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Annette King Interviewed by Guyon Espiner

Sunday 13th November, 2011

Q+A interview with Labour’s Social Welfare spokeswoman, Annette King.

The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can be watched on tvnz.co.nz at, http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE. Repeats at 9.10pm Sundays, 9:05am and 1:05pm Mondays on TVNZ 7

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Annette King Interviewed by Guyon Espiner

Labour this past week released its policy on children, promising, among other things, to lift tens of thousands of families out of poverty by extending Working for Families to beneficiary families, and extending paid parental leave from the current 14 weeks to six months. I’m joined to discuss this policy by Labour’s deputy leader, Annette King. Thanks for coming in.

ANNETTE KING - Social Welfare, Labour
Morning, Guyon.

GUYON Back in 2009 Paula Bennett released some information about DPB mums. Now, I don’t want to discuss the ethics of her doing that, but what it did show is that you can easily earn $700-odd a week on the DPB. Now, even under your $15 an hour minimum wage, you’d get $600 a week in work. Now, I know there are exceptions and top-ups, etc. The point I’m making is that in some cases, there isn’t a large gap now between work and welfare, is there?

ANNETTE I think there’d be exceptions, and it would depend on the number of children. And something that’s often forgotten is that there is often a father who is paying back to Social Welfare on a weekly basis for their children. So you need to net off what is actually paid by the taxpayer. But they would be exceptions, and I think it’s all about caring for those children.

GUYON I accept that, and I don’t want to go into the technicalities of abatement rates, etc. The point is, though, you’re giving more money for people who are not working, and the criticism will be - where’s the incentive to go to work if I can sit around, not work, and get another $60 or $70 a week under your policy?

ANNETTE This policy is about the children, and I notice that most people talk about the beneficiaries, as if somehow that’s going to be a life of luxury sitting below the poverty line. What this policy was about was about trying to lift children out of poverty, because if we want to have another generation of people who are in the criminal justice system who don’t have work, then you don’t invest in them. We’re not prepared to do that.

GUYON No one doubts that, but it’s about whether you give people fish or give them a fishing rod, isn’t it? And you’re giving them the fish, but maybe not the fishing rod.

ANNETTE No, in fact, we’re giving both. We’re saying you ought to start by working with people to give them the skills for the jobs that they could go into. You don’t just say, ‘Sit there and maybe one day you’ll get a part-time job that doesn’t take your family out of poverty.’

GUYON Let’s take you up on that. At what stage, if any, should mum - and it often is mum - with a child who’s on a sole parent benefit, domestic purposes benefit, at what point should they go out and look for work? When the child is how old?

ANNETTE I don’t think there is a magic age to go out and work. What if you’ve got four children and the youngest one is a child with some health disability?

GUYON Well, that’s interesting. Let’s talk this through. So you would abolish National’s current plan to have mum go back to work when youngest reaches six?

ANNETTE Yes, because it is arbitrary. What I would do is I’d start my welfare policy before people leave school. I’d start it with my early childhood education so that every child got good education and were able to learn. I’d start it with my transition from school and training to give people the skills-

GUYON OK, that’s the long-term stuff. I respect that.

ANNETTE No, this is important, Guyon. That’s where I would start. And then when people do end up on a benefit, then you work with them to match their skills-

GUYON But no absolute obligation to go back out to work.

ANNETTE No, because it’s a nonsense if you say to people, ‘You must go back to work for 15 hours,’ when there isn’t a job for them to go to, and somehow or other you’re punishing them because they have applied and they want jobs and they cannot get jobs. I don’t agree with that.

GUYON Let’s look at the way that you previously worked this with Working for Families, because you had the in-work tax credit. Now, that policy was evaluated by IRD and the Ministry of Social Development. They came back and said that in June 2007 an additional 8100 sole parents engaged in paid employment as a result of those policy changes and that those in-work tax credits had given those incentive to go back to work. Why on earth would you take that incentive away?

ANNETTE We’re not taking it away. In fact, we’re saying to people who have got young children that they ought to be able to live and support those children before they can go back into- Let’s make it clear. I do believe the way out of poverty is employment, but just setting an arbitrary age, telling people there’s going to be a job out there and they’ve gotta go and find it, regardless of what impact that has on caring for those children is not the way to go. Give them the tools, give them the skills, match them up with a job that they can go to, and they will move off. Also, by lifting the minimum wage you will have that gap and incentive in terms of what you are paid.

GUYON Fair enough. You say that if you implement this policy you could effectively eliminate child poverty in sole-parent families. But that will depend, won’t it, on how that $60 is spent, and you can’t control that.

ANNETTE What it does is it sets a level of what a poverty level is in New Zealand for the first time, so we say, ‘If you are below this level, you are unable to support and live adequately and support those children.’ And by giving the additional $60 for that child, you’re enabling them to do that. And that’s what the policy is about.

GUYON But do you accept, as unpalatable as it may be, that there will be some families who spend that $60 in a way that doesn’t improve the health of their children?

ANNETTE Look, there’s always going to be some people who will spend their money inappropriately. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on a benefit or a millionaire. I think most parents want to do the best for their kids. They want to be able to do the best they can for them, whether it’s food or opportunities, and I think we’re too quick to blame people and say they won’t spend the money properly. That’s not my experience, and after all, I do deal with a lot of people on a daily basis as a constituency MP. That’s not my experience, Guyon.

GUYON Can I look at paid parental leave? You are saying that after 26 weeks, ultimately, mum can go back to work, right? In many cases. You’ll give 26 weeks paid parental leave and then in many cases mum will go back to work, right?

ANNETTE That’s a choice they’ve got.

GUYON So why is it so horrifying, then, that mum should look for work when baby reaches one? What’s the difference?

ANNETTE Look, what we’ve got for some people- The difference is for some people there’s a choice. For others, there’s not a choice. They haven’t got a job to go back to. They haven’t got the skills to go into a job. But I’m really keen on longer paid parental leave, because I think it’s really important that a parent or parents can spend as much time as possible in those very very early months. People know the value of that. And, you know, we are behind a lot of countries around the world.

GUYON They do have longer periods.

ANNETTE And why don’t we value that? Why don’t we say, ‘that’s a really important thing to do’?

GUYON OK. You’re calling this Agenda for Change Ten years ago, the government you were part of put out a paper, a big package, Agenda for Children. Now, apart from the similar name, it shared the similar objective. The aim was to end child poverty. Here we are ten years later. It didn’t work. You didn’t achieve that. Do you really believe that rolling out this policy by 2018, suddenly you’re going to end child poverty?

ANNETTE Well, first of all, I think you’re wrong. 130,000 children were lifted out of poverty-

GUYON By Working for Families, an in-work tax credit that you’re changing.

ANNETTE -which gave additional money to those families-

GUYON And you’re changing the policy quite fundamentally. It was Working for Families for working families, wasn’t it?

ANNETTE What we’re fundamentally doing is paying the same amount for families with children who are in part-time work or on benefits, because our focus has been on the children. We want to do the best for those children in New Zealand, lift them out of poverty. So we did lift families out of poverty. But for us it was unfinished business. What this does, actually, Guyon, is in the end it takes away the in-work tax credit and makes a payment for the children - the $60 a week for the children. You know, some of us can remember when we all used to get a payment for children. Mind you, in those days it was $6 a week, but we all got it – it didn’t matter whether you were a millionaire or a pauper.

GUYON All right. We’ve gotta leave it there. Thank you very much, Annette King, for joining us. We appreciate your time.

ANNETTE Thank you.


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