Kiwi families won’t be left behind in the Covid response, Jacinda Ardern says while announcing a tax boost and offering thanks to Aucklanders about to mark three months in lockdown

A $272 million increase to tax credits will lift an extra 6000 children out of poverty and help ensure families aren’t left behind by New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Ardern has announced the boost at Labour’s annual conference which, coupled with an inflation adjustment already due to take place, will mean 346,000 families are better off by an average of $20 when the changes kick in next April. 

“Covid-19 has been tough on families and has contributed to the increase in the cost of living. Increasing support for low and middle income families to help cover the basics is the fair thing to do,” Ardern said.

The Government had decided to “top up” the Family Tax Credit, already due to receive inflation increases of 8.75 percent, an additional $5 a week.

The Orphans Benefit, Unsupported Child’s Benefit and Foster Care Allowance would also increase by $5 a week to support caregivers, while the Best Start payment for families with a newborn would increase with inflation from $60 to $65 a week.

“We want New Zealand to be the best place in the world to be a child. Ensuring families aren’t left behind is critical to our COVID-19 response which has been underpinned by kindness and support for each other,” Ardern said.

The changes were on top of benefit increases announced earlier in the year, which increased rates by between $32 and $55 per adult.

In her conference speech, Ardern offered special thanks to Aucklanders who will soon mark three months in lockdown, saying: “For what will feel like endless weeks now, you have carried a burden on behalf of the rest of the country.”

“I know at times that will have been an extraordinarily lonely place to be. But please never doubt that what you have done has had a profound impact on New Zealand.”

“Life may be different for a time. But it can and will feel more familiar again. And after so much disruption, so much anxiety, everyone deserves that.”

New Zealand’s approach to the pandemic had led to the country having fewer cases, hospitalisations and deaths than any other country in the OECD, while the economy had not just survived but grown and kept people in jobs.

“But none of that is to say that it has been without cost. It has had a huge toll on people and businesses, especially in recent months. But I know that we have it in us to continue to move forward through this tough transition, into a new phase.”

Ardern said the transition to the Covid protection framework, or “traffic light” system, would provide more certainty to businesses and reduce “the anxiety of sudden lockdowns” while still taking measures to protect the population.

Once those changes were bedded in, border settings could be adjusted and the country opened up more broadly.

“Life may be different for a time. But it can and will feel more familiar again. And after so much disruption, so much anxiety, everyone deserves that.”

The Prime Minister also offered a staunch defence of the Government’s polarising Three Waters reforms, saying the status quo would lead to “ballooning costs for ratepayers, decreased water quality, and unsustainable sewage discharge”.

“To those who want to cancel Three Waters, to them I say this – the problem is clear, the status quo is not an option.

“If your concern is losing public ownership, then commit to retain these assets in public ownership, as we have, and support the legislation to lock that in. But don’t pretend there isn’t a problem.”

Ardern also spoke about the importance of climate change, currently in the spotlight at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, saying the Government had built the foundations for action through the Zero Carbon Act and the establishment of the Climate Commission and now needed to take the next steps through actions in the agriculture and transport sectors.

“We have more to do, no doubt.  But when we look back on this COP, and in fact, as we look back on our nuclear-free moment, I want to know that we did everything we could.”

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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