Ending Poverty Together - James Shaw Speech

The mark of a civilised society should be that - at the very least - everyone has a warm place to call home and food on the table. 

So, how can it be that in a wealthy country like ours there are people who have so few options in life that they are forced to live in places that cannot even guarantee their safety in a fire.

The recent fire at Loafers Lodge boarding house in Wellington was symptomatic of one of the greatest political and policy failures of the last generation.

It was not just a human tragedy. 

But a preventable disaster made possible by the failure of successive governments to prioritise the lives and livelihoods of those who need our support the most. 

Everything we need to make life better for people in Aotearoa already exists. 

What’s missing is the political willpower to use it. 

The Greens are saying ‘enough’ to the politics of indifference. 

Today we say that, in the next term of Parliament, we will take action to lift every family in Aotearoa out of poverty. 

Every. Single. Family. 

***

Inflation has stretched household budgets to breaking point – including for many middle-income families as well.

Food, rent, mortgage repayments, power bills. 

What this means for the day-to-day experience of thousands of families - and in particular families on low incomes - is even more shocking. 

One in 10 children are growing up in poverty. For Māori, it is one in five.

How is it possible that in a wealthy country like ours there are thousands of children without enough to eat, a good bed, warm clothes, and decent shoes?

Where kids are taking days off school so that they can work to support their families.

Parents all over the country are being forced to cut back on food to pay the bills. Homes are cold and damp all the time, and making children sick.

The pressure of poverty is immense. 

The stress it causes is toxic.

It can be unbearable. 

***

For decades, successive governments have repeatedly denied their ability to fix major problems.

They tell us their hands are tied. 

They say only little steps are possible.

But Aotearoa is a wealthy country. We have everything we need.

Little steps do not take you very far.

Right now, just 311 families own more wealth than the bottom two and half million New Zealanders. 

That inequality is not an inevitability. 

It is a political decision. 

So, if people want to know why we haven’t rebalanced wealth to give everyone what they need to thrive, then look no further than the ongoing failure to fix the tax system. 

The tax rules created by successive governments rank near the bottom of the world for their contribution towards reducing inequality. 

There are 135 other countries where the tax system does a better job than ours of contributing to more equal income distribution. 

There has been some progress in recent years. 

The Governments that we have been a part of since 2017 have lifted just shy of thirty thousand children out of poverty. 

But here’s a question: why not everyone?

Why not the remaining 45,000? 

For too long, governments have been tinkering at the edges instead of taking the bold decisions people need right now. 

If you’re not willing to take those decisions on behalf of the people of the country you purport to lead, then why are you in politics at all? 

***

What we do to prioritise the lives and livelihoods of those who need our support the most should be a measure of every political party.

In fact, I would argue that any party that stops short of promising to lift every family out of poverty, is actively choosing to make life harder for thousands of people.

They are essentially saying to thousands of people who cannot afford to put food on the table, that’s it. That’s your lot. 

It is an indictment that some of our politicians are more interested in manufacturing outrage over a few Māori words on road signs than helping those who need it most. 

To that, I say kā ti. Stop.

For decades, successive governments have repeatedly denied their ability to fix major problems.

They take the easy option of patching up a crisis instead of solving it.

The time to change that is right now. 

***

And so, today I am delighted to announce the Green Party’s Income Guarantee. 

A promise that no matter what, you will always have enough to afford the weekly shop, pay the rent, or cover unexpected costs – even when times are tough.

With the Green Party’s plan to end poverty together, everyone in Aotearoa will be guaranteed an income of at least $385 a week - after tax. 

And every dollar we need to pay for it will come from a fair tax system.

What we are announcing today is a transformational new way of doing income support that will lift every single family out of poverty.

It is a plan to work together as a country to ensure everyone has what they need to thrive.

Here’s how it works. 

***

First, the Income Guarantee introduces a new tax-free threshold, so no one pays tax on the first $10,000 of their income. 

What that means is that anyone earning up to $125,000 a year will pay less income tax than they do today.

3.7 million New Zealanders - ninety-five percent of taxpayers - will have a bit extra in their pockets every week, between $16 and $26.  

Take for example, a graduate nurse earning around $60,000 a year.

They will get an extra $23 a week. 

