Parents of every child aged up to 3 will be eligible for double-sized Best Start payments under a Greens policy aimed at lifting cost burdens from families and attacking child poverty.
The lifting of the weekly Best Start payment from $69 to $140 and making it universal, rather than income dependent as now for two and three-year-olds, is part of the Greens Income Guarantee package funded by a wealth tax, an extra trust tax and higher top income tax rate.
The overall plan was announced in June but co-leader Marama Davidson detailed the Best Start early childhood payment increase on Tuesday to draw attention to the individual elements during the election campaign.
“Early childhood education should be prioritised as a public good,” Davidson said in the playground of the MARC Early Learning Centre in Mt Albert.
Told by head teacher Meg Moss that cost of living pressures meant some parents could pay little or nothing towards fees, and the centre was dipping into reserves to cover the cost, Davidson said: “It should not be your job to have to fix up the system.
“There’s a role for the Government to play in unlocking the resources where we can afford to pay through wealth taxes. We should have a model of valuing early childhood education for all tamariki.”
MARC is supported by the adjacent Plant and Food Research centre, Moss said, but even so, scientists did not always earn that much and “we have parents just completely concerned about interest rates and managing mortgages, and taking out additional loans and sometimes people would like to stay but they just can’t afford to.”
She welcomed any support for families and the sector that political parties could give.
Davidson told media: “This is just a simple way to relieve that stress from parents, to make sure they can have a sense of security that for the first three years of their baby’s life they will be able to provide the basic necessities.
“Along with our income guarantee, our housing policy, our rent controls, pledge to renters and a whole range of other priorities, we know that these are things that make such a massive difference for families.”
Asked how the overall policy, costing $3.7 billion over four years, would be funded, she had a short answer: “The wealth tax.”
“That is about unlocking the resources and putting them exactly where they need to be, which is supporting children and families.”
Labour has ruled out a wealth tax, making it a long shot for any Green-Labour coalition should those parties pull off what the polls now say would be a long-shot election win.
But Davidson is emboldened by the rising opinion poll results for her party – 14.2 percent in the latest Newshub Reid Research poll, one of its highest levels.
“We have seen from the Greens rising support that people believe and want this to happen. That is up to the voters to make that choice. No politicians have that power over everyone’s votes.”
Looking down the cameras, she went on: “To the voters, this is my message to you right now. This is a priority for the Green Party… If people want a wealth tax, they can vote for it.”
Asked about comments by Labour backbencher Ibrahim Omer that some in that party’s caucus were still considering aspects of a wealth tax, despite it having had to be ruled out by the leader, Chris Hipkins, Davidson said the Green Party was aware of such internal Labour support for the tax.
“This is exactly why we are clear that that power is for the voters. This is not news to us. We’ve been hearing that support from within ranks for some time now.
“You saw, from the most recent survey that there is support across all political parties’ supporters for a wealth tax, including National and Act supporters, at least half. But we know that, the Greens pushing for a wealth tax, that people can support it and we can actually get this across the line.”
On the Best Start payments, she said one in 10 children, and one in five Māori children, were growing up in poverty. “How is it possible that in a wealthy country like ours there are thousands of children without enough to eat a good bed, warm clothes and decent shoes?”
The first three years were critical for development and family financial stress at that time could have long-term consequences.
“This universal payment for the first three years recognises that just like in our older years through superannuation, the very first years of a new baby’s life are a time when every family needs extra support.”
The $140 a week under Best Start would be in addition to increased Working for Family payments of $215 a week for the first child and $135 a week for every other child.
The Green Party’s income guarantee plan would be paid for by a wealth tax of 2.5 percent on assets valued at $4m or higher, a trust tax increase, the top income tax rate rising to 45 percent on income over $180,000 and a rise in the corporate tax to 33 percent.
Davidson believed the Newshub poll result showed people could see the Greens offered something clear for people “just struggling to be their ordinary selves” and she was proud her party had presented something to vote in favour of.
“What we are hearing on the ground is that people really support a wealth tax. People of all parties, of all communities, so we know there’s a lot of support for that.
“The time is now,” she said, using the party’s campaign slogan. “It’s no longer acceptable to have 311 families holding $85 billion while people are struggling.”
To a question on what advice she could give governing partner Labour to improve its polling performance, Davidson stuck to her key message: “A wealth tax.”