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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): I think I have responded to—

CHAIRPERSON (Hon Anne Tolley): Sorry, if I just interrupt. I’m sorry. I don’t understand why my timer is not working in the House. So just to let you know that I’m using the timer. Are you using the timer? OK, well, that’s fine. Carry on.

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I feel that I’ve responded to the income threshold question. As I said, it’s aligned very closely with the thresholds for eligibility to supplementary supports, so that is the response. For the member, I’ll try and work through. So the timing, in terms of why 1 March, is because it was really in March that we started to see the impacts of this. There do have to be decisions made on time frames for anything that we put into place in this House. So that was the call that Cabinet has made. I think it was a responsible call, and we’ve put it up to the end of October.

Obviously, we are hoping—like, I’m sure, that side of the House is—that we will not feel the impacts, in terms of job losses, to the extent that many other countries are feeling it. But we have been given forecasts by Treasury that are dim, so for now we are responding as we go to the needs of New Zealanders and particularly here with respect to those that may lose jobs in light of what is happening.

I was asked by the member why no temporary benefit increases. I just need to remind the committee that on 1 April we did increase benefits across the board. The last benefit increase was put in place by the previous Government—I acknowledge that. That benefit increase was only for those with children. We made the decision to actually extend that to all beneficiaries. One of the big rationale for that was, actually, when I looked at the numbers and I realised we would miss 136,000 people who have a health condition or disability but do not have children, then clearly there was an argument to extend that benefit increase.

We also not only lifted benefits but, for this year, because of the stresses that New Zealand is going to be under and the concern that we had for our most vulnerable, we did double the winter energy payment. The additional benefit to that—primarily it is that people who are on the lowest incomes will be better off, but the additional impact of that is the economic stimulus impact, which is also very important during these times. I think, from memory, it was a $2.8 billion injection. We know that people on the lowest income spend that money, so it is an effective way to actually stimulate the economy. So it did serve more than one purpose, and in response to the member, we did do it.

I know that with Canterbury, following their job loss cover, which was a smaller time frame—as I said, six weeks and then extended for two—they did top up benefits for those affected in that area. We are talking about not a regional event; we are talking about a global pandemic with global impacts and obviously nationwide impacts for us as a country. So the scale of this is much larger and that’s reflected in the job loss cover that we have put in place here.