Where are the women in the social insurance scheme? On the advantage
Michelle Duff is a National Correspondent for Stuff
OPINION: How many women were in the room when the social insurance plan was concocted, do you think?
Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced the shiny new unemployment scheme this week, backed by Business NZ chief Kirk Hope and Council of Trade Unions chairman Richard Wagstaff.
These men are part of a shadowy triptych on the future of work that has crafted a plan that will impact all New Zealanders, even women. Now, there is a discussion paper that we are invited to contribute to, after the wheels of the regime have already been hammered out, and its existence does not appear to be up for debate.
Prior to the creation of the ACC in 1974, there was a Royal Commission of Inquiry which looked into the idea of the scheme, whether it should exist and in what form.
* National attacks unemployment insurance proposal as a ‘job tax’, Greens say it creates ‘two-tier’ welfare system
* The government proposes an unemployment insurance scheme financed by a tax of 1.39%
* How social insurance could provide a safety net for New Zealand’s most vulnerable workers
We all accept ACC most of the time now, and it has helped many of us recover from injury. It is also plagued with flaws and is grossly unfair, with the ACC’s own research finding that it discriminates against women, Maori and Pasifika.
Still, we’re getting into social insurance, which pays 80% of a former worker’s previous income for seven months, is supposed to help cushion economic shocks and could cost $1.3 billion a year.
Women have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 related job losses. But the person who stands to gain the most from this program, as proposed, is a middle-to-upper-income white man who works 9 to 5 and has no dependents.
If their income is about $130,000 a year, the suggested ceiling, and they lose their job, they would probably get about $1,500 a week after tax.
If someone on minimum wage loses their job, that’s about $540 a week.
In both of these scenarios, they paid a 1.39% levy – on a minimum wage of about $11 a week, and at the highest income, it’s $35.
If you lose your job now, the Jobseeker Support Benefit rate is about $315 per week.
In some ways, social insurance seems like a better deal. Because it’s earnings-related, someone who was paid minimum wage and loses their job receives $225 a week more than that rate.
But the person who earns a higher salary will benefit much more, even compared to the levy he paid. They would pocket $1,200 a week more than the current benefit rate.
Who is most likely to have a higher income? Able-bodied men, Pākehā, who work full-time in traditional salaried roles. The proposed scheme plans to allow casual workers, although there is much less clarity on how this might work and how much the rates will be.
But again, there is no monetary value attached to caregiving or unpaid work, no mention of single parents (who are mostly women), people who have to leave their jobs to caring for dependents, or who are ill or disabled and cannot work.
Has anyone in the Future of Work group thought about fully funding childcare, so women can find, seek and keep jobs? Or introduce paid parental leave, as comparable schemes abroad have done?
The discussion paper acknowledges that carers are more than twice as likely to be female and Maori. They will not be covered by the scheme, but they are, supposedly, taken care of by the health and social protection systems.
Is this the same outdated welfare system that barely kept up with inflation, and that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group [WEAG] said it needed a major overhaul in mid-2019, coming up with 42 recommendations that critics say have barely been touched?
Social Development Minister Carmen Sepuloni said Things reforms are underway, but require structural changes and will take time. She said the income assurance scheme met some of the recommendations for support, just done differently.
Yet, by announcing a completely separate safety net without fixing the old one, this government seems to be signaling a disregard for those who need help the most. Many of the children live in poverty, many single mothers on welfare, many Maori. How much do we really care about improving their quality of life or supporting the unpaid work done primarily by mothers?
In other countries where social insurance exists, paid parental leave is usually included in the levy, allowing men to be more generously at home with their children.
Although Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood has said this will be considered by this government, there is no mention of it in this policy, which would be a logical place for it. Why not?
Instead of improving our system, this new system seems poised to make moral judgments about who deserves government money the most, who should get more, and whose work is most important.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see who looks set to come out on top.