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Archive for 19 May 2013

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

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state housing new zealand

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Housing NZ Current waiting list

As at 30 April 2013 there were 4,568 people on the waiting list. Of this:

  • 1,172 were Priority Eligible – A

  • 2,207 were Priority Eligible – B

  • 728 were C (assessed before 30 June 2011)

  • 461 were D (assessed before 30 June 2011)

Acknowledgment: Housing NZ – Waiting list

Some facts;

  1. As at 30 April this year, Housing NZ had 3,379 people on it’s Category A and B waiting lists (Categories C and D are so low priority that their chances of getting into a state house are next to nil). (see:  IBID)
  2. According to Housing NZ, they had 69,400 properties in the 2011/12 financial year (see: HNZ –Addressing housing demand).  This has probably reduced significantly as many rental properties – such as in Pomare, Lower Hutt – were demolished in June 2011 (see: Pomare housing demolition begins).
  3. Child poverty in New Zealand has increased;
    In 2006/07 230,000, or 22 percent, of New Zealand children were still living in poverty. That is, in households with incomes below the 60 percent median income poverty line, after taking housing costs into account. This is more than the entire population of North Shore City (205,605) or the Manawatu-Wanganui region (222,423) and means one adult and one child were living on $430 a week before housing costs. (see:  Brief Statistics on Child Poverty in New Zealand 2004-2008)By 2011/12, approximately 270,000, or 25%, of New Zealand children were living in poverty. (see: Solutions to Child Poverty)
  4.  A recent UNICEF report placed New Zealand amongst the worst in developed countries for child wellbeing, ranking us 25th out of 34 developed countries.  We are  now behind Australia and Britain also for homicide rates, child health, and safety.  (See: NZ ranked poorly on child welfare)

In the past, one of the principle means by which  New Zealand has attempted to ameliorate the  destructive effects of poverty is for the provision of State housing, where tenants pay 25% of their household’s net income (See:  HNZ –Income-related rent)

For thousand of low-income New Zealanders, this has meant the difference between this,

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state house new zealand nz

Acknowledgment: NZ History Online – Inside a state house

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Or this,

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homelessWoman

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Unfortunately, too many New Zealanders have a narrow view of life and society in general, and cannot accept that in a civilised society there is a dire need for the State to provide housing for those who cannot manage, or, have fallen on hard times – especially during the Global Financial Crisis. But that need exists, and it is the price we pay for living in a decent society where beggars do not line the streets.

Even those who grudingly admit that social housing is a necessity still  hold to the belief that State housing is for “short term emergencies”, and not for any longer period.

This writer thoroughly disagrees and disputes that notion.

The principle of  housing is not just to provide a roof  over people’s heads and give them warm shelter from cold and rain.

Social housing – as the name ‘social‘ implies – is  where those on the lower socio-economic scale (ie, the poor)  can  create communities; offer mutual support; perhaps grow food for themselves in their backyards; and where children can put down roots and attend their local school on a steady, uninterupted basis.

The last thing we need now is those on low incomes (or vulnerable in other ways) being evicted from their state homes and  forced into a life of transience – or trapped in high-cost rental accomodation, leaving little aside for food, medicines, clothing, etc.

This is precisely what National appears to be planning;

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State tenants face 'high need' review

Acknowledgment: State tenants face ‘high need’ review

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National’s 2013 Budget proposes;

Reviews of state housing tenants will be phased in from next year. Housing New Zealand estimates the reviews will lead to 1000 tenants moving out of state houses in 2015-16 and a further 2000 in 2016-17. About 10,000 tenants are already subject to reviews, if they signed an agreement after July 2011.

Assessment for housing will also be carried out by the Ministry of Social Development and integrated with other services.

Acknowledgment: IBID

Bill English described it with words that belied the misery that such a policy could create,

It can become a trap for those whose circumstances could improve.  We want to ensure people are in the most appropriate houses for them.

We will be looking at when tenants’ circumstances change and when they no longer have higher needs and will help to move them into other housing.”

Acknowledgment: Budget 2013: All state house tenancies to be reviewed

Only a Tory who has never know deprivation, hunger, and hopelessness could call a decent chance for a warm home as a “trap”.

It’s the same weasel words that National uses for welfare payments that can put food in unemployed person’s belly.

It’s not a “trap” – it’s a lifeline for survival.

English refers to “moving tenants into other housing“.

What housing? There is a critical shortage of low-cost rental housing in this country.

Moving a tenant on a low or fixed income into a $300-$400/week rental will achieve nothing except push the poor further into poverty.

It will also inevitably  increase transience, as tenants fall behind in market rents and have to move on a regular basis. This uproots children from their school.

And it eventually leads to shocking incidents like this;

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child poverty - social housing

Acknowledgment:  CYF lost track of neglected children

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Welfare minister, Paula Bennett acknowledged the obvious,

Because of the family’s transience, living in a number of regions, I am unable to give detailed information and an actual number [of social worker visits] at this time.

