Paid parental leave 'not enough'

MISSED OUT: Paid Parental Leave will be extended but Kit and Laura Walker won’t see any benefit this time. 
MISSED OUT: Paid Parental Leave will be extended but Kit and Laura Walker won’t see any benefit this time. 

Families are expected to benefit from new Budget measures of almost $500 million, including an increase to paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 18 weeks, free doctors visits and prescriptions for children under 13 and extra money to ease the cost of early childhood education.

Finance minister Bill English returned the books to black with a $72 million surplus and numerous measures specifically targeting the family.

English spent $858m on education, $199m on tertiary spending, $90m on free GP visits for under-13s and an extension to the paid parental leave (PPL).

Parents of new babies will receive a lift in parental tax credit to $220 a week for eight weeks, rising to 10 weeks from April 2015.

By 2016, the 10-week PPL will be extended to 18 weeks, falling short of the 26 weeks proposed in Hamilton's Labour list MP Sue Moroney's PPL bill. PPL would be means-tested so a couple having their second child would not receive any payments if they together earned more than $99,847, and parents already expecting children were set to miss out.

First-time father to be Kit Walker said the PPL announcement was a good long-term policy but would be of no benefit when his child was born.

"You feel a bit of a pinch when your first baby arrives and you could do with a bit of a helping hand," he said.

"It's always a shame to hear that you are just missing out on it."

He and his wife Laura had plans for more than one child. He expected to be better off in the future but he was willing to endure the current tough times if the Budget brought New Zealand in line with other countries.

"It brings them on-par with other countries like in Scandinavia where economies benefit so much from investing into families," he said.

Rebecca Matthews, of paid parental leave advocacy group 26 for babies, said the Government had no choice in extending PPL but it didn't go far enough.

"It's a positive development. Government really had little choice to take some action on paid parental leave but it doesn't quite get us there."

She said Health Ministry advice and international evidence suggested six months was best for breast feeding babies and she still wanted to see it pushed out even further.

"Eighteen weeks still puts us near the bottom of the pack internationally. There are many, many countries with more PPL so how are we going to get more in line with what the rest of the world is doing?"

Moroney's PPL Bill showed a public thirst for the family assistance package.

"If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I'm only a little flattered," Moroney said.

"There is no doubt the Government has been dragged kicking and screaming towards extending PPL at all."

Her bill was still in front of the house and she planned to push it through to get the full 26 weeks she had promoted.

"My bill brings an additional four weeks in on the first of July this year.

"That's still a live proposition and I'll be seeking support from parties who have supported it to date."

She said the Government had tried to steal their ground with the family-focused budget but had failed.

"In the cold light of day they have really been forced into a lot of these moves because of Labour's Best Start package," she said.

"Cleary we have forced their hand."

Hamilton East MP David Bennett refuted claims the Government had copied Labour's policy, saying it had worked on the package "for a while" and the time was right to release it.

"They hadn't been proposing the under-13 free doctor visits so it's not as if it is their policy," he said.

It was a "good, solid Budget" with a good mix of prudent economics on top of the big social spend the country could afford.

"That $500m is a key part of the Budget," he said.

"Those are huge things which I think a lot of families will appreciate and families will support."



Returning the books to black, with $72 million surplus Extension of paid parental leave to 18 weeks, from April 2016

An increase in the paid parental tax credit to $220 a week, plus an increase in entitlement from eight weeks to 10 weeks, from April 2015

$90m for free GP visits and prescriptions for under-13s, from July 2015

$858m of new money for education and $199m investment in tertiary education

$1.8b extra over four years to meet health cost pressures and fund initiatives

$33m to identify and support "vulnerable children" $100m to get more people off benefits and into work

Waikato Times