Labour promises $60-a-week for under-3s
Labour leader David Cunliffe has launched his election year pitch to voters with a promise of a cash payment to low- and middle-income parents of newborns and an expansion of free early childhood education.
The Best Start package, the flagship of Cunliffe's state of the nation speech in Auckland today, will focus on the first five years of a child's life and help families struggling to meet the rising cost of living, Cunliffe said.
It would give all families with a newborn and earning less than $150,000 a year, a payment of $60 a week through to the baby's first birthday.
It would apply to 59,000 families or about 95 per cent of children under one year old, he said.
"That investment will continue for parents on modest and middle incomes until their child turns 3," Cunliffe said.
About 63,000 families, or 56 per cent of all 1 and 2-year-olds, would qualify for the extended payment.
It would make a real difference to struggling parents, for example covering the cost of a week's supply of nappies and baby food, he said.
At the same time Labour has dropped its earlier plan to extend the current in-work family tax credit to beneficiaries.
He said there would also be free antenatal classes for all first-time mothers and early home visits.
Free early-childhood education for 3 to 5-year-olds would be expanded from 20 hours a week to 25 hours and paid parental leave will be extended from 14 to 26 weeks as set out in list MP Sue Moroney's bill.
There would also be more help for expectant parents.
Cunliffe said the package was a first step in Labour's reform package which would include education, health, housing and economic development.
Labour has costed the package at $147 million in 2015-16 rising to $566m a year by 2020.
His speech stressed the increasing gap between the "haves and have-nots", saying the wealthiest few were doing well, while people in the middle stayed there and those at the bottom went backwards.
"This is now a country where one in four children is growing up in poverty. That's not acceptable," he said.
The top 10 per cent owned 50 per cent of the country's wealth while the bottom 50 per cent owned just 5 per cent of it, he said.
Rising interest rates would also hit household budgets.
Cunliffe said that under Labour there would be more jobs and a full day's work would cover the cost of the basics. The amount New Zealanders paid in tax and for power and groceries would be fair.