Labour says it's a terrible tragedy that some Kiwi parents are having to send their children to school hungry at a time when the richest New Zealanders are enjoying a big boost to their financial fortunes.
The National Business Review rich list has packaging magnate Graeme Hart leading the pack with an estimated wealth of $6.5 billion while the combined fortunes of the country's 151 richest people increased to $45.2 billion.
Labour leader Phil Goff said while it's great to see some Kiwis doing so well, it's not right that so many others are struggling to survive.
"Our society is becoming more unequal. While the rich are getting richer, middle and low-income families are struggling to put food on the table, petrol in the car and to heat their homes," said Goff.
"National is borrowing billions of dollars a year to give tax cuts of more than $1000 a week to the country's top earners while those on lower incomes get virtually nothing. That's wrong."
Goff said Labour's economic plan will ensure everyone pays their fair share, with those earning the most paying more and the first $5000 tax-free for all New Zealanders.
A 20% increase in wealth of those on the NBR's Rich List will go down like a cup of cold sick with workers and beneficiaries battling rising costs, the National Distribution Union said today.
"Poverty exits in New Zealand only because we continue to tolerate it," general secretary Robert Reid said.
He said cost of living pressures are mounting for for low income New Zealanders and children are going to school without enough food.
The union said raising GST and giving tax cuts to the wealthy while adding "a miserly 25 cents to the minimum wage" will do nothing to reduce the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand.
Reid said average salaries among chief executives have shot up and while the rich navel gaze over who has jumped over each other to increase their place on the list, unions and community groups get on with working to make life better for those on low incomes.
The union says even good wage settlements are being outstripped by inflation and most members are not being compensated for the 5.3% cost of living rise.
Wealth gap 'a myth'
But Barry Colman, publisher of the National Business Review and number 45 on the Rich List, denied the wealth gap was widening on TV ONE's Close Up tonight.
"The gap between rich and poor is one of the most damaging myths we have in New Zealand," he said.
He added companies had suffered the effects of the recession as well, and that New Zealand's welfare system meant "the people who are poor in New Zealand today are enormously better off than the people who were poor 50 years ago."
Colman said the fact that the average worth of the Rich Listers went up 20% was not a reflection on how the businesses were doing as a whole and he called for a decrease in the minimum wage, claiming it would increase employment.
However Darryl Evans, chief executive of the Mangere Budgeting Service, said he is now busier than he has ever been in his nine years there.
He said the current minimum wage was "simply not enough to live" and is keeping people stuck in ruts.
"Poor policy choice"
The Green Party says the minimum wage, currently $13, would be $15.60 if it had increased at the same rate as the wealth of the richest New Zealanders.
Nearly 275,000 people earn less than $15 an hour in New Zealand and the Greens say while the NBR celebrates the richest New Zealanders getting richer one quarter of all New Zealand children (about 270,000) are growing up in poverty.
Co-leader Metiria Turei says John Key was quick to give tax cuts to the wealthiest New Zealanders, but has been slow to help the poorest and their children.
She is calling for a "poor list" - an annual document that sets out the challenges of living on low wages and highlights the growing gap in income inequality.
"The NBR rich list serves as a wakeup call on inequality in New Zealand. We need policies to raise the income levels of the least well off."
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