An Early Childhood Education Teacher just starting out in their career will benefit by $23.50 a week.

Someone working full time on the minimum wage will have an extra $18.40 a week.

***

Now, we know it takes more than money to raise a child, but not being able to afford the basics makes everything harder. 

For more than three decades, the Green Party has pushed for changes to make sure our tamariki have the best possible start in life, and are supported to grow and thrive.

With rising food prices, high childcare costs and less secure jobs, many parents are struggling to pay for things like warm clothes each winter and fresh fruit and vegetables. 

Working for Families has been a crucial part of our social support system for almost two decades now. 

But support payments are too low and drop off too quickly when people on low incomes pick up extra work, while locking people on benefits out of the full level of support. 

Too many children are still missing out, especially in their crucial and formative early years. 

When these years are a time of stress for families, there are long-term consequences for our kids and their wellbeing.

The Green Party’s Income Guarantee will top up the incomes of parents and caregivers by up to $215 every week for the first child, and $135 a week for every other child.  

There will also be an additional universal top-up of $140 a week for every single child under three. 

Those first three years of a child’s life are so crucial. Investing in them is one of the most important thing any government can do to support our collective wellbeing.

The Green Party’s plan doubles the existing Best Start payment and will help make sure parents and caregivers have everything they need to give their children the best possible start in life.  

And there’ll be another $135 to help you if you’re raising kids on your own. 

All in all, this means a single parent will be guaranteed an income of at least $735 every single week. 

Our Income Guarantee will make that all important job of raising kids that little bit easier. 

It guarantees that all families will always have enough in their pockets to put food on the table, or to buy the shoes and warm clothes that children need.

Poverty is a political choice, and the Green Party is choosing to end it.

***

Last year, you may recall that the Green Party launched a People’s Inquiry into Student Wellbeing to better understand the issues our students are facing.

I gotta tell you, the results were startling. Except to students.

It revealed thousands of students all across the country are living in poverty. 

With many having to skip meals just to make ends meet. 

Two-thirds of students regularly do not have enough money to buy food, clothing, pay bills, get health care or other basics. 

But education is a public good. 

When people decide they want to become a nurse, or a teacher, or a librarian, or a solar electricity engineer, that choice often means weighing up the good they want to give to their communities, with the hardship they will go through on the way.

Political decisions over the last few decades have normalised and entrenched student poverty

This wasn’t an accident - and it can be fixed.

Our Income Guarantee will ensure every full time student has an income of at least $385 a week. 

Whatever they are studying, whatever level they’re studying it at, and no matter how old they are or how much their parents earn. 

The Income Guarantee for students will be fully individualised, so anyone studying or retraining can continue to get the support they need even if they have a partner who works. 

We all benefit when somebody takes on tertiary study, and contributes their skills to our communities. 

Our Income Guarantee replaces the Student Allowance and will provide students with what they need to make ends meet, and focus on their study. 

***

The guarantee of $385 per week extends to anyone out of work.  

And will deliver much better support to find a suitable job.

We’ll also restore trust and dignity to the welfare system by making sure there are no stand-down periods when someone is made unemployed.

And the punitive sanctions regime, that takes away people’s incomes, pushes them further into poverty and further into debt, must come to an end. 

No one should have their income cut because a bus didn’t show up and they were late to a WINZ appointment, or because they are overdue on a parking ticket.

 

***

Finally, the Income Guarantee will make sure that we always have enough to live on if we ever experience a health condition or disability that stops us from working.

There are nearly one in four people in Aotearoa who live with a disability. 

Many more of us will experience a major health problem that stops us from working at some stage of our lives. 

For those of us who find ourselves unable to work because of a health condition or disability, the Income Guarantee will provide us with 80% of our income.

With a minimum payment of 80% of the full-time minimum wage. 

***

What we are announcing today is a transformational new way of doing income support that will make sure everyone has what they need to afford life’s essentials. 

And every dollar to pay for it will come from a fair tax system. 

***

Right now, there is enough money tied up in untaxed wealth to lift every single family in this country out of poverty. 

And yet, among all the countries in the world with similar economies to ours, Aotearoa is the only one - the only one - that does not have a capital gains tax, a wealth tax, stamp duty, an estate tax, an inheritance tax, or any form of land tax. 

