29 Jan 2014

English rejects claims inequality worse

11:01 pm on 29 January 2014

The Finance Minister has rejected claims by the Opposition that inequality has got worse under the National-led Government.

Finance Minister Bill English.

Finance Minister Bill English. Photo: RNZ

Bill English told Parliament's finance and expenditure select committee on Wednesday that income inequality is the same under National as it was under the previous Labour-led Government.

Mr English was appearing before the committee to answer questions about the Budget Policy Statement.

That turned into an argument about whether inequality was getting worse, with Mr English saying it had stayed the same or even improved under National.

But Labour's finance spokesperson David Parker and the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters say wealth is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Bill English repeated his call for employers to reward workers with more substantial pay increases. He says people have had a tough time since the global financial crisis but now the economy is recovering workers should benefit from that.

But the minister says those benefits should come through higher wages, not through government subsidies.

"People in the workplace know that if their business is succeeding, they can get a share of that. If they haven't reorganised themselves in recent years, then that might be pretty hard to do.

"But I think generally, more businesses are going to be in a position where their workforce can see benefits from the growing economy."

Mr English says the Government's employment law changes, which unions say will give more power to employers, will not make it more difficult for workers to get wage increases.

The Budget on 15 May will focus on creating more jobs and higher incomes, he says.