Labour MP Meka Whaitiri defends larger benefit payments for workers unemployed during COVID-19

Meka Whaitiri, Heather Te-Au Skipworth and Elizabeth Kere.
Meka Whaitiri, Heather Te-Au Skipworth and Elizabeth Kere. Photo credit: Image - File/Māori Party/Youtube; Video - The Hui

The Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electorate has defended the Government's unemployment benefit for Kiwis who lost jobs due to COVID-19 which has been criticised for creating two tiers of unemployed people.

Incumbent Labour MP Meka Whaitiri faced off against the Green Party's Elizabeth Kerekere and the Māori Party's Heather Te Au-Skipworth in a political debate on The Hui on Wednesday.

The women are contending for the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electorate in the upcoming NZ election on October 17.

Host Mihingarangi Forbes questioned how the candidates and their parties would deal with welfare on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic which left thousands of Kiwis unemployed.

Te Au-Skipworth said the Māori Party understood Kiwis in their electorate had been struggling and criticised the Government's Income Relief Payments where recipients get more money than those on a Jobseeker benefit.

"What COVID did was it provided that those who were working could not afford to be unemployed because the Government doubled their rate of benefit, compared to those that were on the benefit pre COVID and during COVID," Te Au-Skipworth said.

"That's unfair. What that's saying is working people matter and those on benefits don't."

Kerekere agreed.

"What I've seen a lot of during COVID is the prioritising of people who already had jobs who then lose them," Kerekere said.

But Labour's Whaitiri defended the benefit, saying the answer was in getting Kiwis back into jobs.

"What I tell them, in all honesty, is about our Māori Employment Package, our free training, our apprenticeships, cadetships. To get those people out of poverty and off benefits, is by creating those opportunities."

When asked by Forbes if she was comfortable having the two separate benefits for the unemployed, she said: "focusing on jobs is the way we are going to deal with the disparities we currently have".

During the debate, the contenders also discussed addiction, getting māori children into sport, the creation of a māori media service and the forestry industry's run off in Tolaga Bay.