Labour MPs hit trail with Best Start

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 02/04/2014
Labour MPs
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ

KIDS FIRST: Labour MPs Iain Lees-Galloway, Jacinda Ardern and Annette King at Tui Early Learners Centre in Albert Street.

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Young mums in Manawatu have told a trio of Labour MPs what they could do with an extra $60 a week.

Labour's spokeswomen for children, Jacinda Ardern, and health, Annette King, joined Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway in the city yesterday to promote the party's Best Start package.

Along with extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks and an extra five hours of free early childhood education a week, Best Start includes a payment of $60 during a baby's first year for families earning less than $150,000 that are not receiving paid parental leave. Low and medium-income families can continue to receive payments until the child's third birthday.

Included in the MPs' itinerary yesterday were visits to two childcare centres and Freyberg High School's teen parenting unit.

It was great "hearing the absolute dedication of those young mums who were working really hard to finish their education and seek a better life for them and their families," Ardern said. "They already know exactly the kind of things they would do with a payment like this."

Ardern said the Best Start programme was about providing children with greater opportunities by addressing issues such as inequality.

Attacks on the policy had focused on its $600 million cost, but Ardern said it would reap savings of 10 times that in the long term.

Rather than using government funds as an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, the spending would, for example, prevent children from falling ill as a result of living in substandard housing.

Ardern said the welfare of children was one of Labour's core areas heading into this year's election and she expected National to respond to Best Start in next month's Budget.

She had had an Official Information Act request about what assistance the Government might provide new parents denied because it was "Budget sensitive".

"This is the strongest indication yet that the Government is about to succumb to the wave of pressure in this area," Ardern said. "There is a mountain of evidence that we need to focus on children's early years and give parents greater support when their baby arrives.

"If it is bold action the Government is after, it should let Sue Moroney's paid parental leave bill pass, and pick up our Best Start package. Those are policies that will make the difference children and their families need."

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- Manawatu Standard

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