The time to change that is right now. 

The Green Party will introduce a 2.5 per cent Wealth Tax on the value of assets above $4 million for couples and $2 million for individuals.

To be absolutely clear: the Green Party’s wealth tax will only apply to the wealthiest 0.7% of people in Aotearoa.

What we’re talking about here is net wealth.

So, if you have debts or a mortgage against your assets, that will be deducted first. 

It will also be individualised.

So if you and your partner co-own a three million dollar property mortgage free, first of all, lucky you, second of all, that’s $1.5 million each and neither of you will pay any tax on it. 

What all of this means is that the tax will be paid by *only* the wealthiest 0.7 per cent of New Zealanders. 

A few weeks ago, evidence was released that showed that the wealthiest 311 families in New Zealand pay less than half the effective tax of the average family.

Our Wealth Tax will address this - bringing the effective tax rate of the wealthiest few closer to the 22 per cent income tax paid by most New Zealanders, up from the 9 per cent they currently pay. 

***

Large corporations will also contribute their fair share to lifting families out of poverty. 

Over the past fifteen years, corporate profits have soared – while the company tax rate is the lowest it has ever been in New Zealand history. 

Record profits demonstrate that corporations can afford to contribute more to tax revenue.

The Green Party’s plan will return the corporate tax rate to 33 percent, matching what it was when National took office in 2008.

*** 

Now, I know there will be some people who say this has nothing to do with ending climate change or saving our precious forests and oceans. 

But actually it does. 

Building an inclusive society where everyone has enough to put food on the table, a safe place to call home and live a good life is a necessary precondition for the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

It’s a hard ask to put resources into solar panels and electric vehicle charging networks when you’ve still got people going without life’s essentials. 

Yes, people would love to see our hillsides recloaked in native trees and ringing with birdsong, but if their kids aren’t getting enough to eat, they’re going to want to deal with that first. 

Fair enough.

And so, in allowing poverty to carry on, we also constrain our ability to respond to the other crises we’re facing, in particular climate change and the loss of nature. 

***

Our plan will give everyone peace of mind that we can all afford life’s essentials and provide for ourselves and our families – even when times are tough. 

It works by cutting taxes for people on the lowest incomes, making sure anyone out of work or studying has enough to live on, topping-up the incomes for those raising tamariki, and making sure there is extra help for anyone who is sick or disabled.

The Income Guarantee is fully funded through fair and simple changes to the tax system that unlock the resources we need. 

And every dollar comes from those most able to contribute, while those on the lowest incomes will pay less.

As far as I know, no other political party has a plan that will lift every single family out of poverty.

The National Party are trying to be Labour-lite on the one hand and Act-lite on the other. 

One of those things is not like the other. 

It’s becoming increasingly clear that any sense of direction to guide the next Government will come from the Greens – or from the Act Party. 

No one party can win a majority on their own.

And so, just like Labour will need our support, the only way that Christopher Luxon can become Prime Minister is with the support of David Seymour and the Act party.

With their strange cocktail of libertarianism on the one hand and populist authoritarianism on the other. 

With a garnish of racism to spice it up. 

Last weekend, the Act Party had a huge campaign launch with a big idea – to create a new ministry of deregulation. 

That’s it. 

That’s their vision for Aotearoa. 

Fewer rules.

Act want to end the regulations that keep people safe and protect nature. 

We want to end poverty.

Act want to stop te reo words on road signs. 

We want to stop climate change. 

Act want to bring back boot camps and charter schools. 

We want to bring back birdsong in our forests and thriving life in our oceans. 

This election is a choice between a vision so bleak, so selfish, so petty, it’s hard to believe. 

Or a vision of a society where we work together to actually solve the greatest challenges of our time. 

And that is why, now is the time to get more Green MPs into Parliament and more Green Ministers sitting around the Cabinet table. 

Because together, we can be a country that leads the world in the fight to stop a climate breakdown.

Together, we can restore the health of our rivers, forests, and oceans.

And together, we can ensure every family in Aotearoa has what they need to put decent food on the table, turn the heater on this winter, and pay the rent next week.

We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because we cannot sit by and listen to excuses.

The time for half measures is long gone. Now is the time for action.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

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