Organisers of Enough for All election forum last night, say they were pleasantly surprised to hear Andrew Little commit Labour to increasing benefit levels and ensuring everyone, no matter their relationship status, can access benefits entitlements.
“Hon Andrew Little spoke with surprising confidence of Labour’s commitment to improving these two core issues in our welfare system,” says ActionStation’s Ruby Powell.
“Over the last three years, people working and living on the frontlines of these issues have been pushing and pushing the Minister for Social Development for firm commitment to these changes to little avail,” says Powell.
Powell says National’s Nicola Willis answering ‘no’ to all the questions posed showed an ongoing disregard from National for evidence based solutions to child poverty and wealth inequality.
The Green party was the only party to answer ‘yes’ to all four questions.
The Enough for All forum was co-hosted by ActionStation, Tick For Kids, Equality Network, Child Poverty Action Group and Anglican Movement. The event featured lively, and sometimes shocking debates between the representatives of the political parties and the people asking them questions.
“The richest ten percent of New Zealand’s population own 59% of the nation’s wealth, while the poorest 50% of us own only 2%,” explained Leilani Naufahu.
At 18 years old and a first time voter, Naufahu knows only too well that it’s too much math for many of her friends to get their head around. So she developed a unique way of demonstrating these numbers to political leaders and the public last night.
“I used the kiwi favourite, a pavlova, because when I think of a thriving and equitable Aotearoa, it’s one where there’s enough pavlova and everyone gets a slice,” said Naufahu.
Naufahu challenged the party spokespeople at Enough For All as to whether they supported a wealth tax or some other measure to ensure our richest New Zealanders contribute more.
Susie Ferguson of RNZ, the event’s MC, was strict about getting a proper answer from each politician.
“Our audience is tired of politicians not giving a straight answer, so unless I get a Yes or No I won’t permit the candidate their minute to explain their answer,” said Ferguson.
In response to Naufahu’s question, National and New Zealand First said ‘no’, Labour, Greens and TOP said ‘yes’.
The election forum did not stop with wealth inequality. Candidates were also questioned by Stacey Ryan, whose chronic health condition means she has had to rely on income support payments for 8 years.
“There are so many reasons why people need income support, and no matter why, because of illness, disability, bereavement, or losing their job before - or because of - COVID-19, everyone deserves a decent, liveable income,” said Ryan.
Ryan’s question to the candidates was “Do you agree that current benefit rates are too low, and does your party promise to increase core benefit rates so that those of us reliant on you to survive have enough income to support ourselves, and be able to take part within our communities too?“
In response, the Greens and Labour said ‘yes’, TOP, New Zealand First and National said ‘no’.
Low benefit levels were not the only welfare issue candidates were challenged on. Single parent Alison Brooks challenged them on ensuring MSD will, no matter people's relationship status, enable equitable access to decent income support. Brooks explained how MSD’s relationship rules financially penalise people for being in relationships. Brooks said the rules pushed people into isolation, and went against the Crown's responsibility to Te Tiriti.
“These relationship rules are particularly harmful for single parents, more specifically, single mothers, and more pointedly, single, Maori mothers,” said Brooks.
When asked if their parties support individualising benefits and centering tikanga throughout government policy and practices, Labour, TOP and the Greens said ‘yes’, while National and New Zealand First said ‘no’.
Lastly, candidates were challenged on halting rising rents prices. Zoe told her story of flatting in Wellington, where $205 got her only a “shoe-box sized” room and was more than half her weekly income.
“This did NOT afford a warm, dry home. In my first winter in the flat, I noticed black mould on my ceiling. I alerted the property manager; she told me that I would need to clean it off myself or I would be charged out of my bond,” said Zoe.
When asked if their party supported introducing rent caps to limit the amount by which landlords can raise rent, the Greens and TOP said ‘yes’, the rest of the parties said ‘no’.
Representing the political parties were Ricardo Menendez-March for the Greens, Andrew Little for Labour, Geoff Simmons for TOP, Nicola Willis for National and Taylor Arneil for NZ First. Susie Ferguson informed the Zoom, Facebook livestream and Twitch TV audiences of over 200 people that Act and the Māori party were also invited but unable to send someone.
At the end of the event, the Zoom and Facebook audiences were polled to give their feedback on the party’s responses. The result showed Greens with a clear majority with 66.6%, TOP was next with 20%, Labour gained 11.4%, New Zealand First 1.9% and National didn’t receive any votes.