Budget 2021: Mark Richardson, Amanda Gillies weigh-in on possible benefit increase

A bump in benefits is expected to be announced on Thursday as the Government reveals its Budget for the upcoming financial year, but support for the suspected boost is divided.

In the latest pre-Budget Newshub-Reid Research poll, 54.8 percent of respondents said yes, the Government should follow the recommendation to raise the unemployment benefit, while 34.5 percent said no. The remainder were unsure. 

However, a straw poll conducted by The AM Show on the morning of the big reveal found just 37 percent of voters supported an increase, with 63 percent saying no to a benefit bump. These results are not scientific. 

The suspected boost comes two years after the Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommended a raise in benefits. For example, a single person on the Jobseeker benefit - currently on $258 a week after tax - would get an extra $57, amounting to $315 a week.

However, the national median rent is $495 - highlighting the disparity in benefits compared to the rising cost of living in New Zealand. 

And the suspected spending also divided the co-hosts of The AM Show on Thursday morning, with newsreader Amanda Gillies agreeing that benefits should be lifted.

"Everyday in the news, the average price of rent has gone up, the average price of a house has gone up, your tomatoes have gone up, your cucumbers have gone up - the cost of living has gone up, that's the reality, so [benefits] do need to go up as well," she said as the hosts discussed the pending announcement. 

"There are people who had full-time jobs as pilots and [were] living a good life a year ago who are now on unemployment benefit, with all the costs that they had when they were earning the big money."

Meanwhile sports presenter and former cricketer Mark Richardson argued that rather than upping the benefit, beneficiaries should be able to earn a greater income without their dole being docked.

Earlier this week, the Government outlined its proposed overhaul of the immigration system, including a review of the Skilled Migrant Category and a clamp-down on temporary work visas. Officials have indicated an imminent shift away from low-skilled labour in favour of wealthy investors and highly skilled migrants, raising concerns about the future of New Zealand's existing migrant workforce and temporary visa holders stranded overseas. 

Richardson suggested that if the Government closes the door on low-skilled migrants, it could open a pathway to employment for beneficiaries. 

"[Talking] purely about unemployment benefits, for those who are not working… a day or two ago we were talking about the Government shutting the door on low-skilled migrants to do the work we need done. I find it difficult to justify a raise in terms of the unemployment benefit, when we need people to do the jobs," he said.

"I'm not saying 'don't give them anymore money', I'm saying allow people on the unemployment benefit to do more [work] before you start to take the benefit away from them - because it's not costing us anymore as taxpayers."

Host Duncan Garner agreed, noting the income threshold for beneficiaries could be raised without their benefit being abated. 

Currently, a single beneficiary without dependent children on Jobseeker Support can earn $90 (before tax) per week without the income affecting their main benefit. If they earn more than $90 gross, the main benefit is reduced by 70 cents in the dollar.

A single beneficiary with one or more dependent children is able to earn $115 gross per week without a benefit cut. Any amount earned over $115 - up to $215 - reduces the main benefit by 30 cents in the dollar. A weekly income over $215 abates the main benefit by 70 cents in the dollar.

Speaking to Newshub ahead of the Budget reveal, Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen said there are expectations that the Government will increase spending around housing, climate change and beneficiaries. 

"There's expectations around more spending needed around housing… but also to make sure low-income Kiwi families are supported with the high costs of living starting to bite household budgets around the country," Olsen said.