Key rejects child allowance call

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 29/08/2012
TOILING ON: Cleaners Venu Lam Sam, 56, left, and Tatupu Lam Sam, 49, are struggling to make ends meet.
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

TOILING ON: Cleaners Venu Lam Sam, 56, left, and Tatupu Lam Sam, 49, are struggling to make ends meet.

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When Tatupu and Venu Lam Sam's alarm goes off at 3.45am each weekday morning they dutifully haul themselves out of bed.

They work up to 65 hours a week in split shifts, cleaning offices in central Wellington, and yet when a family member gets sick, affording the doctor's fee is a struggle.

If the Government adopted the recommendations of a child poverty report out yesterday, they would get an an extra $125-$150 a week.

But Prime Minister John Key is already pouring cold water on the recommendations.

Mr Lam Sam, 56, starts work at 5.30am while wife Tatupu, 49, manages to catch an extra couple of hours sleep in the car.

At midday they return to their rented house in Ascot Park, Porirua. By dinner time they're heading back into town for their second shift.

The couple moved to New Zealand from Samoa a decade ago.

Two of their three children recently moved to Australia in search of work and better wages and now the couple have taken in their niece and 18-month-old grand-niece.

Their dream is to own their own home, but with unstable work and a pay packet only just above the minimum wage, no bank wants to give them a mortgage.

"What else can we do?" Mr Lam Sam said.

They are an example of the new "working poor" - Kiwis working themselves to the bone and living from pay cheque to pay cheque.

They're not claiming a benefit, they live in private rental accommodation and are struggling.

The expert advisory group on solutions to child poverty recommended a universal child payment, similar to the superannuation scheme, which would see parents paid $125-$150 in the early years of a child's life, tapering off to a needs-based payment at 6 years old.

It also recommended warrants of fitness for all rental properties, an overhaul of benefit payments covering children and the establishment of a poverty measure.

"This [report] brings the best of the evidence to bear on the issue but it's very much geared at rolling your sleeves up and the fact that we've got 270,000 children living in poverty is a very uncomfortable thing for this country," group member and Otago University Professor Richie Poulton said.

But Mr Key said the Government preferred a targeted approach.

"I don't think that [universal child payment] is at all likely; we went away from that some years ago. In New Zealand we have a very targeted system through Working for Families."

The Greens are hoping to use the report's strong stance on the need to improve housing to argue the case for extending its insulation scheme when they meet Housing Minister Phil Heatley later this week.

"Too many kids grow up in cold, damp homes," Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said.

Mr Key agreed much of the housing stock was of poor quality.

"There's probably some limits to what Government can do but we may be able to encourage landlords to increase the quality of their property."

Following a fiery debate in Parliament, Labour leader David Shearer criticised Mr Key's "mocking attitude" and "flippant response".

"This Government doesn't have solutions for these problems. It just has excuses."

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RECOMMENDATIONS

A universal child payment for all children until age five.

Review tax credits.

Warrant of fitness for rental properties.

Review of accommodation supplement and income related rents.

Establish opt-off enrolment into primary care, immunisation and Well Child for newborns.

Partner with schools, community groups and the private sector to provide food in schools.

Encourage landlords to insulate their rental properties by giving them tax breaks.

Expand the number of teen parents units.

Encourage more after school and holiday programmes.

Pass on child support paid to the custodial parent.

Encourage family-friendly workplaces.

Additional measures must be specifically tailored for Maori and Pasifika children.

- The Dominion Post

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