What I can say is there has been previous Child, Youth and Family involvement and notifications over many years, but Child, Youth and Family was unaware that they were at that [Lower Hutt] residence until January 4, when the police were involved.”

Acknowledgment: IBID

So, let’s be clear about this: forcing low income people from their homes is a pointless excercise in futility that achieves nothing except exacerbate poverty.

It creates unnecessary stress in already stressed families.

We will see ghastly consequences of families pushed further into poverty and unable to cope with financial pressures.

And, as usual, it will be the children who suffer the most.

All for what? What possible purpose or benefit is there in pushing people out of their homes and out of their local community?

Remember the stats above?

As at 30 April 2013 there were 4,568 people on the waiting list. Of this:

  • 1,172 were Priority Eligible – A

  • 2,207 were Priority Eligible – B

National has never been a Party to promote  socially proactive programmes. At best they tolerate what Labour governments have built up over decades (like social housing).

The waiting list – 3,379 people on it’s Category A and B waiting lists – is obviously an embarressment to National ministers.

But instead of building an extra 3,400 houses or flats (which is doable), National has tackled the waiting list in a novel way; displace existing tenants into private accomodation, and re-tenant with those 3,379 in Caregories A and B.

It is a cynical manipulation of people’s lives so National ministers can, at next year’s election, claim that they have “eliminated” the state housing waiting list.

A “revolving door” of poor tenants is National’s cunning plan to solve the state housing shortage.

In the meantime, we will see more and more stories like this in our media,

The parents, a 25-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman, have pleaded guilty to failing to provide medical care, food and nutrition to the children, aged 4, 3, 2, and 7 months.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said in Parliament yesterday that her staff had been aware of the family for many years, but the agency lost track of them when they moved from Whanganui towards the end of last year.

Acknowledgment: CYF lost track of neglected children

A Message to John Key & other National clowns

In an op-ed piece in the Dominion Post on  17 May, former-Labour President, Mike Williams wrote that National policies – especially relating to poverty and housing – would hand “the Labour Party a golden opportunity to win the general election next year“. (see  Budget: Stirring state house voters)

Williams further stated,

Budget 2013 gives a very large group who don’t turn out to vote on a regular basis a very good reason to cast their ballots next year. These are state house tenants.

What we all know is that there are just under 70,000 state rental houses in this country. What Labour discovered in 2004 was that there are between three and four enrolled voters per household and that a large majority of these potential electors do not bother to cast a ballot on a regular basis.

The threat to state house tenants planned for election year by National is a gift to Labour in a tight contest. Nearly everyone in a state house will have their tenancy reviewed and 10 per cent of these people will be moved on. That nice Mr Key has grown teeth.

On September 17, 2005, Don Brash was denied victory at the last moment by increased participation in South and West Auckland, north Wellington and east Christchurch – just where you find lots of state houses.

Acknowledgment: IBID

A bit of simple arithmetic: nearly 70,000 state homes times three or four enrolled voters per household equals 210,000 voters (conservative estimate).

Considering that the 2011 election yielded the following voting results,

National: 1,058,638

Labour: 614,936

Greens: 247,370

Add 200,000 votes to Labour and the Greens – and National will be  out of office. And Key is out of a job.

Make no mistake, Mr Key; Labour, the Greens, and Mana will work in concert to target every single state house and flat  at the next election.  Every person will be made aware of National’s intentions. Every single state house tenant will be warned that their continuing tenancy will depend on National being voted out of office.

National has just made 200,000 new enemies.

Nicely done, Mr English – a political suicide note dressed up as a “budget”.

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References

Fairfax Media: Parents accused of neglecting kids (11 Jan 2013)

Fairfax Media: Neglected kids back home in days (15 May 2013)

Fairfax Media: CYF lost track of neglected children (16 May 2013)

NZ Herald:  Budget 2013: All state house tenancies to be reviewed (16 May 2013)

Dominion Post: State tenants face ‘high need’ review (17 May 2013)

Dominion Post: Budget: Stirring state house voters (17 May 2013)

Additional

Previous related blogposts

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Budget 2013: Radio NZ and politicians

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RNZ board concerned over budget freeze

Acknowledgment: RNZ board concerned over budget freeze

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At a time when state sector workers have received little or no pay increases, perhaps one of the worst cases of worker exploitation is at Radio New Zealand.

This year, yet again, there was no provision in this Budget to give a pay rise to Radio NZ staff. Not one cent.

In fact, Radio NZ staff have not recieved a pay increase since 2009,

The Government froze funding despite an independent “baseline funding review” from accountancy firm KPMG, which showed Radio NZ was underfunded and understaffed, and underpaid its employees.

The review – commissioned by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and which the Herald obtained under the Official Information Act – was initially withheld by the Government.

Published in November 2007, the KPMG review said Radio NZ – which broadcasts Radio NZ National and Radio NZ – needed $7 million to $7.6 million to meet commitments in 2008-2009 and was short of 25 employees. The shortfall would grow to $8.6 million to $9.5 million and 40 staff by 2010-2011.

