COVID-19: Calls to adjust support payments based on income

A top economist is calling for support payments to be adjusted, so New Zealanders don't risk coming into work sick.

The government has rolled out its support package, but some businesses are questioning what they see as a double-standard over who can and can't operate at level 3.

Hugh Grierson's brewery Hopscotch relies on thirsty customers, and their curiosity.

But that's all gone under level 3 lockdown.

"A big part of the business is getting people to try stuff they won't have tried anywhere else, so it's hurting," he tells Newshub.

Grierson's business in Avondale sells straight from the tap, but he's had to ban refillable bottles.

"I don't want to take the risk of being a cluster cause," he says.

"I just keep my distance, put the beer down and spray it with some ethanol. The customer comes and takes the beer. A shame as we're all about tasting and the customers can't taste."

Unlike liquor stores run by the West Auckland Trusts, Hopscotch isn't considered an essential business. It can't have customers inside.

"It really hurts when you drive past an open store and someone else has different rules than you purely because of who owns the business," he says.

Small businesses like Grierson's need customers, but that depends on customers having the funds.

The government has rolled out the wage subsidy, resurgence support payments, and leave support schemes.

But for many, the lump-sum payments may barely cover the rent or don't come quickly enough.

"The reality is a large number of our clients are already living on struggle street so many will be concerned whether they get paid from their employers," says Mangere Budgeting Services CEO Darryl Evans.

And that may lead people who are sick to take the risk.

"If the payments are not enough to cover their outgoings like rent or food and those kinds of things, it creates a very strong incentive to go to work, and that's exactly what we don't want to see," says Sense Partners economist Shamubeel Eaqub.

Auckland Manukau Ward councillor Efeso Collins says the situation has created anxiety and confusion in many communities.

"If you go to work, you know you're going to get paid. If you don't go to work and you might not have any leave left, then you're gonna be worried that it's important you be at work so you can get paid."

Collins believes the messaging to the community on their options may not be clear enough.

"Websites and links to websites isn't enough. We need people with all of that information visiting our families, so that they can explain it fully to our families and everyone's going to feel like they can act on it."

Eaqub is calling for an adjustment to the support payments, similar to how ACC is calculated.

"We know that people's outgoings reflect their incomes, so we should make the quarantine payments linked to their incomes," he explains.

On February 1, there was still $10b of the government's $50b response and recovery fund unallocated.

"I don't buy that New Zealand doesn't have the financial and economic resources to be able to afford this. I think what we have at the heart is a poorly designed system that needs to be fixed," says Eaqub.

Because the cost of paying people more to stay at home is much less than the cost of shutting down an entire city.