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Speech! Student Unemployment Benefit

Student Unemployment Benefit
Estimates Debate Wed 23 August 2000
Sue Bradford Green Party

Embargoed 'til delivery in Parliament tonight

Tonight as part of this Estimates Debate I am proposing a motion that $17 million be added to Vote Work and Income within the Benefits and other Unrequited Expenses: Community Wage line item. The purpose of this amendment is to cover the estimated costs of making the Community Wage Student available this coming summer to all tertiary students who qualify
on the same worktesting grounds as other unemployed people.

The Green Party does not believe it is right that people who have been students during the year should be treated differently than other people who are also genuinely seeking work and cannot find it. 18 - 24 year old students need to eat, have a roof over their heads and sustain basic everyday life just as much as any other human beings. The withdrawal of the unemployment benefit from the majority of students in 1998 under the National Government seemed driven by a belief that 18 - 24 year olds should remain dependent on their families until they're 25.

This is a patently ridiculous notion. On the one hand most parents are unwilling and/or unable to continue to support their offspring well into adulthood. On the other, young people who are in every other respect considered by our society to be adults are being expected to humiliate themselves by begging from their parents for food and money. Each summer
now many students end up losing their accommodation, living in rough conditions, begging from foodbanks, and sometimes turning to prostitution, drug dealing and other forms of crime to survive.

Last week when I put a Private Members Bill up before the House, proposing among other things to restore the emergency benefit for all unemployed students in the summer, the Government told us that they could not support this measure on fiscal grounds. There are a lot of students out there who are pretty anxious about what's going to happen for them this coming
summer, and I am asking the Government to seriously reconsider its position.

Looking at a few financial facts, an addition of $17 million to the WINZ budget of $13,117 million equates to an increase of 0.13% - a drop in the bucket. Even from the Community Wage budget alone of $1,867 million, a commitment to the student unemployment benefit would mean an increase of just 0.91%.

If Parliament were to support other Green Party amendments put forward in this debate to cut $25 million from the Skyhawks, $10 million from the Waihopai spybase and $5 million from the SIS, just over half of what would be saved could be allocated to the student unemployment benefit. We certainly believe, as I am sure much of the NZ population does, that money spent on Waihopai and the SIS is a total waste, and I think the Government would be doing themselves an enormous political favour if they were to prioritise the welfare of students over superfluous cold war defence anachronisms.

I would also like members to consider what is lost when students end up destitute for months at a time. Some end up leaving the education system for good with their courses unfinished, many increase their load of debt, and the likelihood of even more of our most educated young people leaving the country increases.

We should value their generation as much as we value our own age groups here in Parliament and those older than us. I am glad that the Government has improved the lot of superannuitants since it came to office.
However, I am sure many of those very same people in the older generation who have benefited from this recent generosity would join me tonight in asking Parliament to have the courage to take at least this one small step towards redressing the intergenerational fiscal imbalance that has accumulated over the last two decades.

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