Robertson: All Kiwis to get financial support amid level 4 lockdown

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Mar 2020, 5:52pm
Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Robertson: All Kiwis to get financial support amid level 4 lockdown

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Mar 2020, 5:52pm

The Government has almost doubled how much it will spend on its wage subsidy scheme; opening it up to all companies in New Zealand as thousands of businesses are forced to close their doors.

Rent increases will be frozen and the Government has hinted at "significant measures" to help mortgage holders as the economic impacts of Covid-19 continue to worsen.

And speaking to reporters this afternoon, Finance Minister Grant Robertson made a promise.

"We will make sure that all New Zealanders continue to receive some form of income through this period."

This will include a new package that will be "above and beyond" the Government's already announced wage subsidy scheme.

Robertson's comments, and the Government's decisions, follows Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised New Zealand's Covid-19 alert level to three, and said it would be moved to four in 48 hours.

Level four means the country essentially goes into lockdown.

Schools and businesses will be closed for at least four weeks.

But essential services will remain open – details of what constitutes as an essential business will be unveiled by the Government soon.

The Government's decision will mean thousands of businesses will be forced to close their doors for the foreseeable future – it will have an impact on every business in the country, Robertson said.

To help businesses during these uncertain times, Cabinet has agreed to boost the wage subsidy scheme – announced just six days ago – from $5.1 billion to $9.3 billion.

This assumes 50 per cent of businesses access the 12-week scheme.

Cabinet agreed to remove the $150,000 cap, which limits the number of people receiving the subsidy per businesses to on average 20 employees.

The scheme is now available to all businesses no matter the size, as well as self-employed contractors.

It has also been opened up to registered charities, non-government organisations and incorporated societies.

Businesses which are less than a year old and firms that have had a significant increase in revenue are now also eligible for the scheme.

But all businesses will still need to demonstrate their revenue has been, or will, be impacted by at least 30 per cent compared to the same time last year.

"Now that many New Zealanders will not be able to go to work over the next few weeks our priority is ensuring they continue to receive some form of income through this period," Robertson said.

He did not rule out creating a universal basic income – a scheme where the Government provides money for everyone in the country.

"We're looking to protect the income of New Zealanders while we're in alert level 4 – that work is urgently underway now."

He said he will detail what that would look like "within the next couple of days".

The Government has also decided to freeze rent increases and will look to extend no clause terminations.

Robertson said this would "protect people during this difficult time".

And there appears to be much more to come from the Government.

The Government, the Reserve Bank and major retail banks have agreed, in principle, to a business financing guarantee scheme, as well as agreeing to provide "significant" support to mortgage holders.

The schemes involve leveraging the Crown's balance sheet to enable banks to extend lending to firms which wouldn't otherwise be viable.

But details of both of these schemes are unclear at this stage – "meetings are taking place as we speak," Robertson said.

"I want to say directly to employers and employees at this difficult time; please take the time to work through your options," Robertson said.

"The priority of our Government is the health and wellbeing of our people and we will do what it takes to keep everyone safe – we are all in this together."

The new spending measures will be paid for through increased Government debt.
Details of how much debt will increase remain unclear at this stage.

"We are not reprioritising money, this is additional funding and support which is required to meet the needs of New Zealanders."