New Zealanders on benefits are set to see more money in their pockets, with the Government saying it is “righting a wrong” by giving a weekly boost of up to $55 a week, restoring “dignity and hope” to some of those on the lowest incomes.
Budget 2021 sees the “the biggest lift in a generation” to benefits, $1 billion for Māori, as well as an overall investment of $4.7 billion to health.
Main benefits will get a $20 a week top up from July, while additional payments will come in from April 2022.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Budget 2021 invests in health and wellbeing through the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and would help with job creation through infrastructure spend and that it “takes on the challenges” of housing, climate change, child wellbeing and inequality.
“What we are delivering today will help secure New Zealand’s future in every sense, whether it’s through the rebuild of our economy or the support of our people, it will leave a legacy I believe we can be proud of,” Ardern said.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the benefit boost was “the biggest lift in a generation”.
However, he acknowledged the Government still has “more work to do”.
“This year’s Budget is still in the shadow of Covid-19 and its focus is to secure our recovery from its impact,” Robertson said.
The Government has consistently come under fire for not implementing benefit increases, a recommendation from the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
Robertson said the Government was delivering Budget 2021 on the 30th anniversary of the "Mother of all Budgets", and was “undoing some of the damage done all those decades ago”.
“Today, we address the most inequitable of the changes made 30 years ago,” Robertson said.
National attacked the Government for failing to support businesses.
“Instead of supporting businesses to create jobs and lift wages Labour has focused on increasing the benefit," Andrew Bayly, National's shadow treasurer, said.
"All New Zealanders are feeling the weight of the rising cost of living as a result of Labour’s policies, but there’s little here for those Kiwis working hard on low wages.
“Labour will increase your benefit, but it won’t help you find work."
Benefits rates are set to rise, with rates to increase by at least $32 to $55 a week from April next year. That is in addition to a $20 boost to all main benefits in July.
It comes on top of the $25 benefit lift which came in during the Covid-19 response last year.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was “not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for our economy”.
“In the short term, these changes will help stimulate growth and in the longer term they’ll help break the cycle of poverty,” Ardern said.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the lift to main benefit rates would mean that by April next year, 109,000 families with children would have an extra $40 per week on average, people without children (263,000) would have an extra $42 a week.
Sepuloni said they expected it to lift 12,000 to 28,000 children out of poverty.
She said child poverty campaigners who called for welfare reform and media personalities covered the topic helped bring the issue into the public arena and to the attention of the Finance Minister.
“They should continue to hold us to account,” Sepuloni said.
The Government has been under pressure to address welfare gaps, after a key recommendation of the Welfare Advisory Group was to immediately lift benefit rates.
The Government is also increasing the income threshold for childcare assistance, so that 1000 more families are able to access low cost childcare services outside of school hours.
Budget 2021 puts aside $13.3m over four years for the expansion, as well as $9m to the Out of School Care and Recreation Service (OSCAR).
“OSCAR plays a vital role in supporting parents to gain and maintain employment and engage in further training and education,” Sepuloni said.
Health Minister Andrew Little said Budget 2021 increased primary care funding by $46.7m a year – “so that as our population grows, GPs can contribute to provide affordable healthcare to the people who need it most”.
It comes after this year’s announcement of sweeping reforms to New Zealand’s health system, which included scrapping the DHB model for a new centralised authority (Health NZ) and the creation of a Māori Health Authority.
“We must keep our hospitals running as we transform the health system so people can keep getting the operations and care that they need,” Little said.
“That’s why we’re giving District Health Boards $675 million more a year, as well as putting aside $700 million over four years for capital projects.”
Little expected the boost to Pharmac would impact about 370,000 patients.
Associate Māori Housing Minister Peeni Henare said that making sure Māori had access to warm, dry homes was important for “health, social and economic reasons”.
“Our people face constant housing challenges,” Henare said.
“They are less likely to own their own homes and more likely to face homelessness than their fellow New Zealanders. It has been this way for far too long.”
“We are making significant investments to build more homes across Aotearoa New Zealand,” he said.
“We will partner and invest with iwi in Māori-led housing solutions.”
Housing Minister Megan Woods said the ring-fencing of an additional $350m for Māori housing infrastructure would speed up the build of new homes.
“Despite some near-term weakness, the economy is expected to strengthen throughout the forecast period, supported by the return of international visitors and higher Government spending,” Secretary to the Treasury Caralee McLiesh wrote.
Growth was expected to rise from 2.9 per cent in 2021 to 4.4 per cent in 2023.
Overall – Budget 2021 give $1.4b over four years to operational funding for schools and early learning
The training incentive allowance, currently that only supports training at levels 1-3 of NZQF, is being expanded to allow students to go up to degree-level study.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni spoke of her own experience on the allowance as a single parent, before it was scaled back.
The allowance is available for sole parents, disabled people and carers who get a benefit, and is a maximum of $114.19 per week.
Social unemployment insurance in the works:
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the scheme “would cushion the impact of a job loss”.
“It would give workers the financial stability to find the right job for their skills, or to retrain for a new, fulfilling career path,” he said.
“Covid-19 has exposed how vulnerable employment can be, and the risk to dramatic income loss from employment to unemployment.”
“Finding a job takes time, and many workers may accept lower-paid jobs that don’t match their skillsets, because financial pressures mean they need work quickly.”
Robertson told media it was a “work in progress”, with a target if implementation in 2023.
Major redevelopment of Scott Base in Antarctica:
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the funding would ensure Scott Base “remains a place where our scientists can conduct world-leading science safely and effectively”.
“Their research to understand how climate change affects Antarctica, and the flow-on impacts to Aotearoa New Zealand and the rest of the world, is critically important.”
She said investment in Scott Base’s infrastructure was overdue.
“The outdated buildings and facilities that keep the residents alive in the coldest, driest, windiest place on earth have deteriorated. Doing nothing would eventually lead to the closure of the base.”
- $118.6 million for improved cervical and breast cancer screening
- $170 million pay boost over four years for early childhood teachers
- $67.4 million over four years to de-carbonise the public sector by 2025
Priorities for Budget 2021:
- Continuing the Covid-19 response
- Delivering priority and time-sensitive manifesto commitments
- Supporting core public services through managing critical cost pressures
- Continuing to deliver on existing investments