Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Labour's baby bonus - a waste or a boon?

Two families with young children have different views on Labour's plan to give an extra $60 a week for new babies. One is grateful but says it's imprudent, the other is struggling and says it would be a huge help

Bryan Smith and Jane Silloway Smith - pictured with son Edmund - are expecting a second child in April. Photo / Natalie Slade
Bryan Smith and Jane Silloway Smith - pictured with son Edmund - are expecting a second child in April. Photo / Natalie Slade

A middle-class Auckland couple about to have a new baby say they don't need the $60 a week that the Labour Party wants to give them if it wins this year's election.

Dr Jane Silloway Smith, research manager at the conservative Maxim Institute, and her scientist husband Dr Bryan Smith between them earn just under the $150,000 threshold that Labour has set for its proposed child payment for the first year after a new baby is born.

The Smiths, who came here from the United States in 2008, say they would be grateful for the extra $60 a week, but they could do without it.

"Children are expensive even in two-professional-income households like ours, but my husband and I are fortunate enough to be able to handle that financial burden," Dr Silloway Smith said.

A former history lecturer, Dr Silloway Smith, 32, returned to work at Maxim just 12 weeks after giving birth to the couple's first child, Edmund, 22 months ago. She left work a week before he was due, but he was a week late so she had only 12 weeks of paid parental leave left after he was born.

Edmund goes to the Parnell Trust early childhood centre while Dr Silloway Smith works at the Maxim office three days a week.

She works one other day each week at home with Edmund and has three days off.

"We had options, and I was able to come back [to work] because I wanted to," she said.

"It works really well with his personality. He loves being with other children, and it's a nice balance for me between being with other people and being with my family."

She has a second baby due in April and plans to take six months off this time - 14 weeks on taxpayer-funded paid parental leave, part of the remaining time on leave paid by Maxim, and several weeks unpaid.

Dr Silloway Smith supports paid parental leave, but she said the Government had a limited budget and giving her family $60 a week would be "a waste of money".

"If the NZ Government was in a position where it was flush with money and there were surpluses everywhere, and education was going well and health was going well and poverty rates were decreasing, then great, that would be excellent," she said. "But in a country where we are just now starting to come out of some serious debts, to be increasing spending in this way, I think, is a little bit imprudent."

Labour spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the party made the first year's payment "near-universal" in line with the Children's Commissioner's expert group on child poverty, which said universality would "support a parent to stay home during infancy, enhancing parent-child bonding, encouraging child development and breastfeeding".

She said families would have to apply to the Inland Revenue Department for the new payment, as they do now for family tax credits, and Dr Silloway Smith was free not to apply.

"If she strongly holds to the view that her family circumstances mean that the Best Start payment is not something she needs or wants, or paid parental leave, then she doesn't have to apply for it."


Francois Byamana and Cassandra Barnett, with  16-month-old  Izuba, could afford heating in only one room last winter. Photo / Richard Robinson
Francois Byamana and Cassandra Barnett, with 16-month-old Izuba, could afford heating in only one room last winter. Photo / Richard Robinson

Extra dosh would go far for struggling family

An extra $60 a week would have meant that Cassandra Barnett and her family would not have had to "freeze" through last winter.

Dr Barnett and her partner, Francois Byamana, were on unemployment benefits when they had their son Izuba 16 months ago.

Even with an accommodation supplement and family tax credits for Izuba and Mr Byamana's 13-year-old son Tuyishime, things were tight after the family paid $445 a week rent for their three-bedroom home in Te Atatu, they say.

Extended family provided hand-me-down cloth nappies, clothes, a bassinet and other supplies that Dr Barnett says would have cost more than $1000 if she had had to buy them. But the relatives couldn't provide warmth in winter.

"We had a heater in the baby room but not for the rest of us," she said. "We have a fireplace but we could never afford firewood. We were freezing all through winter. We didn't have raincoats - we still don't have raincoats."

Sometimes they ran out of food.

"The money would go on the rent - that was the first priority - and then it would go on paying the bills, and that's keeping the bills down," she said. "We didn't have a landline or internet until two months ago.

"But we had periods when we couldn't buy food, the cupboards were bare and we had no money to do a shop. We would periodically go to Winz and get the food vouchers that they give."

Dr Barnett, who will be 39 on Saturday, lectured in art history at Unitec from 2005 until she took leave to study for her doctorate about two years ago, and went back to work two days a week when Izuba was 5 months old.

"I didn't want to go back to work at all. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum, at least for the first year."

Mr Byamana, also 39, is an actor and a musician with an unstable income. He found a low-paid sales job last year but gave it up when he got a six-week acting contract, and is now studying fulltime.

Now Dr Barnett has been made redundant in a restructuring of Unitec's arts department, but has just got a new job three days a week at Manukau Institute of Technology.

The family would still qualify for Labour's $60-a-week a payment until Izuba turns 3, because Dr Barnett will earn less than the $50,000 threshold, and she said the money would help pay for bus fares, petrol and other costs.

"A little bit more heating for our house would make things much more pleasant," she said. "And then the food, being a little bit more nutritious and not so budget."


Best Start payment

• $60 a week for a baby's first year if parents earn under $150,000 a year, but not while they receive paid parental leave.

• On top of existing income-tested family tax credits and in-work tax credit.

• New payment also income-tested once baby turns 1, reducing by 30c for every $1 earned above $50,000.

• Payment would end at age 3, when 25 hours of free preschooling would start.

Read more on the various policies here.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 29 Jul 2014 16:20:31 Processing Time: 513ms