Election 2020: ACT Party announces employment insurance, mental health policies

The ACT Party has announced its new employment insurance and mental health and addiction policies for the general election.

Its "fair" and "modern" employment insurance scheme is for a post-COVID-19 world, the party's employment spokesperson Nicole McKee says, and part of the tax a person pays would go towards this insurance fund.

Income tax rates would remain unchanged, but 0.55 percent of the tax paid would be allocated to a ring-fenced employment insurance fund.

When someone loses their job, they can claim 55 percent of their average weekly earnings over the previous 52 - or fewer - weeks under the policy. The maximum yearly payable amount is $60,000.

Insurance can only be claimed for one week for each five weeks the person has worked, up to a maximum of 26 weeks per claim. Someone who has worked continuously for only one year could claim up to ten weeks' employment insurance.

Once a person has used up their employment insurance entitlement, they could move to Jobseeker Support and Electronic Income Management would apply. Under Electronic Income Management, the benefit is issued on an electronic card and restrictions on alcohol, gambling, and tobacco expenditure apply, McKee says.

Over time, the 0.55 percent levy would be adjusted so the fund balances out over a four-year cycle. In a high unemployment year it would increase, while it would decrease in a low unemployment year.

People receiving employment insurance would be expected to look for work and report back fortnightly on their preparedness to work. 

"ACT's employment insurance scheme would be fairer than the current system because people get paid out in proportion to what they pay in, rather than a flat benefit rate regardless of their outgoings or previous tax contributions," McKee says.

"It would remove the stigma associated with collecting a benefit for people out of work for a short time through no fault of their own. New Zealanders would be collecting an insurance payout from a fund they'd paid into for that very purpose."

She says the policy suits a modern workforce where people move in and out of jobs more frequently.

"Our welfare system is due for a serious overhaul. It imposes a one-size-fits-all solution that works for no-one. It fails people trapped in long-term dependency. It fails workers who pay generously into a scheme that does not support them adequately if they unexpectedly lose their job. It fails to address the realities of a modern economy."

Changing how mental health and addiction services are approached

ACT will change the approach to mental health and addiction services to "reduce bureaucracy, improve patient choice and empower New Zealanders", and it will give the health commission power to channel funding to providers.

The party's deputy leader and health spokesperson Brooke van Velden says the "disorderly mix" of district health boards, non-governmental organisations and primary healthcare providers can't provide a coordinated response, so people who seek out these services find it hard.

"People who seek treatment describe a difficult-to-navigate bureaucracy, postcode lotteries, and a lack of choice in services and resources to suit their individual and community needs," van Velden says

"The Government has established a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission, but it does not have real power to improve choice or establish a clear, nationwide approach to tackling mental health and addiction."

She says ACT would take the $2 billion per year currently spent through the Ministry of Health and DHBs, and instead channel it through the upgraded Commission. The Commission would be renamed Mental Health and Addiction New Zealand (MHANZ).

"MHANZ would be the one central interface for mental health and addiction funding, reducing bureaucracy and administrative burden. It would develop expertise in evaluating where the money is going and what services work based on evidence and data. It would issue clear and certain contracts to service providers while keeping a keen eye on outcomes and quality of care," van Velden says.

"Patients would be able to choose any registered provider for their immediate care, providing greater autonomy, or would be referred to a specific provider in cases where a person lacks the capacity to do so or requires specialised treatment."

She says this approach will solve the problems identified in the Government's Mental Health Inquiry, including inequity of access and lack of choice, too much confusion and bureaucracy, people having to navigate many agencies, no whole-of-government approach and too much burden placed on primary healthcare providers.

"The Government's Mental Health Inquiry painted a picture of an outdated system. It has responded with more money, but increased funding will not guarantee improvements in care. More funding does not address the issues of choice, accountability, value for money, and individual and community needs."