Ten grand a year, no questions asked, sounds like a sweet deal. Especially when you're aged 18-23. You could almost say it sounds too good to be true, which is why, as with anything that smells suspiciously like an election bribe, it merits further investigation.

The $10,000 Youth Universal Basic Income (UBI) that The Opportunities Party floated this week would be given to New Zealanders between the ages of 18-23 in weekly instalments of $200.

Every young New Zealander would be entitled to it, regardless of their financial circumstances. So who would it really benefit?

It is worth taking a quick look at the current system. The comparative rates currently available under the Jobseeker benefit for single people in this age group are $141.62 per week if you're 18-19 and live at home, and $177.03 per week otherwise.

Advertisement

For single students on the student allowance, the weekly entitlement is up to $141.62 if you live at home and up to $177.03 if you don't, with all amounts after tax.

Some beneficiaries may also be eligible for an accommodation supplement of up to $145 per week depending on where you live and the value of any assets you might have.

Regardless of how much your accommodation costs, however, the accommodation supplement rarely covers more than half.

The welfare system becomes more complicated when you consider couples and children, but whichever way you slice it, it's pretty clear that it's not easy to get by when you rely on a benefit.

At $10,000 per year, the Youth UBI wouldn't change that. The Opportunities Party policy stipulates that the UBI entitlement would be made up of the first $10,000 of any benefits an individual may be entitled to.

For all of its optimistic branding, in reality it would likely bring more of the same for young people at the coalface of poverty.

The policy also seeks to do away with student allowances, and though the party asserts that there would be "no bureaucrats telling you what to do" with the $10,000, in practice many students would likely end up using it to pay for expenses the student allowance would otherwise go towards.

The University of Auckland currently suggests that the cost of living for its students ranges from $20,000-$25,000 per year. While students who are currently ineligible for the student allowance would be better off under the basic income proposal, the UBI would likely come nowhere near covering the costs they incur.

Advertisement

The question also must be asked of whether this policy would maintain inequality.

Do the children of multimillionaires really need a taxpayer handout? Couldn't that money be better spent on people who need it?

In giving $10,000 to every young person, regardless of their financial situation, the baseline would remain the same. Some young people would use their UBI to live on, as they currently live on their Jobseeker benefit or student allowance, while some of those at the other end of the spectrum would be in a position where they simply became tens of thousands of dollars richer.

Others would inevitably squander it, which has less to do with age than it does human nature.

The temptation to spend, especially when it's "free money" you're spending, is powerful. It takes willpower to save, invest or use money wisely. Willpower that, if I'm brutally honest, I didn't develop until relatively recently.

While financial recklessness is certainly not the exclusive domain of the young, I can acknowledge that I was more likely to make poorly considered financial decisions when I was 18 than I am now. Are untagged funds really the best way to help young people?

Advertisement

Perhaps the most troubling part of The Opportunities Party's policy, however, is the strange and tenuous connection to youth suicide.

Indeed, in a video about the policy posted on the party's Facebook page, "suicide" was written next to the word "why".

The idea that giving all 18 to 23-year-olds $10,000 will somehow miraculously reduce our horrifying youth suicide statistics is alarming at best and irresponsible at worst.

To me, the Youth UBI policy seems like an exercise in throwing money randomly at a number of complex and interrelated problems and expecting them to fix themselves.

Issues like increasing inequality, cycles of poverty, high numbers of youth not in employment, education or training, and heartbreaking youth suicide statistics will not simply disappear if you give young people ten grand a year.

If anything, some of these problems may actually get worse, as the policy may widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Advertisement

Which is not to say the status quo is fine.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the system is broken. Our welfare system is cruelly punitive, the costs of education and living are soaring, and as automation becomes more widespread, the job market is becoming increasingly unstable.

The sum of these factors is that a number of young people have lost hope.

Our rangatahi deserve a better future than the one they're currently being promised, but I highly doubt that chucking $10,000 their way each year would result in much more than continued struggle for those at the bottom and some awesome parties for those who don't need to worry about everyday living costs.

Though it would be helpful to students who are ineligible for a student allowance under current legislation, there's no guarantee that the money will go where it's needed, and the reality for those who need it the most is that $10,000 isn't anywhere near enough to change their lives for the better.

It's hard to support the scheme when it's measured against other proposals like free tertiary education for all (whether through apprenticeships, universities, wānanga, or other accredited providers), increased benefits, or universal student allowances.

Advertisement

Though these ideas aren't as flashy or new, they may deliver better outcomes.

Whatever policies are proposed for our young people, one thing is certain: they deserve better than an election bribe. Our rangatahi deserve real change.