Once Were Warm-hearted…
Once upon a time…
1935 First Labour government takes office
.… The first Labour government assumed office as a result of its landslide victory in November’s general election. Led initially by the charismatic Michael Joseph Savage, it is best remembered for its landmark social welfare reforms.
One of the most significant aspects of this welfare policy was the 1938 Social Security Act, which has been described as ‘the greatest political achievement in the country’s history’. The Act combined the introduction of a free-at-the-point-of-use health system with a comprehensive array of welfare benefits. It was financed by a tax surcharge of one shilling in the pound (5%). The family benefit was extended to all mothers irrespective of the family’s income, increasing the number of allowances overnight from 42,600 to 230,000. This policy, which was often described as looking after New Zealanders from the ‘cradle to the grave’, was a key factor keeping Labour in power until 1949.
Which led to the beginnings of our modern society – a society which placed a high value on fairness; healthy families; and giving children every opportunity to grow up healthy. It truly was a concept of “no child left behind” – but put into practice and not just empty rhetoric,
The family in the 1930s and ’40s
The need for the New Zealand government to promote national interests during the Depression and the Second World War created a renewed appreciation of the role of the family within society. From 1935 the Labour government’s social policies supported young families with children, and from the 1940s there was an emphasis on preventative child welfare.
Much of this concern for children and their families stemmed from the perceived need to maintain a healthy nation: one capable of providing robust workers and, if necessary, soldiers for defence. It was also felt, in the spirit of egalitarianism, that everyone should have access to the nation’s resources.
By the early 1940s there was a serious shortage of adequate housing in inner-city areas. A ‘needy families’ scheme, administered by the Child Welfare Branch, was set up in 1941. This provided assistance, primarily by re-housing large or poor families to maintain the household unit. By 1946 the scheme had helped over 900 families and more than 5000 children.
The Family Benefit
In October 1945, Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash introduced legislation for the Universal Family Benefit. The maternal figure of the family was to be sole beneficiary. William (Bill) Parry, Minister of Internal Affairs, explained: ‘We have to create such enthusiasm for the service the mother renders, that it will be lifted to the highest pinnacles of service in the nation.’ This benefit and other measures such as cheap housing and a well-funded health system did much to contribute to stability of household income and, in turn, to raise living standards.
Which in turn led to this, perhaps one of the most ambitious programmes to lift the health of our nation’s children,
1937: Free Milk Every Morning
Young New Zealanders once lined up for a free bottle of milk at school every morning. This scheme was introduced in 1937 to help children who had become undernourished during the Depression. It was also enthusiastically supported by famous dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, when he visited this country in 1934. And so, for the next 30 years, school children sat down for their daily half-pint. Crates of bottles were carried into the classroom by official milk monitors, who were also responsible for collecting up the empties after the session. Occasionally, an older amber glass bottle would arrive with the morning delivery and prove an attraction for keen consumers.
School milk bottles in the 1950s had cardboard tops which had a small hole for the straw and were often put to further use. Lengths of colourful wool were wound tightly around a pair of these cardboard discs to produce a decorative pom-pom.
In the 1960s 3,500,000 gallons of milk was distributed to the schools of New Zealand each year, but the value of the scheme was now being questioned. There were mixed views on the matter; some felt it had become unnecessary and was a disruption to the class, while others claimed that a number of New Zealand children still came to school without an adequate breakfast…
1967: End of free school milk
… The scheme was a world first. Each day, milk monitors supplied a half-pint (284 ml) of milk to each pupil. By 1940, the milk was available to over 80% of schoolchildren. For a few years during the Second World War, pupils also received an apple a day.
The scheme lasted until 1967, when the government dropped it on cost grounds — and because some people were starting to question the benefits of milk…
I’m of the age where I can vaguely recall the crates of milk left in the concrete “pill-box” at my Primary School. I recall the “powerful” position of the Milk Monitor… and using the straws as make-shift blow-guns to fire small paper darts at my near-by class-mates.
It is interesting to consider that by 1967, the government-of-the-day decided that school milk was no longer required. Perhaps Keith Holyoake, the Prime Minister of the day, considered that it was a relic from a by-gone age of Depression, poverty, and extreme childhood health-problems that by the mid-1960s were but a distant memory.
