Photo: Christine Cornege
Dr. Jess Berentson-Shaw, a science researcher, has co-written a book with Dr. Gareth Morgan entitled Pennies from Heaven, which advocates implementing a UBI for lower income families. Berentson-Shaw has a PhD in Health Science from Victoria University, and works for the Morgan Foundation with Dr. Gareth Morgan, an economist and public policy analyst. The Morgan Foundation is a trust with the stated aim of reducing wealth disparities.
The book argues for $200-a-week benefit for all parents with a child under three, and a basic income for lower-income families, which would be financed through the redistribution of taxes in New Zealand. For example, a CCIT (Comprehensive Capital Income Tax) for investment property owners could be used to finance the model, along with a more equitable and readjusted New Zealand Super model. Berentson-Shaw claims the children’s benefit would also lead to savings of “$1.1b in poor education and its impact on productivity, $2b in health, $1.1b in crime and $700m in social welfare savings.”
The author explains that despite the popular opinion among New Zealanders that lower-income people will spend the extra money on vices like tobacco and alcohol, research indicates otherwise. Poor families are more likely to increase spending on their children when access to more money is available. As Berenston-Shaw puts it: “New Zealanders are quick to moralize about the poor” and in respect to the administering of such a policy, she envisions it as being politically disruptive. “About half of New Zealanders can see the structural issues that feed into low incomes and poor outcomes, and that means about half don’t.” Her task then, and perhaps one of the purposes of the book, is to win over many of those who don’t, by convincing them that the benefits of a UBI do indeed outweigh the costs.