Battle for a living wage: Govt already offers help - English

By Kate Shuttleworth

Bill English. File photo / Christine Cornege
Bill English. File photo / Christine Cornege

Finance Minister Bill English will not say if the minimum wage is enough to live on but says the Government already subsidises those on low incomes.

Tomorrow a "living wage'' will be revealed, an hourly rate campaigners say is sufficient to live on.

Mr English was asked today if he thought the minimum wage was enough to live on and if he could live on it.

He replied: "The minimum wage is very tight; for some people it's enough to live on and for some people it isn't. Where it isn't there is extensive support from government already.''

"When they set the minimum wage, the big question is how it's going to get paid - so if you say everyone should be paid $20 an hour, I think we'd all like to see that, it would certainly save the Government a lot of money if they all earned $20 an hour, but they don't and there are reasons why they don't and we need to understand those reason.''

Mr English said the Government was keen to see people earn higher incomes.

"We recognise that a lot of people don't earn enough from the market; and that is why we spend billions on interest-free student loans, working for families and the accommodation supplement - these are all ways that the Government subsidises people when their income falls short of what they need to live and we've maintained that through the recession.''

"The two things we can do is to help with economic conditions that allow businesses to succeed and pay more and over the last four years we've increased the minimum wage to the point where it's now one of the highest in the developed world as a proportion of the average wage,'' Mr English said.

Labour's finance spokesman David Parker said he couldn't live on the minimum wage and he didn't think most people could.

"I think we should be trying to run New Zealand in a way that can afford to pay wages that people can afford to live on.

"We have to have economic settings that enable the people who employ people in New Zealand to make a buck, so that they can pay decent wages.''

- APNZ

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