New Zealand in the 1960s was healthy; single-incomes were sufficient to live on; and the country exported more than it earned because of our special relationship with Great Britain. But all this was to change…
- Britain entered the EEC in 1973, impacting on our sheep-meat trade with that country. Suddenly we had lost our major export market.
- The oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 drove our balance of payments into the red, as we struggled to cope with higher and higher fuel-prices.
- Property prices skyrocketed in 1979, as people abandoned the outer suburbs and satellite-towns, in favour of inner-suburbs, to cut down on fuel costs.
- Inflation soared, unemployed rose.
- And in 1984, New Zealand elected a Labour Government with a secret agenda to implement neo-liberal “reforms” to create a free-market; reduce and eliminate trade trariffs; implement a massive programme to sell state assets; and “reduce government expenditure” (ie; cut services).
We were assured that the implrementation of these “reforms” would generate wealth and that this would “trickle down” to lower socio-economic (ie, poor people) groups in our society.
The rest, I think, we can all remember without too much trouble.
“Trickle down” has proven to be a singularly poor joke – without much of a punch-line.
Wealth has certainly been generated – at the top.
We went from one income to double-incomes to maintain a household. Now even that is insufficient for many families.
Seven tax cuts have benefitted mainly high-income earners and the wealthy.
And wealth disparity has become so bad that even the OECD has taken notice and commented on it, in a recent report.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has his own thoughts on why we having worsening poverty in our once egalitarian country,
“But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills.
“And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.” – John Key, 17 Feb 2011
Thank you for that, Dear Leader. By the way, how is your pay increase of $11,000 p.a. that you were recently given?
How is it that we have arrived at a situation where, once again, we are returning to 1937 – and having to resurrect milk-in-schools?
Full credit and kudos to Fonterra for going ahead with this plan. There are many low-income families that find it hard to buy sufficient quantities of good, wholesome, nutritious food for everyone. After rent, power, rates, phone, etc, is paid for, food is usually at the bottom of the list.
This is especially so for the 90,000+ people who have lost their jobs in the last four years as the global recession hit our economy and impacted on communities.
However, ingrained poverty has been with us since the 1980s, and many of the gains of the last century have been lost.
Little wonder that Bryan Bruce’s recent documentary, “Inside NZ: Child Poverty” generated such a heavy, nationwide response. Bryan Bruce laid it out for all to see, that poverty had returned to this country and that governments had no idea how to address this growing crisis. Or were unwilling to.
Clearly, we have a choice in front of us. Do we continue down our present course, and keep hoping for the best? Or admit that policies over the last thirty years have been a failure; change tack; and proactively address the root causes of wealthy disparity and income gaps?
If the latter, then we have the wrong government in power to make good on three decades of failed economic policies.
Bill English was interviewed on Radio NZ this morning (16 December), and his responses to Kathryn Ryan’s questions were not reassuring,
This excerpt from the interview was most telling,
RYAN: “It’s to report every six months, the committee. What measures will it use?”
ENGLISH: “Well, look, we won’t spend a lot of time arguing over measures, there’s any number of measures out there ranging from gini co-efficients to kind of upper quartile [and] lower quartile incomes. Lot of of that is already reported in the MSD social report that it puts out each year…”
If the Committee doesn’t monitor itself, how will it be able to measure it’s success (or fail) rate?
Why has the government not set measures in place – that it expects of every other government department to assess what value they give back to taxpaters?
And how does English’s rejection of measures compare with the National-ACT coalition agreement which stated, in part,
“Key features of the agreement are:
• Continuation of ACT’s focus during the last term on publicly monitoring progress on improving the country’s economy wide performance using international benchmarks, and building on the work of the 2025 Taskforce, with a requirement for Treasury to report annually on the progress being made to improve the quality of institutions and policies, raise productivity, and reduce the income gap with Australia.” Source
So the “country’s economy wide performance” will be measured using “international benchmarks” – but the Ministerial Committee on Poverty “won’t spend a lot of time arguing over measures“?
Ok, got it.
