The worst of this Budget of broken promises is the promises John Key broke for kids.

Despite all the Prime Minister’s promises about tackling child poverty in his third term, today we see only the barest acknowledgement of the drivers of poverty - low income and low wealth.

A quarter of all New Zealand kids now live in families where there’s not enough income to provide for the basics. An additional 35,000 more kids are living in severe poverty since National came to power.

Those kids deserve family incomes sufficient for them to thrive now, and they also need the chance of a good life in the future.

I’m sorry, Mr Speaker, but a $25 benefit increase, which could be eroded to $12 or $13 by cuts to a parent’s accommodation supplement and hardship grant will not go far for a single mum with three kids.

$4 or $5 a week each is not enough to lift a child out of poverty and this Government knows it.

Children needed a game changer today and they didn’t get it.

The Green Party’s plan for a savings scheme for every child is the example of an inequality circuit breaker.

Our Kids’ KiwiSaver policy will offer all newborns a kick-start deposit of $1,000 and matching savings contributions to help families save for their children’s future.

Under this policy, most children could reasonably build a nest egg of $12,900 by the age of 18 that they can then use to help fund a good education, invest through an adult KiwiSaver for their retirement, or use to help with a deposit on a first home.

Maintaining the gap between those with a lot and the rest in New Zealand is bad economics.

The OECD warned late last year that inequality had inflicted more damage on the New Zealand economy than any other developed country, wiping ten percent off potential economic growth.

Poverty is dangerous for children, but it is also clear evidence of an economy that is broken, an economy that is not working for everyone.


The abandoned generations

Young New Zealanders were promised a brighter future by National.

But in reality, the future is looking darker for most New Zealanders under 40. People under 40 have been abandoned by John Key. They are the abandoned generations.

New Zealanders aged under 40 have never been less likely to own a home, never been burdened with more student debt, never been more likely to be underemployed, and in the case of children, never been more likely to be sick from a disease of poverty or to turn up to school hungry.

What amazes me about young New Zealanders is how often they stay positive, despite how much is stacked against them.

Last week I watched the 2014 Victoria University graduates as they paraded down Lambton Quay.

Among them was the young brother of a colleague of mine who graduated last year with an architecture degree. It is quite a thing to get an architecture degree. You need a B+ average just to make it through the first year, and then there’s four years of full-on study, all night grafting, that follows.

This young man graduated top of the class, not just in architecture, but in the entire School of Design. For all his hard work, and his tremendous successes, this brilliant, creative young man has come away with a $40,000 student loan, and a job as a cook in a local café. He earns just over the minimum wage.

I’m not denying that young man his hope, or his pride, or his happiness after one of the biggest weeks of his life. He quite likes his job in the cafe. He knows there are others much worse off than him.

But we really need to ask, is this really the brighter future John Key was promising young New Zealanders?

Or is it another sign that the Government has abandoned them?

I’m 45 and I was lucky enough to have finished most of my degree before the student loan scheme came along.

The average 22 year old woman who graduates with a bachelor’s degree today could be 50 years old before she pays off her student loan.

It is a truly staggering thought.

This is the reality for the abandoned generations.

Then again, if you’re young and you don’t have a tertiary qualification, if you’re a labourer, or a shop assistant, or a rest home carer, the future may even be tougher.

The National Government has abandoned young workers, and young families.

Let me tell you about some young New Zealanders who this Government has abandoned, Sarah and Rob – not their real names, but very real people.

Sarah is a young mum of 30 who, along with her husband Rob, is expecting their second child any day. Their little girl Eva is 5.

Sarah volunteers for the Salvation Amy helping to feed homeless people and she worked part time in a shop before her morning sickness got too bad.

Rob has a heart condition but works hard, till recently too hard, working 50, 60 hour weeks to bring home just enough money for the family.

But even with both of them working they were stable but not secure. A few weeks after Sarah had to quit her job for the baby’s sake, Rob’s hours were cut from 60 to 38 each week.

Even though Rob earns an okay hourly rate – they earn just below the median wage – it’s not enough to cover their rent in Auckland, food and petrol and, crucially, any unexpected expenses.

Sarah told me that if Rob loses any more hours a week – and it’s likely he will – they will not be able to cope.

“But we’re lucky,” she says, “because there are places to get things, like the Sallies, to help. But this is not comfortable. I work with those who are homeless and worry at how close we are getting.”

Sarah and Rob’s story is by no means out of the ordinary, in fact it’s typical of so many New Zealanders, working hard but barely getting by and whose prospects for economic security are low. They are the abandoned generation. They got absolutely no help from this Budget.

Bill English told us today about the increased numbers of New Zealanders in work.

What he didn’t say was that among those he claims have a job are people who are working as little as an hour a week, or who are doing unpaid work, on the family farm, for example.

A staggering 104,000 New Zealanders who the Government boasts are in work are officially considered underemployed; that means they are working, but not earning enough to live and they want more hours.

In the past two years alone, National has overseen a 20 percent increase in the number of Kiwis who are underemployed.

