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Work matters

A Herald-DigiPoll released last week found that, in a survey of 750 voters, 51 percent thought that the in-work tax credits of Working for Families should be extended to parents on benefits; 41 percent of respondents disagreed.

This is an argument that the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has been making pretty much since Helen Clark’s Labour-led Government introduced Working for Families in the early 2000s. Working for Families is made up of a number of tax credits, some of which apply to all low-income families and some of which can only be acquired by families where at least one parent is in work. CPAG have attested—in op-eds, conference presentations, papers, and court cases—that the fact that some tax credits only go to low-income families where one parent is in work is an unjustified discrimination based on parental work status. Until this week, it had appeared that they had had very little success in convincing many others that this was in fact the case.

While the news of the polls result is great for CPAG, I can’t help but be concerned that it is not great for the children of beneficiaries.

Yes, it is true that if the in-work tax credits were extended to beneficiary families they would have more money in-pocket each month. In the public’s eye, this likely means more money for the children, enabling parents to purchase such things as shoes for school, lunches, and winter coats.

But, Labour intentionally did not extend the in-work tax credits to beneficiary families because they knew—and the preponderance of the evidence shows—that the best thing for the children of beneficiaries is not that their parents receive a bit more money each month, but that they find a job and keep it. In designing Working for Families, then, Labour sought to offer families on a benefit an incentive for finding work, knowing that it was this that would have the biggest impact on the health and well-being of these families.

Now a digipoll is hardly the harbinger of an imminent change in governmental policy, but it does give an impressionistic reading on the state of public opinion. To me it says that the public cares about children and the relatively high prevalence of child poverty in New Zealand, but that it is largely unaware of what will best serve those children.

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