By Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development and Disability Issues.
We all celebrate milestones each year, whether it’s birthdays, weddings, family reunions, savings goals or a promotion at work. It’s the same in government, though not in the ways you might think.
Cynics would have you believe that all we focus on are political polls and point scoring. In reality, the moments I mark on my calendar aren’t so different to the things I expect you pen on yours.
Of course we have a comprehensive agenda of policy work that tackles the long-term challenges facing New Zealand. Whether it’s our work in health, rebuilding and upgrading hospitals around the country after years of neglect; Our record investment in mental health so people can get the help they need at their local GP; Or our work to clean up our rivers– we are making progress on the big issues.
This Labour weekend, as we celebrate two years in office, I wanted to share with you some of the successes I celebrate with my friends and family.
We’ve made it easier to get a driver’s license
Being able to get yourself from A to B, whether it’s to work, to study or to help out at home, is really important - especially in our regions. What’s more, young people have told us that the number one barrier to work is not being able to drive.
As Minister for Social Development, I made it a priority to help people get a license. In the six months to March 2019, the work we did alongside the New Zealand Transport Agency helped 5,500 people across the country into the driver’s seat. That progress empowers our young people, and supports economic growth in communities across the country.
We’re helping more New Zealanders into their first home
Our focus is getting Kiwis into homes. The challenges we face in housing have been decades in the making, but we’ve made a good start over the past two years. We’ve built more state houses than any other Government since the 1970s, stopped the sell-off of state house, and banned offshore speculators. We’ve made saving for a house deposit easier by lowering the deposit required for a government-backed mortgaged or first home grant to 5%, and will roll out our progressive home ownership scheme next year.
We increased school funding so parents don’t have to pay for school donations or NCEA fees
We’ve taken the pressure off parents to pay school donations by better funding our schools.
No one should miss out on extra activities because their parents can’t afford to pay a voluntary donation. We’re also providing lunches in schools for the kids who need them most – a move that will help our children concentrate in class and reach their potential.
We’ve helped thousands of New Zealanders into work
Landing your first job, or a new job is a big moment. Since we took office 92,000 more New Zealanders are in work. Under Labour, unemployment is down and wages are up. We’ve increased the minimum wage to $17.70 an hour – increasing pay packets for more than 200,000 workers – and we’ve focused on getting people who had fallen through the cracks back into work.
We made it cheaper to go to the doctor and pay the bills
Our focus on addressing the rising cost of living is making it easier to raise a family. Under Labour, 600,000 New Zealanders now pay $20 - $30 less to see the doctor and all children under 14 can see their GP for free. In my community of West Auckland the impact this policy has had is huge. Under Labour, no family will have to trade off taking their children to the doctor, with paying rent or buying groceries.
I am so proud of the work our government, led by Jacinda Ardern, has done these past two years. After nine years of National, many social issues were ignored. Getting things back on track is going to take time but we’ve made a start, taking a balanced approach.
Carmel Sepuloni is Minister for Social Development and Disability Issues and Labour MP for Kelston.