Most of these people are young, disproportionate numbers are Māori, lots of them are parents whose children are living in poverty and most are blue collar workers, like labourers, and carers.

The National Government is creating an enormous underclass of the underemployed. But it gets worse.

The lowest earning half of New Zealanders have seen no real rise in their pay in the six years John Key has been in power.

Last year, when the economy grew by 3.3 percent – average wages only increased by half as much – 1.7 percent. I think workers have every right to question where the fruits of their labour are going.

The answer is the fruits of their labour are going to someone else.

The economy is not working for half of all wage earners.

Half of all wage earners have been abandoned by this Government. They are prisoners of an economy that does not work for them.

A Government out of touch

It would be easy to say that John Key’s Government doesn’t care about young people.

But I think its greatest sin is its nonchalance. It is fundamentally out of touch with the real lives of real New Zealanders.

The National Party lives in a different world.

This is probably news to John Key, who till recently considered himself very in touch with young people. At least those with pony tails.

This Budget was drawn up by people who’ve never sat at the kitchen table with a mountain of bills, and agonised over whether they should pay for the power this week, or pay for their son’s school camp.

People who’ve never had an enormous student loan, who mostly got their education for free.

The Budget was drawn up by a National Party caucus, comfy with their bountiful property portfolios, out of touch with the plight of young first home buyers.

It was written by people like Social Development Minister Anne Tolley who actually said if your kids are hungry put some bread in the toaster. The ‘let them eat toast’ approach to child poverty is prevalent in this Government.

People who have no idea how frightening it is to lose a job, and then suffer the double financial whammy of losing Working for Families payments too. This is an out of touch Budget, written by the out of touch, for the out of touch.

So let me put you in touch.

Sarah and Rob are up against it every week. Like most young families they’re one large unexpected expense away from a disaster.

About the same time Sarah had to give up her job, their rental home was discovered to be full of asbestos. Their daughter’s asthma was getting worse and their doctor told them they needed to move. They were forced to shift and the bottom fell out of their lives. With no savings and no job security they had no chance of buying a house and struggled to get any recompense for their shoddy rental. Sarah had to drop a legal case against the landlord because she just didn’t have the money for the fight.

“Ours is a common story,” she told me. “We spend $400 a week for a two bedroom house. We can’t get a state house. There are no backups for low income middle class working families like us.”

So don’t insult Rob and Sarah by telling them the economy is working for them, Prime Minister.

Do something to make it work.


Backing young parents into a home

A good start would be giving Rob and Sarah the same shot at buying a home that previous generations had.

Here’s a fact: people under 40 are much less likely to own their own home than they were before John Key came to power. Home ownership among people in their 30s has reduced by 21 percent under National, its dropping faster than any other group.

The Kiwi dream of a home has been downgraded to the nightmare of generation rent.

National has abandoned the home ownership aspirations of young New Zealanders to protect the capital gains of their parents.


There are about 300,000 so called “mums and dads” in New Zealand who own two or more homes.

It is this vast population of property investors – most who are my age or older – who political parties are petrified of alienating with a comprehensive capital gains tax.

But until politicians have the guts to fully stop the incentives that are driving older New Zealanders to invest in property over more productive investments, younger people like Rob and Sarah will never have a chance.

When Rob and Sarah get old, they’re not expecting to own one home, let alone two or three.

The dramatic decline in home ownership amongst the abandoned generations is John Key’s housing legacy, a policy welcome mat to the boomers and an eviction notice to Gen X and Y.

I call on John Key to choose to back young New Zealanders into their own home.

I call on John Key to be brave and stop abandoning young New Zealanders.


Conclusion

Mr Speaker, I’ve heard commentators say how embarrassed they were when the Prime Minister made international headlines after pulling a café worker’s ponytail.

But for me, the Prime Minister’s hair pulling antics are nothing to the embarrassment I feel at his decision to not feed hungry children at school.

This decision, more than any other, symbolises how much the National Government has lost touch with what really matters to New Zealanders.

The Green Party’s Facebook post about John Key’s decision to vote against the feed the kids bill was viewed by 1.2 million people, more than any other post we have ever put up.

More than a million people, shocked that their Government would deny a hungry child a meal

An apple, yoghurt and a marmite sandwich can unleash the potential of thousands of kids too hungry to learn.

The alternative, of course, would be to feed those kids.

Because there is an alternative to National’s economy for the few.

There is an alternative, and it works better.

New Zealand will only succeed if we all succeed.

The Green Party will back young New Zealanders, women, Māori, and all those who started behind on John Key’s race to the top and have never been given the chance to catch up.

Because we can pay families a decent wage. We just have to choose to.

We can feed children when they’re hungry at school. We just have to do it.

We can reduce our carbon emissions. We just need the commitment.

And we can eradicate child poverty because the alternative – to keep children poor – is simply not acceptable.

Mr Speaker, what this country so desperately needed today was imagination and leadership, the courage to make change and hope for something so much better.

It is possible for our small country to be run on the principles of sustainability, fairness and community; we just need leaders prepared to do it.

This is the new alternative. And not only is it possible, it’s proven. When our economy works for everyone, we are all better off.

ends

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