Finance Minister Bill English admits the income gap hasn't closed in National's three years in office but blames the recession rather than poor policy.

Asked by TV3's The Nation this morning whether National had closed the gap, Mr English said: "I think it's roughly the same.

"We have had a major recession, so there are people who lost jobs and went on benefits."

Mr English also rejected the assertion the Government had widened the gap between rich and poor with tax cuts which gave those on $150,000 a year an extra $151 a week, while those on $30,000 got only $16.


He claimed he had information which showed the top 10 percent of earners had experienced an income drop, and said the Government had focussed on providing opportunities for all.

"It's not a failure because we're focussing on the things that help provide the opportunities,'' Mr English said.

"National Standards so every kid gets decent education, welfare reform so people aren't trapped there for years on end and a growing economy that means people who are on a benefit have the hope of getting a job."

National had ensured those as the bottom were holding their own, as well as giving them the tools to improve their lot, he said.

"You can explicitly close the income gap in the short term if you just give more money to people on low incomes.

"Our opponents are proposing to do that. I don't think anyone thinks that's the way out of poverty.''

Mr English classed poverty as people living on a "very low income" for a long time. People could generally handle it for a short time, such as those who needed to go on a benefit after losing their job.

However, it made for a miserable life when it became long-term.


"I think there's people who are living miserable lives (in New Zealand)," Mr English said.

Meanwhile, Mr English said the Government was not planning further asset sales beyond those already outlined - and which polls show little public support for.

"We have put a programme in front of New Zealanders now. We do not have a mandate to sell assets until or unless we are re-elected.

"We're seeking a mandate beyond anything which has been put to the public.''

He stressed that, under the proposal to sell up to 49 percent of energy companies Mighty River Power, Meridan, Genesis and Solid Energy, the Government would retain 51 percent ownership.

It also planned to sell part of its stake in Air New Zealand.