Sunday, 16 July 2017

We need to end poverty for New Zealand families

During the last week, both Labour and the Greens have released their policies for families, their incomes and how to end poverty in New Zealand.  It comes partly in response to the tax cuts announced by the National led government duing the Budget bribery in May, but mostly has an inducement by all three parties to woo the voter for the general election on the 23rd of September.
The stark reality is that too many of our nation's children and their families are in poverty, as this infographic below illustrates:
Poverty is something that successive governments in New Zealand have battled to overcome since it began to govern itself with a parliament.  After the Great Depression, a constructive decision by consecutive governments for nearly five decades meant that New Zealand engaged in a policy of full employment via the public sector and public works to ensure every man was able to support his family and children would not be subjected to the poverty they endured during the Depression and war years.
However, with the event of Rogernomics during the fourth Labour government in the 1980s and then the subsequent National government duing the 1990s with agressive New Right policies implemented by then Finance Minister, Ruthless Ruth Richardson, poverty was once again well and truly ingrained in the framework of New Zealand society and has developed to a point where it can no longer be ignored and swept under the carpet by any political party leading up to the 2017 election.
The following is an exert from my Masters essay last year that I blogged in the post How does child poverty affect access to education and success in achievement for New Zealand children?
In 1972, the Royal Commission on Social Security had reinforced the role of welfare as “to ensure, within limitations which may be imposed by physical or other disabilities, that everyone is able to enjoy a standard of living much like that of the rest of the community, and thus is able to feel a sense of participation in and belonging to the community” (Kelsey, 1995, p.271).  The new National government of 1990 decimated this social contract in 1991.
Treasury’s Social Policy Branch decided they needed to determine what American economists called a minimum income standard – a poverty line.  They contracted some home economy researchers in Dunedin, who investigated four dietary budgets on which to feed a man, woman and several children of various ages for a week.  They came up with four budgets: liberal, moderate, basic and low.  At the low end, the researchers determined it would take careful shopping and considerable time and cooking skill to ensure a healthy diet, but that it was not healthy or sustainable long term.
Treasury took the lowest plan, without telling researchers, and reduced it by 20%.  They called this the New Zealand Income Adequacy Standard and used it as the recommendation for the new beneficiary payment levels.  The unemployment benefit was cut by one quarter.  Jenny Shipley, the Minister of Social Welfare, claimed it was required to “create a gap between work and welfare” (In a Land of Plenty, 2002).  The family benefit was also stopped and merged into a means-tested family support tax credit (Baker, 2011).
The impact of this move was devastating across the country and plunged families below the poverty line.  If Porirua alone had $400,000 a week slashed from its local economy, other communities around the country also faced similar circumstances, including the flow on of businesses closing and further job losses. 
The changes to the employment laws, continued restructuring and redundancies, plus the impacts of less money in the local economies caused unemployment to rise to over 11%, as can be seen in the graph below (Trading Economics, 2016).  This was key to poverty gaining a foothold in many communities who had lost significant and large, long term employers forever.
As a result, both Labour and the Greens have released their policies.  You can access their policies from this links:
Essentially both will cancel the tax cuts and amendments to the tax thresholds that National has proposed.  Instead they will put in place interventions to support families to be able to pay for the necessities of life.  These policies will allow both parties to enact change and opportunities in other areas in order for families to earn more and become independent from state interventions.  Naturally, the Green's policy reaches further than the Labour policy, but that is expected considering the Greens sit further to the left than Labour on the political spectrum. 
And I think that is a good thing, as these two parties have strongly shown they intend to form the next government and therefore they both need strong policy platforms that both complement each other and differentiate from each other.  Part of a coalition government is being able to find the common ground and then compromise on other aspects to get the best outcome for the voters, New Zealand's wider society and the balancing the economy.
I'm not going to sit here and compare the merits of these two policies to each other, I leave that to you as a voter.  But I do want you to compare which of these sits with you better in comparison to what National has done for nearly nine years.  I want to consider:
  • Is New Zealand the better for the policies of beneficiary bashing and sactions this government has enacted? 
  • Is it more economic to persue the benefit fraudsters or those who avoid tax - considering that tax avoidance is costing our economy far more but is rarely persued to recoup the loss or convict the avoider?
  • And is our welfare system still delivering the goal set in 1972, that everyone is able to enjoy a standard of living much like that of the rest of the community or is it condemning generation after generation to a life entrapped in poverty?

I want you to consider if the situation today is something you are comfortable with and what are the consequences for your children and grandchildren in years to come if we allow poverty to further entrench in our society.

I want to refer you to two other blog posts I have written about my experience and reflections with our welfare system:
I acknowledge that Rod Emmerson drew this very poignant illustration of the reality of family poverty.
Thanks for being such an awesome commentator of New Zealand, Rod.

And from the essay I quoted previously, I leave you with the symptoms and consequences of poverty....
The symptoms of poverty are clear: acute and chronic health conditions, poor quality housing, low attainment of education success, a greater potential to be either a victim or a perpetrator of crime (or both), increased risk of mental health issues, increased chance of abuse.

And the solutions to solve child poverty....
The solutions to poverty are clear: put children at the centre of all policy developments and implementation plans; stop using the unemployment rate as a mechanism to control inflation and keep wages low; increase all benefits to a level which enables a healthy diet to be maintained; increase the minimum wage to the level of the living wage; ensure free universal access to health, dental care and education; and improve the housing stock of New Zealand by demanding a minimum standard for state and private rentals.

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