The Labour Government last year increased Radio NZ’s funding by $2.4 million. But an insider said that money had been taken up by inflation and Radio NZ faced essentially the same problems to sustain services as in 2007.

Acknowledgment: Pay freeze tipped as Radio NZ slashes costs

Interestingly, Statistics NZ states that  salary/wage rates (including overtime) for the public sector rose by 1.6% in the year to the June 2012. (see:  Labour Cost Index (Salary and Wage Rates): June 2012 quarter) Obviously Radio NZ staff recieved none of that increase and the 1.6% figure is probably made up mostly of executive’s generous increases on their already bloated salaries.

Just a few of the state sector executives who have recieved  salary increases, as reported last year;

  • Albert Brantley – CEO, Genesis Power – $1.18 million (up 22%)
  • Don Elder – CEO, Solid Energy – $1.4 million (up 11%)
  • John Allen – MFAT –  $620,000-$630,000  (up from $580,000-$590,000, 2011)
  • Doug Heffernan – CEO, Mighty River Power –  $1.8 million (up 34%)
  • Tim Lusk – former CEO, Meridian – $1.22m  (up 42%)

And MPs are not shy at accepting regular pay increases. As the Herald’s Adam Bennett reported last December (2012);

MPs will receive a 1.9 per cent pay increase, the Remuneration Authority confirmed this afternoon.

The salary increases are deemed to have come into effect on July 1 this year meaning MPs will receive back pay for the last six months. That works out to $1400 for backbench MPs and $3895 for the Prime Minister…

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… Since 2009 general salaries and wages had risen by 5.6 per cent while parliamentary salaries excluding the $2000 and $5000 increases to make up for he loss of travel perks, had risen by only 2.9 per cent, the authority said.

Acknowledgment: NZ Herald –  MPs get 1.9 per cent pay rise

It’s self-evident how politicians view issues surrounding pay increases for themselves and executives, as opposed to staff at state owned enterprises.

What makes the zero pay increase for Radio NZ staff even more problematic – and downright reeking of surreptitious political interference – is that Radio NZ is the only remaining public broadcaster left in this country after the demise of TVNZ7 last year.

Judging by the high number of National ministers who refuse invitations to be interviewed by Radio NZ journalists, it is abundantly clear that right wing politicians fear and loathe the public broadcaster. Aside from a few gutsy journos (eg, Patrick Gower, John Campbell, and Guyon Espiner) on TV3, there are few left in corporate electronic  media willing to risk the ire of this current government.

National ministers simply don’t have the balls (except maybe Judith “Democracy Crusher” Collins) to close down or privatise Radio NZ.

Strangling it with lack of funding and underpaying staff is a safer, sneakier way to achieve that goal.

It’s pretty much like killing a potplant you got as a Christmas present from your Aunt Dotty. You can’t throw it out because Aunty would notice, so you “do the deed” by denying it water.

How else to explain that politicians have been awarded substantial annual salary increases – whilst Radio NZ staff have received nothing?

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Annual Salary Increases: 2009 – 2012

MPs % Increase

Radio NZ % increase

2009 nil

nil

2010 10%

nil

2011 1.5% + $5000 payment to compensate for lost international travel perk

nil

2012

1.9% (backdated 6 months)

nil

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This is not just about the “politics of envy” – this is about the principles of  equity. We simply cannot afford to let a taonga such as Radio NZ wither and die.

Easy Solution?

The easiest solution? Tie ALL salary adjustments of state sector employees, management, executives, as well as the judiciary and elected representatives, to determinations by the Remunerations Authority.

If a salary increase is good enough for members of Parliament, then it’s good enough for everyone else paid by the taxpayer.

As  John Key exhorted in 2009,

“I think it is wholly appropriate that the Government leads by example.”

Acknowledgment: Key urges restraint on MP salary rises

Indeed, Mr Key, indeed.

Now would be a good time to show that you mean what you say.

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References

Save Radio NZ

Beehive: Key urges restraint on MP salary rises (22 Jan 2009)

Radio NZ: RNZ board concerned over budget freeze (16 May 2012)

Statistics NZ: Labour Cost Index (Salary and Wage Rates): June 2012 quarter

Additional

NZ Herald: Pay freeze tipped as Radio NZ slashes costs (31 Aug 2009)

TV3:  Govt accused of pay rise double standards (26 March 2012)

NZ Herald: CEO Pay Survey: Salaries stall for NZ’s top bosses (8 June 2012)

NZ Herald: Top public sector pay packets revealed (11 Oct 2012)

NZ Herald:  MPs get 1.9 per cent pay rise (20 Dec 2012)

Previous related blogposts

Why the Remuneration Authority just doesn’t get it

From July 1 onwards

TVNZ7 – value for money!

TVNZ7 – Picking at the body before it’s cold

21 May – Public meeting: TVNZ7 gets the big tick!

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