Labour considers universal basic income

  • 22/03/2016
Grant Robertson (Simon Wong)
Grant Robertson (Simon Wong)

Labour's toying with introducing a taxpayer-funded salary for every single adult New Zealander.

But the universal basic income is coming under attack even before it's discussed at its Future of Work conference tomorrow.

Piki Haenga is a self-employed artist in a group of women called the Toi Wahine Collective. They share a space to showcase and sell art. Sometimes it makes her enough cover costs week to week.

"Sometimes it can't," she says. "Sometimes it can't."

An idea in Labour's Future of Work commission could be the answer -- a universal basic income, defined as "the Government making a cash grant, large enough to meet the basic needs of living, to every member of society regardless of their wealth, work status or income".

Yet despite floating it, Labour won't commit.

"Labour has not got a policy of a universal basic income," says Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson. "What we're doing is we're considering options."

"They've got no idea when it comes to policy," says Prime Minister John Key.

One option raised is $11,000 per year, or just over $200 a week. Or, if benefits were to be fully scrapped and replaced, then it would be $22,000 a year or $420 a week.

"You'd be giving it to people that don't need it," says Mr Key. "You'd be giving my wife $11,000. With the greatest respect I think we would prefer that $11,000 went to children in need."

"No decisions have been made about whether there will be a universal basic income or what it will be set at," says Mr Robertson.

Mr Robertson is also distancing himself from any figures.

"We haven't taken a position about a specific amount that would be paid."

"It's unaffordable, and barking mad," says Mr Key.

But the universal basic income does have its fans, with its aim to give people income security.

"Yeah it would, it would give me a sense of stability," says Ms Haenga.

The idea will be front and centre at the conference tomorrow.

It is big idea, but it's also radical and easy to attack, and that's why Labour is so sensitive and already downplaying it.