Casual work putting pressure on families

27 Nov

By Thomas Heaton

(Reprinted from the Manawatu Standard)

A job market with more casual labour and an increasing number of zero-hour contracts is leaving Manawatu families wanting.

Palmerston North’s Methodist Social Services food bank co-ordinator Stacey Rohloff said there were a number of people using the food bank to make up the difference.

More zero-hour contracts added to the problem, as it meant workers did not have guaranteed hours of work.

"They never have a budget that’s secure," she said.

Massey University research has found almost two-thirds of work was casual, part-time or contracted.

Methodist Social Services found "the worst thing" was the increasing number of zero-hour contracts.

In Work Tax Credits are designed to go to those who are not on government benefits and who work a certain amount of hours each week.

To qualify for the tax credit a single parent with a dependant child, under 18, must work a minimum of 20 hours per week, while a couple must work 30.

Their hours were also insecure, so could fall short of the 20 or 30-hour threshold, Rohloff said.

There is an option that allows families to obtain the tax credit at the end of the financial year, in a lump sum.

"It sounds great, but generally they [families] have struggled the whole year."

Receiving the tax throughout the year was also possible, but anyone overpaid at the end of the year would have to pay it back.

The money from the lump sum would go to paying off debts accrued throughout the year, Rohloff said.

It was hard for some parents, who thought they could not do without it, because they still had to feed their children, she said.

Rohloff said she believed the In Work Tax Credit was a "bit of a sham".

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) also expressed dissatisfaction with the tax credit system in light of the current employment market, as workers were missing out due to "red tape".

Although parents were missing out on the extra money, it was their children who were being affected.

CPAG economics spokeswoman Susan St John said that the "discriminatory and inflexible" family assistance package failed to protect children in a casual work environment, where parents’ work hours were uncertain.

"The unrealistic, rigid hours-worked requirements must go as a first step in badly-needed reforms to reduce child poverty."

A spokeswoman for Minister of Revenue Todd McClay said the tax benefit was always designed to "ensure people in work were better off than being on welfare".

"On the wider issue of child poverty, the Government’s absolutely committed to improving living standards for all children, particularly our most vulnerable," she said.

"Cabinet is working on a range of options right now and they will form part of next year’s Budget."

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