Coupledom rules

By   /   June 8, 2015  /   18 Comments

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Time for New Zealand to wake up to 21st century relationship realities and stop this punitive nonsense. Relationship status should have no place in setting benefit rates or in determining how much can be earned before benefits reduce.

poor-people

I was surprised to receive an invitation to a literary event this week that offered tickets for $20 for singles people and $35 for couples.

What could be the thinking here?  Clearly there are no special economies of scale for couples as each person needs a seat whether coupled or not.

It cant be about discounts for groups otherwise it would have said a discount for parties of two or more, irrespective of relationship.

Is it that couples are more worthy of assistance than single people because they are poorer? Or is there is something inherently desirable about being coupled that needs a subsidy?

The issue is not merely trivial but is part of a deep ambivalence in NZ society to how marriage or relationships in the nature of marriage should be treated.

One place we are clear and logical is the tax system. Tax is fully neutral to relationship status. No  economies of scale from being married are assumed. Being married doesn’t suddenly give you a greater capacity to pay tax. You are taxed as an individual. The state does not give you any special tax dispensation either as might have occurred in times gone by where a woman was seen as a dependent of the male earner who then got a tax rebate for her.

Marriage neutrality is a great thing that makes the NZ tax system a lot simpler than in some other countries. Can you imagine a government believing that married people enjoy economies of scale and should therefore pay more tax? This would mean having to pay more tax if your flatmate became a defacto partner?  Who would decide when you have gone from single sharing to defacto? The very caring IRD?

Would an outsider have to make a declaration about your relationship status is before you can start to earn and pay tax?

Would your nosey neighbour or unloving ‘friend’ be encouraged on the IRD website to dob you in? Would IRD helpfully provide check list of details they require from the informant including:

 

  • the full name of their partner and any other names they’re known by
  • their partner’s age and date of birth
  • their partner’s address
  • whether their partner works and who employs them
  • why [the informant] thinks that they’re a couple
  • how long they’ve been in a relationship (taken from Winz website)

 

What would be the penalties if you have not declared a relationship or a change in relationship?  What kind of legal aid would you get to defend a charge of relationship tax fraud?

Might you be sent to jail? Is there a big calculator in the sky that will work out how much you have saved by hiding your  ‘defactoness’ over many years and then extract weekly reparations from you when you come out of jail or community service or home detention maybe until you die?

But that is exactly  happens in the welfare system.  Time for New Zealand to wake up to 21st century relationship realities and stop this punitive nonsense. Relationship status should have no place in setting benefit rates or in determining how much can be earned before benefits reduce. Nor should it be the basis of prosecutions and possible incarceration.

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About the author

Co-director retirement policy and Research Centre, CPAG management committee

18 Comments

  1. janine says:

    Exactly so

  2. James Thrace says:

    This has been my viewpoint all along. If you are taxed as an individual, you should expect to receive assistance as an individual.

    For WINZ to determine that a married couple, previously earning 75K p/a with both partners earning 37.5k p/a, can all of a sudden keep up with their rent/mortgage, power bills, phone bills, feed 2 kids, keep gas in the car and generally continue to participate in modern society, on half that income is a complete farce.

    When one partner loses their job, half the ability to keep up their outgoings diminishes rapidly. Yet WINZ do decree that 33K p/a is perfectly sufficient to maintain all of the above.

    You might get a bit here and there with WFF, but more than likely you will still have to sell off one of your children to be able to keep buying food.

    The premise of no taxation without representation led to universal suffrage.
    The premise of no taxation without individual assistance when needed, should be equally as valid.

  3. Priss says:

    Interesting that two people flatting together, in no relationship, can each apply for an unemployment benefit, regardless if the other is working or not.

    But a couple in a married/defacto/union relationship are prevented from applying for the dole if the other is still working.

    I’ve never been able to figure that anomaly out. Is the state saying that if one member of a couple becomes unemployed, then they should separate?

    • Geoff Lye says:

      That’s exactly what happens in some cases if the partner cant find a,job.

    • Susan St John says:

      The things that happen in the welfare system are so irrational and mind-bendingly stupid yet almost completely ignored.
      How will they divvy up the extra $25 for a couple on a benefit with children- will they get half each? what happens when they separate? wasn’t it for the children? Does MSD think about such things?
      They have muddied the waters by introducing a family element into the adult benefit-
      There are so many examples of crass stupidity yet we put up with it and allow grae injustices that hurt children can epsecially when we send mothers to jail if they infringe the irrational rules

      • Cagey says:

        I think I heard that in Sweden – with a family – each parent gets an adult payment and children are paid for as each child. It seems really counter-productive longterm to financially punish those who stay together in a family unit. Though it works well to sustain a level of moralistic judgement on those needing financial help from a hostile state.

  4. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Yeah I agree totally but good luck trying to sell it to this caring bunch of arseholes.

    The way to deal with this is to organise and take it before the courts of law.

    And that includes the human rights act and ultimately the UN.

    If declared discrimminatory by our own courts of law it can be actioned. If not but the UN declare it discrimminatory, it will at the very least embarrass this government and give a little bit of redress to us lower echelons.

    • Susan St John says:

      Been there done that. The Judges dont get it. Lawyers are not trained to think in policy terms. 10 years on the courts for the CPAG case. We didnt lose- they did not do the job required of them and made a mockery of the Human rights framework. I would not advise any one to go down that path. The court of human opinion is more fruitful

  5. Dan says:

    May encourage getting more people to the event thus assisting its longevity. Bit like buying a car. There is a discount if you but more than one

    • Dan, if they’re a couple, they generally accompany each other to events anyway…

      • Susan St John says:

        so what is the point of a lower cost? Shades of needing to help couples because she is assumed a dependant?

    • Susan St John says:

      Dan
      Perhaps you missed the point? Encouraging bringing another person or acquaintance and getting a discount is legitimate.
      My friend and I have bought a couple ticket and saved 5 dollars- but have we committed fraud?
      The point was to ask why should couples get subsidised when we treat them so differently for tax and for welfare?

      • GettingOn says:

        If two single people weren’t allowed to buy a ‘couples’ ticket, it could be argued that they were being discriminatory towards older women, many of whom are widowed.

        Maybe the organisers are taking pity on all those spouses dragged along to boring events. Toss them a crumb and give them $5 off! LOL.

  6. Quick Thinking says:

    It sounds like a good idea but while we have more working people than those on welfare (excluding WFF, rent assistance) then other parties will crucify anyone that seems to be soft on welfare no matter how fair the suggestion is. There is also no chance that the MSM will give anything like an unbiased opinion also.
    My thoughts would be that small steps to solving the problems while maintaining the illusion that nothing has changed has the most chance of success (this sounds like the actions of the nutters in charge now so maybe its not such a good idea).

    • I think we need to achieve a major attitude change towards social welfare. The example of the 40 hour famine, or getting comfortable middle class people to sleep on the streets for a night to get a taste of what homelessness is like, offers one possible tactic.

      Get people to commit to living as if they have lost their job for a fixed period, say 1 month, working out what their monthly income would be in that situation, and donating any income over that level to a charity of their choice. I think a lot of couples with children would be shocked awake by trying to feed and provide for their family on the starvation level of current benefits. Those who scoff and doing so for a month, could be challenged to try it for 6 months.

  7. Susan St John says:

    Since writing this blog I have been appalled to find that
    grey power subs are $20 for couples, $15 each for singles. Friends of Te Papa – $65 for couples but $45 for singles.

    This link is good
    http://www.yourtango.com/2013194029/national-singles-week-single-why-its-still-acceptable-discriminate-against-singles

    relationship should have no bearing on charges