The key to lifting people out of poverty is to improve education and build a better “economic engine” for everyone, not just the few, National’s leader says.
Christopher Luxon, as he first signalled during the party’s caucus retreat in Queenstown, reiterated that National would have a new focus on addressing poverty.
Breakfast host John Campbell asked Luxon what he would do to meaningfully engage and provide solutions in electorates where people were doing it tough.
“My argument to the party was when you look at centre-right parties around the world, people don’t think you care about them,” Luxon replied.
“The second thing is we don’t bring our solutions and centre-right politics … and apply that to the biggest problems. We stick to the economic, we stick to national security.”
He added: “For our kids to get ahead in the next 30 years and our grandkids, we’ve actually got to build a better economy, a better economic engine that actually lifts everybody, not just for the few.”
Getting people who relied on welfare into work was a priority, Luxon said.
Data from the end of 2021 showed there was a drop in the number of people on the benefit. However, it was still higher than pre-pandemic times.
“We need to work much harder on getting people from welfare to work in a world where we have low unemployment.
“You’ve seen lots of labour shortages, what are we doing? How can we not, at this time of our economic cycle? It’s a moral responsibility to get people from subsistence and poverty on welfare slightly better into proper work.”
He pointed to the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s recommendation to invest in helping people make a transition from being on welfare to work.
Luxon said National would look at which programmes work, and scale those up, and assess which ones didn’t.
Campbell pointed out that even if people did get work, if they were on a minimum wage, they still found it hard to get ahead. Meanwhile, National had been opposing increases to the minimum wage rate.
In April last year, while he was still a backbench MP, Luxon said the increase to the minimum wage — from $18.90 to $20 — was hurting small businesses.
Luxon told Breakfast he would support an increase to the minimum wage but only when the economy was growing 3 to 4 per cent so businesses could “digest” the increased cost.
When 1News asked Luxon on Monday what his party’s policy was to pull people out of poverty, he said it was work that the party would "get into''.
"We have ideas and I'm not ready to talk about them publicly, but what I can tell you is that we're doing the thinking around that, and actually saying what is the best way and the good way to get people into work from welfare."
Luxon had previously signalled he would want to replicate a Sir Bill English-style social investment approach to welfare.
The previous National-led Government had attracted criticism for some of its social policies, including benefit sanctions on solo parents who didn’t name the other parent of their child on birth certificates and the cutting of the Training Incentive Allowance to help sole parents with study fees.
‘Standards have slipped dramatically’ in education
Another big issue that needed to be tackled was education, where “standards have slipped dramatically”, Luxon said.
It echoed comments he first made in December when he told 1News education would be a focus for National in 2022 because standards had dropped in schools.
Luxon said it wasn’t fair to keep telling people to work hard when it took a good education for them to have social mobility to “lift up and rise out”.
Low school attendance and declining maths, science, and reading test results compared to other countries were among the concerns, he said.