We’ve got that, if anything, it is apparent that the so-called “Ministerial Committee on Poverty” is simply going to be another talk-fest, along the lines of the “Jobs Summit” in early 2009. Does anyone recall how many jobs came out of that “summit”? Perhaps this many.
At most, the so-called “Ministerial Committee on Poverty” appears to be little more than a sop to Maori Party members, to justify the decision of party leaders to coalesce with National.
So here we are: New Zealand, circa 2011A.D. Poverty. Low incomes. School milk. Growing wealth gap. New Zealanders migrating en masse to Australia. And paralysis/inertia in our political leaders.
Seventysix years after Michael Joseph Savage implemented radical, bold, policies to create a new, egalitarian society – we are back at Square One.
Children who go to school without breakfast – 17 per cent.
Households with children which run out of food – 22 per cent.
Households with children who use food banks – 10 per cent.
Source: Ministry of Health 2003 survey of 3000 children aged 5-14
To all the food-faddists, right wing reactionaries and Me First people – your negative reaction to Fonterra’s plan to reintroduce milk to low-decile schools is simply apalling. Your knee-jerk hostility is not only unhelpful – but is a stark illustration as to why this once healthy and wealthy country is slipping further down on nearly every international and local indicator-ranking.
Food faddists: If you think milk is evil – fine. Don’t drink it. But leave our kids alone. They have the rest of their lives to live, whilst your particular food-fetishes come and go with the latest seasonal-fad. Their growing bodies need the calcium, vitamins A, D, etc, and other nutritional benefits of this simple food. Children cannot live on fresh air and sunshine alone.
Right wing reactionaries: New Zealand has been the experimental “hot house” for neo-liberal, free market policies, since 1984. That’s about 28 years. In that time, the top income earners and 150 Rich Listers have increased their wealth. The rest of society has stayed still or gone backwards.
Latest reports confirm that the wealth-gap continues to widen – and you can’t dismiss the OECD as some dastardly socialist satrap.
How much longer before this experiment is labelled a failure?
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For a better New Zealand…
~ Cleaner rivers
~ No deep-sea oil drilling
~ Less on Roads - more on Rail
~ Minimum wage @ $15 p/hr
~ Marriage equality
~ Strong, effective Unions
~ No secret free-trade deals
~ Breakfast/lunches in our schools
~ Introducing Civics into our school curriculum
~ Cut back on the liquor industry
~ A fairer, progressive tax system
~ Fully funded, free healthcare
~ Ditto for education, including Tertiary
~ Fund Pharmac for Pompe's Disease medication & other 'orphan' drugs
~ No state asset sales!
~ Rebuild public TV broadcasting!
~ Keeping farms in local ownership
~ Reduce poverty, like we reduced the toll for road-fatalities
~ Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
~ Being nice to each other
- Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor
- Budget 2013: Radio NZ and politicians
- Budget 2013: Suffer the little children… to starve
- Brain fades and balls ups
- Citizen A: With Martyn Bradbury, Keith Locke & Matthew Hooton On Budget + Key’s Deal + Gilmore Wrap
- Budget 2013: How NOT to deal with Student loan defaulters
- Meridian Power?
- *** UP-DATED! *** NEWSFLASH!!! *** On TV3′s Campbell Live Wednesday night!
- John Key advocates theft by banks?
- On child poverty, to the Sunday Star Times…
- National on Child Poverty?!
- ***Breaking News*** Judith Collins issues decision on MMP Review!
- Binding future governments – a question.
- Skycity: National prostitutes New Zealand yet again
- Why a Four Year Parliamentary Term is not a Good Idea
- National Party Corporate welfare vs real welfare
- The NZ Taliban – quietly safeguarding our morals
- Citizen A: Martyn Bradbury, Chris Trotter & Selwyn Manning on Key’s Spy Bills + Dying Cities + Aaron Gilmore
- Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters…
- John Key on Aaron Gilmore
- 2013 – Ongoing jobless talley
- An Occupation to remind the Government…
- But will he remember this helicopter flight in one year’s time?
- Nats, Lies, and Videotape
- Booze-ups, brain-fades, and bullying