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National Accuses Labour Of Treating Welfare As Insurance Policy

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Bill English
Bill English

Wellington, July 22 NZPA - Labour is defending its proposal to give unemployment benefits to people regardless of their partner's income and even if they own multiple properties.

The poster boy for the policy -- Bruce Burgess -- was held up by Labour as an example of someone who had worked all their life and paid taxes but was now in danger of losing his lifestyle block after becoming unemployed.

It turned out Mr Burgess also owned two rental properties.

Today Finance Minister Bill English argued Labour's leadership had changed its policy on welfare.

"The policy proposals of Phil Goff and Annette King essentially turn the welfare system into a form of insurance against redundancy, to replace lost income and to help people who have made poor investments.

"I am surprised that the rest of the Labour caucus has gone along with this policy, which turns the welfare system on its head."

He said the party appeared to have undergone a "fundamental" shift in its thinking.

"We understand that Labour wants to move unemployment to an insurance system, where those who are paid the most get the most benefit from going on the unemployment benefit."

Ms King, Labour's deputy leader, said the argument ignored the focus of the policy which was to give short term help to people struggling after losing their jobs.

"There are a lot of people out there who are bloody hurting at this stage," she told reporters.

Ms King said benefits were not asset tested now so the obsession with Mr Burgess' properties was irrelevant, especially as they were not making him a profit.

"This is Mr Burgess' story, and it's a very real story. A man who has got liabilities and no job. He is facing losing his home," she told reporters.

"We are talking about short term help when a person like that faces dire circumstances because he's made unemployed. Why should he not get some assistance, but we can say to others because they are single they are allowed assistance? He's got the same liabilities if not more."

Asked if Labour had mishandled a potentially positive policy, Ms King said there would be many people made unemployed who were burdened with liabilities from investments they made in property as a way of saving for retirement.

"They didn't know they were going to lose their job and they didn't know they were going to be without any help at all."

Ms King said if National was concerned about assets did that mean they would move to asset testing for beneficiaries.

Originally when Labour announced the policy National said it meant millionaires would be eligible but Mr Goff yesterday said there would be a cap on the partner's income.

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