National MP Louise Upston blasts 'two tier' COVID-19 benefit system as 'grossly unfair', despite National using similar policy after quakes

The National Party has come out swinging against the Government's separate benefit for people who lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, calling it "grossly unfair".

The party's new social development spokesperson Louise Upston made the comments in a debate with Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni, a Labour MP, on Saturday morning.

The debate followed an interview with Kafa Mamaia, a beneficiary advocate, who said the current benefit is not enough to live on - and the fact that victims of the COVID-19 economic fallout receive more than regular beneficiaires is "not fair at all."

"Everyone was affected by COVID," said Mamaia. "Why should they get more? It's not fair at all."

The COVID-19 job loss payment is a 12-week payment of $490 per week for people who were employed full time and $250 per week for people who worked part-time. Jobseeker Support for a single person without children is between $175 to $230 per week.

Upston blasted Labour's decision to introduce the COVID-19 payment as "grossly unfair".

"[Mamaia] made the point herself that having two different levels of  benefits is unfair, and that is what we are hearing" she told Sepuloni.

Sepuloni replied she didn't see, or refer to, the benefit as a two-tiered system.

"I do need to remind people that actually we've had this type of job loss cover before - National put it in place following the Canterbury earthquakes. This is just a much larger scale.

"Job losses were going to be larger than what we expected and the labour market was always going to be tight, so we responded."

Upston denied National had put a similar policy in place, saying it was "completely different'.

Following the earthquakes, National introduced a six-week job loss cover for those unable to contact their employer, or whose employer had closed permanently. The payment was $400 weekly for full-time employees and $240 a week for part-time workers. 

At the time, the Jobseeker benefit was between $134 to $201 per week for a single person with no children.