15 Sep 2014

Leaders would struggle on low incomes

9:51 am on 15 September 2014

The country's political leaders agree they would struggle to live on the incomes of the poorest households.

John Key talking to the media about poverty yesterday.

John Key talking to the media about poverty yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

The poorest 10 percent of households live on disposable incomes of less than $21,000 a year while the next 10 percent make do with between $21,000 and $30,000 a year.

Statistics New Zealand's figures reveal half the country's households live on less than $57,000 a year, and that median disposable income has gone up 18 percent between 2008 and 2013 - a faster rate than inflation.

Those on the lowest incomes have also experienced stronger income growth but party leaders agree they do not earn anywhere enough.

National Party leader John Key conceded he would struggle.

"I think it would be very, very challenging and that's why the Government stands up and gives support to those families. I mean $8 billion in welfare support this year, a couple of billion dollars in Working for Families largely focussed at the very low income end."

Russel Norman

Russel Norman Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Mr Key said someone on the minimum wage with a family did get more money from receiving the in-work tax credit and the accommodation supplement.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman, who is critical of National's policies, said it would be difficult to live on a low income.

"Especially if you've dependents. I mean just the cost of housing alone could easily eat up that amount of money ... It would be very difficult for me and my family to live on $21,000 a year."

Dr Norman said the Greens had a range of policies to provide greater income support to the country's poorest families.

David Cunliffe.

David Cunliffe. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Labour's leader David Cunliffe said he, too, would struggle to survive to survive on $21,000.

"I would find it extremely difficult just as other people find it extremely difficult."

People displayed tremendous courage in eking out a living for their families, Mr Cunliffe said.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters questioned the circumstances of those on the lowest incomes.

"Is that with a home or without a home? Is that with a mortgage or without a mortgage? Is that living in the country with a garden or with a garden big enough to handle it? Is that living by the beach where I can catch fish and alternative food? That depends on the circumstances. But it is a very, very low income."

Winston Peters.

Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Mr Peters said his party would raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour and take GST off food to help struggling families.

But National social development spokesperson Paula Bennett said National was taking a different approach to the other parties when it came to dealing with poverty.

"We're not going to scatter a big number and hope that we get the children that need it which is what we see with the Left. They want universal payments. They want 60 bucks a week going to families on $140,000 a year. You know, we're not going to do that. We know who these children are. We are going to target them and their families," Ms Bennett said.

Mr Key said getting people off welfare and into jobs was the best way to lift incomes and help struggling families.

Ms Bennett told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme this morning people living on less than $21,000 a year should also get into some part-time work.

"I've lived on the equivalent of that in my past and I can tell you it wasn't easy, and that's why I went and I got a job as soon as I could.

"I worked in a rest home washing dishes for a couple of years. I was better off doing that than I was on a benefit."

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs