A great deal of disgruntlement was generated by the one press statement to be released from the Beehive yesterday.
The Government announced the COVID Income Relief Payment, a $570 million temporary programme to support New Zealanders who lose their jobs due to the global COVID-19 pandemic – it will help them to adjust and find new employment or retrain.
The good news (but only for eligible residents and citizens) was reflected in headlines such as Covid 19 coronavirus: Kiwis who lost jobs in pandemic crisis to get $490 a week income relief payment.
The announcement of the Covid Income Relief Payment was accompanied by news that work is under way
“ … on the possibility of a more permanent unemployment insurance scheme in New Zealand. The Future of Work Ministers group has commissioned the work following a request from Business New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions.
“As we move from the respond and recover phases of our COVID response, and towards rebuilding the economy, we have an opportunity to reset some of the foundations of the safety net for working New Zealanders.
“Around the world there are many examples of countries that created strong systems to cushion the blow of job loss through both income protection and retraining. These schemes ensure workers don’t suffer large income drops if they’re made redundant through no fault of their own, and save on redundancy costs for businesses going through restructuring.”
The headline writers tended to pay less heed to this bit of the Beehive statement and focused more on the new income support payment.
This will entitle fulltime workers suddenly made redundant to $490 a week; part-time workers will get $250, which is also available for students.
The payments – to be provided for 12 weeks from June 8 – will be tax-free.
People who receive the Covid payment must meet certain conditions and:
- Be available for, and actively seeking, suitable work opportunities while they receive the payment
- Take appropriate steps towards gaining new employment; and
- Identify and take opportunities for employment, re-deployment and training.
But it didn’t take long for the announcement to be followed by a chorus of carping.
One line of grievance was that the new benefit shows the government is being too miserly with other benefits.
The existing jobseeker benefit for people over 25 is set at a maximum of $250 after tax.
The difference between the two payments shows the $250 a week benefit is not enough to live on.
Council of Christian Social Services secretariat Trevor McGlinchey – typically – said the new, more generous payment should be extended to all unemployed.
“We’re going to have an awful lot of two-income families that are reduced to one income.”
Another complaint was that the new benefit leaves out migrants and existing beneficiaries.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni countered the migrant element of this grievance by saying Civil Defence Emergency Management was sufficient to help migrant workers stranded in the country without employment.
Others grumbled about two different standards being set.
Peter Sykes, chief executive of Mangere East Family Services, said the Income Relief Payment creates a second class of beneficiaries.
New National Party leader Todd Muller climbed on to this bandwagon and declared:
“We hold the view that this should be ideally the same. The idea that we have two tiers is a challenge. If you hold the view that unemployment benefit is a certain level, but then for a period of time, just for a certain group of people, it should be a different payment, we think there’s not a coherence to that,” he said.
Does this mean he would lower the Income Relief Payment or raise the jobseeker benefit?
The 12-week scheme is forecast to cost about $570 million. This incorporates $1.2 billion of payments offset by $635 million of saved benefit payments, with small administrative costs.
The Government today announced a new temporary payment to support New Zealanders who lose their jobs due to the global COVID-19 pandemic to adjust and find new employment or retrain.