Starting April this year, the National Party's Government led by Prime Minister John Key has initiated several policy changes benefiting kiwi families, particularly the low-income households. This includes decreasing ACC levies, increasing parental tax credit and paid parental leave, as well as upping the weekly benefit rates for families with children by $25.
Facing criticism for not doing enough to tackle growing inequality and child poverty in New Zealand, the National Government seems to have finally woken up. Starting with several announcements that came into effect on April 1, carrying it through the annual Budget presented by Finance Minister Bill English on May 21, and wrapping up with a slew of measures in place starting this month, John Key has ventured into Labour's territory. Or so it seems, say political observers.
First change announced in April was making home ownership affordable to all kiwi families. For this, the Government, under its HomeStart programme, increased the amount and eligibility criteria for New Zealanders and allowed withdrawing of up to $20,000 from KiwiSaver accounts to put towards deposits for buying homes.
Other changes included increase of paid parental leave by two weeks to 16 weeks; and increase of parental tax credits from $150 a week to $220 a week, with the entitlement also being raised from eight weeks to 10 weeks. There was also an increase of 50 cents in the hourly adult minimum wage to make it $14.75 now.
“A strong economy also leads to more jobs and better wages. It’s only through a strong, growing economy that we are able to deliver important policies like these that will benefit New Zealand families,” noted the PM while commenting on the above measures.
Following his leader's cue was the Minister of Finance Bill English, who announced in his annual budget speech that benefit rates for families with children will rise by $25 a week after tax from April next year.
Additionally, April 2016, will also see changes to the Working for Families scheme, which will give more financial support to lower-income working families not on a benefit.
“Low-income working families earning $36,350 or less a year, before tax, will get $12.50 extra a week from Working for Families, and some very low-income families will get $24.50 extra,” English said.
Also, childcare assistance for low-income families will be increased from $4 an hour to $5 an hour, for up to 50 hours of childcare a week per child, from the same time next year.
Final chapter in the boost to kiwi families came into effect from July 1, which included free GP visits and prescriptions to all children under 13, benefiting over 400,000 kiwi kids.
The Government also announced an increase in the paid parental leave payments with the maximum weekly rate for eligible employees and self-employed parents going from $504.10 to $516.85 gross.
“Doctor’s visits and prescriptions are already free for children under the age of six and thanks to our careful management of the government’s books we have been able to extend this policy to all children under 13,” said the PM while giving assurance of more funding to hospices in helping them expand their community palliative services.