Welcome to Election 2014, where everyone has soon forgotten about the perils of the recent global recession and the housing market collapse. 2014 is suddenly awash with cash again – just a few tender years after we were borrowing more than $300 million a week to survive as a country. There’s one simple reason for all this – it’s your turn to vote later in the year. How quickly we forget.
We’re not even back into a small surplus yet and the country’s politicians are lining up to spend the fruits of 2014/15 already, because apparently we’re going to be a ‘rock star’ economy. Labour’s ‘baby bonus’ is by far the largest of the offerings, which should come as no surprise. And those who call it an election bribe aren’t far off the mark either. In its crudest form it is middle-class welfare. Families earning up to $150,000 a year will get $60 a week slipped under their front porch for their baby’s first year.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that getting the formative years of a child’s life right is crucial. But this is $3,000 a year to 95 percent of families having babies. It gives welfare to basically everyone. Do families earning $150k really need it? I say no. Backbench MPs currently earn $147,800 – if the wife or partner of that MP was at home not earning and having a baby, they would qualify. Seems ridiculous doesn’t it, paying welfare to an MP? Or a lawyer? Or an accountant?
Surely it’s much better to target the help more carefully at those who most need it. This will give massive pay increases to those on the DPB having babies – and it will make a massive difference, although it may not encourage too many of them to seek work. Is this the right message? Labour’s targeting kicks in in years two and three of the baby’s life, when families earning over $70k will get nothing. But why not start there in the first place? It’s simple really: Labour needs to appeal to the vote-rich centre to win.
Labour’s other offerings will also be popular. Extending free early childhood education to 25 hours a week may encourage some back to work and it’s an enormously practical step. Labour also wants to extend paid parental leave to six months from three, effectively paying someone 80 percent of the average wage for six months to stay at home and care for a new baby. It’s hard to see that being unpopular. But all this comes to $1.5 billion over three years and Labour is yet to say how they will pay for it. Add this to the $2 billion a year in Working for Families handouts and we’re certainly a generous little utopia at the bottom of the Pacific.
But wait, there’s more. The Greens have offered another $100 million a year of free lunches in all poor schools (and even those schools who don’t meet the test but ask for it). Add in the breakfast in schools package already going – and New Zealand is starting to look like a baby-breeding paradise. Tough, if you aren’t planning a baby after this election – you might as well head to Australia.
Actually, the Greens offering looks credible and affordable compared to Labour‘s. It’s only slightly more expensive than National’s $359 million in pay increases for our best teachers. And at least the Green Party policy is seriously targeted at those most in need – and not middle-class lawyers contemplating having babies.
So the next election is centred around who can offer the most generous package for families and their kids. If all this generosity comes to fruition, a new government will pay for your baby’s food and nappies every week, pay for you to stay off work for six months, pay for you to put that baby into 25 hours of childcare a week, pay for the child’s breakfast at school and – if you enrol in the right school – your child will get a free lunch too and free after-school care. You’ll only have to stump up for dinner and a bed.
Remember we also pay superannuation to everyone aged over 65 as well, no matter how rich they are, which makes me ask: has the Socialist State of Aotearoa won an international lotto prize? Or have we struck oil? Or is it just election year?
I think you know the answer.