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Alliance policies have improved lot of the poor

June 10

Alliance policies have improved the lot of the poor

The reduction in poverty reported by the Government in the 2004 Household Economic Survey is largely the result of policy initiatives of the Alliance when it was in coalition with Labour.

Alliance Co-leader Jill Ovens says income-related rents in State houses, paid parental leave and job creation through Government intervention were all Alliance policies introduced during the Labour-Alliance Coalition, 1999-2002. These helped to turn around the destructive effects of benefit and wage cuts under successive National Governments during the 1990s.

"The National Government, which acted on the advice of Don Brash, then head of Treasury, deliberately drove down wages by attacking unions, cutting benefits and manipulating interest rates to create high unemployment. Whole communities were plunged into poverty. This is exactly what would happen again if they were allowed anywhere near the reins of power," she says.

However, while the reported reduction in poverty is heartening, Ms Ovens says far more radical policies are needed to ensure every New Zealander has a decent standard of living.

"Income-related rents only apply to those fortunate enough to be in State housing. The vast majority of low-income workers and beneficiaries are in private rental housing with exorbitantly high market rents, or they are struggling to cope with rising interest rates on mortgages in an overheated housing market."
The Alliance says the Government needs to make a major investment in building State houses to provide decent housing for families. Other interventions in the housing "market" would include significant low-interest, no deposit loans delivered through the Kiwi Bank and capital gains taxes to dampen down property speculation, as well as rent controls and stronger tenancy protection.

The Government is claiming a rise in real incomes for low-income families, but the reality is that despite economic growth of around 4% a year, wages have not risen at anything like that level for low-paid workers, Ms Ovens says.

"The most significant finding of the report is the widening gap between rich and poor. Some are benefiting from the Labour Government's policies, but this is at the expense of the vast majority of ordinary New Zealanders."

The report says more than one in five children in New Zealand are living below the official poverty line – a figure that increases to 42% of children in sole parent families living in poverty, reflecting the inadequacy of benefit levels and wages.

Ms Ovens says that although the percentage of children living in poverty has come down, the only acceptable level is zero poverty – "anything else is a disgrace".

She says the Alliance Party is standing in the election to fight for decent wages, secure jobs, free public health and education, and public control of essential services such as electricity and transport.

"The bottom line is that everyone must have equal access to a good basic standard of living and the Alliance is the only party that stands for a transformation of society and redistribution of wealth that would address the fundamental causes of poverty."

ENDS

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