We need a priority list of steps that the government can and should take immediately to help protect working people from the immediate devastation associated with what seems will be an inevitable deep recession. (I have stolen a few of these ideas from Greenpeace)
1) Put all people receiving a welfare benefit on an emergency benefit of $425 net each week. Individualise all entitlements. Online applications only needed to access benefits. Abolish interview requirement. Maintain end to standdown period. Abolish MSD client debts. Allow migrant workers who lose jobs to get. This benefit should last for at least six months and then become part of a new basic income grant.
2) Establish the net single national super rate ($425 weekly) as a tax-free basic income grant for everyone 65 and over initially. Combine this with a flat tax of 40% on all other income.
3) Progressively extend this tax-free benefit to those 60 or over who have worked manual jobs, and to replace other benefits (sole parent, sick and invalid and unemployed), and student allowances as new income and wealth taxes allow.
4) Establish a new marginal tax rate of 40% for incomes over the level that the beneft is still a net gain for people (around $120,000 a year). Further marginal rates can be established for incomes over that until a 100% rate is effective from $250,000 a year.
5) A universal child allowance of $150 weekly
6) A universal student allowance equal to the core adult unemployment benefit immediately and become part of a new basic income grant as new wealth taxes are introduced.
7) Increase Health funding to allow genuine universal access as well as preparedness for future pandemics. Abolish Health Board debts.
8) Minimum wage to be set at 66% of the average wage. Everyone deserves a living wage.
9) Wealth taxes and death duties to ensure everyone pays a fair share
10)) Free pre-school for every child. Make it part of the public education system.
11) Look at ways to reduce the working week for everyone with no loss in pay so that the work is shared around equitably in society.
12) Massive expansion in training and retraining of workers to allow for a just transition from the current job set up to one that is sustainable for the planet through a Green New Deal.
13) Repealing existing laws that prevent local authorities and state-owned enterprises operating businesses in a socially responsible way. Allow publicly-owned monopolies to be established not guided by the pursuit of profit. These would include transport, energy, postal services and broadband delivery.
14) ) Allowing local authorities the power to take over existing social services like public transport, and establish new publicly-owned social services that can tackle the social deficits in their own communities.
15)) Billions of dollars in funding for distributed solar and wind, alongside upgrades to the power grid. All public buildings, including schools, should be converted to solar energy. The Government should introduce a zero-interest loan for household solar and batteries. Finance and support for community solar and wind projects should be fast-tracked. Regulatory barriers that prevent people from trading and gifting energy should be removed and a floor price introduced for household and community-generated electricity.
16) Establishing people’s power in local communities with elected boards that are resourced to allow the people themselves to tackle the social deficits built up over decades of neglect. Begin with an audit of every home to find out what food, medical, housing, energy, educational, or work needs exist that can be battled against collectively.
17) An urban “marae” centred on a high school in every community that is able to provide community kitchens, gardens, cinemas and theatres, sports facilities, evening education.
18) A target of 10,000 social houses to be built each year as the core of the infrastructure rebuild. Building to continue at that level until every New Zealander who wants one can access one. Rents to be no more than 25% of income.
19) Embarking on a nationwide social housing upgrade programme, providing insulation, heat pumps, solar and batteries to some of our most vulnerable families. Insulation and heat pumps mandatory in all homes – especially rental. Interest-free loans available to install if necessary.
20) Public transport to be made a public service and radically expanded to serve the needs of the people and the planet and not run on a for-profit model. Buses and rail links should be electric. Rail lines should be established – or reestablished – between cities to reduce air travel. Cycleways should be mandatory across a city. Interest-free loans for ebikes and scooters made available.
21) Establish the infrastructure to eliminate the need to use petrol and diesel vehicles and promote their replacement by public transport where possible and electric vehicles where necessary.
22) Companies requiring a bailout by the government – currently nearly all private companies – be required to not pay dividends to shareholders (or high salaries and bonuses to executives) until they have paid back the money they got from the government.
23) Banks who have also effectively also been bailed out with Reserve Bank money should be forbidden from paying dividends or preferably brought into public ownership and control.
24) Companies that the state may have to nationalise if they are threatened with bankruptcy like Fletcher Building could be, or renationalised as is happening with Air NZ, should be organised as public utilities. The will be managed so they won’t continue to be run only to generate profit for shareholders which fails to care for either the workers or the planet. They should be repurposed to implement a Green New Deal to rebuild the country. If they have to reduce in size, like Air NZ must do for environmental reasons as well as the fact air travel has disappeared, then the workers need a just transition with incomes protected as new jobs are found.
25) All company boards of directors that have received a government bailout have representation from the state and workers organisations on their boards to ensure they prioritise keeping jobs and protecting the planet during the crisis. Laws that prioritise profits over jobs or the environment should be repealed.
26) Restoring our critical natural ecosystems: (Courtesy of Greenpeace)
– A significant cash injection for the Department of Conservation to employ a “conservation corps” of people to eradicate pests, plant native trees and restore critical habitats, such as wetlands.
– Fast-track fencing and planting of on-farm waterways by subsidising or paying for fencing, planting crews and ongoing weed maintenance.
– Scale the restoration of mussel and shellfish beds in the Hauraki Gulf and other harbours, by investing in people, shellfish and boats to undertake the programme.
27) All workers in New Zealand on temporary work visas to have the right to transition to permanent residence If they choose to.
28) A Financial Transactions Tax to established that can progressively replace GST as a source of revenue.
29) Expanded paid sick and family leave to be available from day one of employment.
30) A ban on evictions and mortgage foreclosures. A 12-week rent and mortgage holiday for tenants, homeowners and small businesses. Make the landlords share in the sacrifices being made.
31) Interest-free loan forbearance for all who need it; A moratorium on negative credit reporting; Halting all debt collection; Flexible repayment options post-forbearance;
Stopping wage garnishment; Increasing predatory lending protections; and
Spurring the economy by canceling student debt.
32) Unions to have universal membership in the industries they represent to give workers a voice in what happens to those industries as the crisis passes.