Another incomplete story

I’m start to get seriously annoyed at who run story after story on how various families have to survive on $x, and hence need a payrise – without detailing their actual total income including government support. They do their readers a gross disservice by hiding relevant facts from them.

Today’s story is:

Solo mother Kelly Belcher is trying to raise her two young children on around $240 a week, a wage she says is not enough to provide her family with a decent quality of life.

Ms Belcher was speaking at the launch of the Living Wage Aotearoa NZ campaign in Auckland today, which aims to combat poverty and inequality by advocating for better wages for low-paid workers.

She works as a cleaner in Auckland and is also studying for a degree.

“I would earn more on the DPB (domestic purposes benefit) but I’m trying to do the right thing and be productive and work, but I get slapped down for it. That’s how it feels. There’s no quality of life. I look at my two little kids and there’s no activities, there’s no soccer, there’s no swimming, there’s no life,” she said.

Now good on Ms Belcher for working and studying. I am not disputing that life is tough for her. What I am saying is that media have a responsibility to provide complete information on income.

At a minimum there is a family tax credit of $157 a week. The weekly no of work hours appears to be 17.  If Belcher increases her number of work hours to 20, then she would gain an extra $279 through the in-work tax credit and minimum family tax credit. So an extra three hours a week of work would see an extra $14,500 a year.

By contrast an increase in pay from $13.50 an hour to $17 an hour would bring in only $60 (gross) a week or around $50 net.

We also do not know if there is any income from student allowance, or accommodation supplement, let alone child support from the father.

There should be a guideline in place for reporters who do stories which include claims about family income. It should tell the reporter to ask the following:

  • How many hours of paid work, at what rate
  • Do they receive welfare and/or WFF credits
  • Do they get the accommodation supplement and/or live in a state house
  • If a sole parent, is there any contribution from the other parent
  • Do their expenses include anything irregular (such as debt repayment)

I’m not saying that after all that, there will not be a story that shows times are tough for that family. But that the public deserve the have enough information for them to be able to form an independent judgement. Merely repeating claims in a press release is not serving readers.

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