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ACT unveils mental health, benefit reform proposals

The ACT Party today has announced its proposals for mental health and benefit reform. 

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ACT’s deputy leader and health spokesperson Brooke van Velden said the party’s approach to mental health aimed to “reduce bureaucracy, improve patient choice, and empower New Zealanders”.

If elected, she said the party would take $2 billion a year of what’s currently spent through the Ministry of Health and DHBs and channel funding towards the Government-established Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission.

She said the current Commission didn’t have “real power” to improve people’s choice of service or establish a clear, nationwide approach to tackling mental health and addiction.

ACT proposed that the Commission would be renamed Mental Health and Addiction New Zealand and wouldn’t provide services itself.

However, it would act as a commissioning agency that assesses people’s individual needs and contracts a suitable provider for the person’s care.

“Funding for services would be determined by and attached to the care of individuals and their needs,” Ms van Velden said.

“Patients would be able to choose any registered provider for their immediate care, providing greater autonomy, or would be referred to a specific provider in cases where a person lacks the capacity to do so or requires specialised treatment.”

She said the approach aimed to solve the problems identified in the Government’s Mental Health Inquiry, which raised concerns about the lack of provider choice and equity of access, no whole-of-government approach and too much burden and inconsistency of the quality of care from primary healthcare providers.

Ms van Velden said primary health care providers were struggling to provide a co-ordinated mental health response.

“The issue is too important to leave in the hands of the DHBs,” she said of the inconsistencies across providers.

“People who seek treatment describe a difficult-to-navigate bureaucracy, postcode lotteries, and a lack of choice in services and resources to suit their individual and community needs.

“Meanwhile, attitudes to mental health issues have shifted significantly. There’s less stigma and the number of people accessing mental health and addiction services has grown.”

Benefit system ‘due for a serious overhaul’

ACT Party Leader and Epsom MP David Seymour speaks at an event. Source: Luke Appleby/1 NEWS NOW

Meanwhile, the party’s employment spokesperson and third-ranked candidate Nicole McKee said the welfare system “is due for a serious overhaul” post-Covid-19.

“Covid-19 has revealed a serious and growing issue. New Zealanders who have paid high taxes for years are being laid-off and made redundant but finding they get little back in benefits,” she said, with the base rate set at $251 despite a taxpayer on an average wage of $69,000 paying $264 a week in tax.

“ACT’s employment insurance scheme would be fairer than the current system because people get paid out in proportion to what they pay in, rather than a flat benefit rate regardless of their outgoings or previous tax contributions,” she said.

“It would remove the stigma associated with collecting a benefit for people out of work for a short time through no fault of their own. 

“New Zealanders would be collecting an insurance payout from a fund they’d paid into for that very purpose.”

She said if ACT were elected. It wanted to introduce a “modern employment insurance scheme”.

The policy would be capped at $60,000 a year per person.

The scheme sets out to:

  • Keep income tax rates unchanged, but ring-fence 0.55 per cent for an employment insurance fund. If someone loses their job, they can claim 55 per cent of their average weekly earnings over the previous 52 (or fewer) weeks. Insurance can only be claimed for one week for each five weeks the person has worked, up to a maximum of 26 weeks per claim.
  • Insurance can only be claimed for one week for each five weeks the person has worked, up to a maximum of 26 weeks per claim. Someone who has worked continuously for only one year could claim up to ten weeks’ employment insurance.
  • After the employment insurance entitlement, a person could move to Jobseeker Support and Electronic Income Management. Uncer a Electronic Income Management, a benefit is issued on an electronic card and restricts purchases on alcohol, gambling, and tobacco.
  • The Government would adjust the 0.55 per cent levy so that the fund balances out over a four-year cycle. In a high unemployment year the levy would increase. In a low unemployment year, taxpayers would benefit from a levy reduction. 
  • Those receiving employment insurance would be expected to look for work and report fortnightly on their preparedness to work and job application activity.