Labour Party considering 'universal income' for all Kiwis
A proposal to pay every adult Kiwi more than $200 a week as a "universal income" from the Government is being considered by the Labour Party.
A discussion paper from the party has mooted the idea of a universal income, where every adult New Zealander would receive $11,000 a year ($211 a week) in exchange for scrapping many current welfare payments.
The proposal is part of the party's Future of Work Commission, a project to look at the impact of new technologies on careers and the workforce.
The discussion paper says a universal income would help to remove the insecurity associated with low wages or insufficient welfare benefits, which bred "personal shame, stress, [and] mental health problems".
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"New Zealanders would have more time to devote to creative work and their family, rather than worrying about keeping a roof over their heads."
The paper says a universal income could also encourage increased entrepreneurship, reduce the stigma from being on welfare, make it easier for people to retrain, and create a more efficient tax and welfare system.
However, it acknowledges a number of criticisms, including whether a universal income could provide enough money for recipients without being unaffordable, and whether it would make it less likely for people to work.
Some would also think it unfair to provide the same amount of money to "vulnerable and privileged people alike", which meant additional payments to those "in real need" would have to be considered.
Universal income trials in Alaska, India and other places showed the idea was achievable, the paper says, although there was an "urgent need for more data".
'PRECARIOUS WORK, INSECURE WORK'
Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson, who is chairing the Future of Work Commission, said the party had not yet decided whether a universal income would be part of its policy for the 2017 election, but it was "actively considering" the idea.
"There's a lot more people in precarious work, insecure work, there's likely to be people moving in and out of work more often in the future...there's a lot more instability in the environment and we are looking at different models of what will provide income security through that period of change."
Robertson said the party still needed to weigh up the pros and cons of a universal income, including its likely cost and whether "top-ups" to some people would be necessary, as well as other ways to provide income security.
Labour would spend the rest of the year looking at the proposals, and others from the commission, before announcing policies sometime before the election.
'TOO MUCH OF A CHALLENGE'
Economist Gareth Morgan, who supports the idea of a UBI,questioned whether Labour would have "the balls" to go ahead with a coherent policy.
"I don't think at the end of the day they would have the balls, really, to put in a fiscally coherent UBI," Morgan said.
"They'd find that just too much of a challenge."
Such a policy would be a major change in the way wealth was transferred, Morgan said.
"The beauty of it is that it recognises the contribution to society that people who don't necessarily get paid make, like at-home spouses or volunteers in the community.
"It gives people more choice so if you quit your job to do training or go back to uni you've got that to rely on."
The Future of Work Commission was launched by Labour in May last year to develop a range of policies before the 2017 election.
A team of independent expert advisers is helping 10 MPs to investigate themes including the impact of new technology and demands for greater workplace flexibility, with a number of issues papers already released by Labour.