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OPINION: I know they say “don’t read the comments”. Especially on Facebook.
But reading the comments on news stories about Winston Peters’ superannuation “overpayment” compared to those on coverage of Metiria Turei’s “benefit fraud” has revealed to me the surprising extent of a huge double-standard in New Zealanders’ psyche.
Many readers have stepped up in support of Peters claiming his few hundred dollars’ pension a week on top of his MP’s salary, saying he “he deserves the money, he’s earned it”.
Turei was lucky if all she got was “bludger”.
It seems that while we are all fully supportive of the idea that retirees deserve a universal benefit, not matter what they have in the bank, or however many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year they earn, we are not convinced that children and those who look after them are entitled to any help at all.
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Our super scheme is one of the simplest in the world – all you have to do to get it is to be over 65 and have lived in New Zealand 10 years or more.
We have one of the world’s lowest poverty rates among elderly people because of it.
We all seem to agree that the elderly are vulnerable and so that protection is important for them, at a time when they may not be able to work and support themselves.
But kids. We seem to feel quite differently about kids – although they too are economically and socially vulnerable.
Talk of a universal benefit – much like super – for young families was discounted by many people who suggested it would just be “wasted” and people who chose to have kids “didn’t deserve” any help from society.
If parents are out of work and need to call on the government for assistance to support their families they are regarded with suspicion. Like we’d all just give up our jobs and live off the state if Work and Income just made it easy enough for us.
And if beneficiaries claim more than they are entitled to, get caught and go to court, they can expect to be dealt with more harshly than those who evade tax.
But all the while, these kids don’t have any other option but to ride out whatever the financial circumstances of their parents. They cannot go out to get a job to raise their standard of living any more than your 90-year-old neighbour could.
I don’t begrudge retirees their pensions – although it is worth noting that the idea that retirees have “worked all their lives” to cover their pensions is demonstrably false. Many will claim in pensions an amount not far off the tax they paid through the total of their working lives. Pensions are paid by the tax of those working today.
But I think, if we are all so fiercely behind our desire to make sure our elderly have a decent standard of living once they stop working, we should not judge so harshly those parents whose job it is to do their best to provide a good standard of living to our society’s youngest members.
Compare the lifestyle of the MP with a bit too rich a pension to that of the student who claimed more than she was meant to while looking after her child. I know which I’d rather try on for size.