Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > “You Break It, We Fix It” – Is That How It Works?

“You Break It, We Fix It” – Is That How It Works?

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It all began in 1984…

But first, let’s look at the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae’s 2014 New Year’s speech,

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"As a nation, and as communities, we need to both celebrate our successes, and examine how we can help those families facing particular difficulties, so every child can grow up in a safe and secure home."

As a nation, and as communities, we need to both celebrate our successes, and examine how we can help those families facing particular difficulties, so every child can grow up in a safe and secure home.”

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My initial reaction upon hearing this statement from the Governor General was, thank god that the issue of deprivation facing children in our country is finally ‘trickling up’  the coridors of The Establishment.

It’s not like we haven’t been banging on for the last few years about the problems confronting us with child poverty; increasing inequality; homelessness; unemployment, under-employment; the growing wage-gap with Australia; etc, etc; etc; etc…

Once upon a time, New Zealand was one of the most equal societies on this planet. And we took great pride in that fact.

But then, something happened. Something disastrous which we were aware of; initially viewed with alarm; and then, like the frog in the pot of water steadily heating up, we got used to it.

We got Rogernomics.

Later followed shortly thereafter by the nastier, “crack-cocaine” version referred to as “Ruthenasia”.

From there, despite all the rhetoric and promises of wealth “tricking down”, things got worse. Much worse.

Sir Jerry’s speech was duly reported in the Otago Daily Times on 1 January;

The release of Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills’ report into child poverty in December found a quarter of Kiwi children were under the standard 60 per cent income poverty line, of which, 10 per cent were in severe and persistent poverty.

The report also highlighted the links between the lack of affordable housing and the preventable diseases spread through overcrowding.

Sir Jerry said while the structure and dynamics of New Zealand families had changed, the desire of parents to raise their children in a caring, loving environment had not.

“I often hear people say that everyone should have a New Zealand childhood.

“The care we provide to our most vulnerable citizens – our children – is a barometer of the wellbeing of our families and our society.”

But not all families could cope with the “inevitable challenges” life threw at them, Sir Jerry said.

IBID

Perhaps families could have coped better had National – not “life” – not thrown these challenges at them;

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English confirms big ACC levy rise likely

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Note how only a month after being elected into office, National was already spinning the public meme that Labour was to blame for the consequences of National’s impending ACC levy-rises? Such would be National’s modus operandi for the following years; everything blamed on the previous Labour government; accept no responsibility whatsoever.

If National wins a third term in office this year (unlikely), will they still attempt to use Labour as a scapegoat for their unsuccessful policies?

In the meantime, National continued their policy of raising government charges and taxes,

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Budget 2010 - Income tax slashed, GST to 15 pc

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English’s promise that income tax cuts would be “more than offset the rise in GST” ended up  hollow when more government charges were further raised;

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Tax hikes disguised as `reinvestment'

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Yet more indirect tax rises were forthcoming;

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Petrol prices creep higher

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And cuts to funding for social services. Again, children were targetted;

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Hundreds march over early childhood cuts

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And hefty user-pays charges implemented and increased;

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Vulnerable children at risk from Family Court fees increase

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With perhaps this, being the most odious and damaging of all to struggling low-income, poor families;

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Prescription fees increase

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Although NZMA chair, Paul Ockelford, asserted that prescription charge increases were “unlikely to be a barrier for most”, that statement appears to be the kind of arrogant, self-delusional nonsense that people out of touch with reality readily express amongst polite company, at well-laden dinner tables, of the tut-tutting affluent classes.

As writer, Herman Melville pointed out,

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.”

Reality away from the likes of  Mr Ockelford’s genteel circle  is much different, and grimmer;

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Pharmacies carry debt for prescriptions

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From the above Herald story,

Nikki Turner, who works as a GP in Wellington as well as sitting on the Child Poverty Action Group, said any assumption that the $2 increase was a minor issue was not looking at the bigger picture.

“For a lot of people that’s fine, but for many people there are a lot of barriers to access to primary health care.”

New Zealanders on lower incomes, particularly those with large families or complex medical problems, would find the hike in prescription costs as another barrier.

“We know from the Ministry of Social Development’s own data on severe and significant hardship that many families don’t pick up prescriptions because of costs. If they’ve got a small amount of money left over, then prescriptions will go or they’ll delay picking them up,” she said.

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And remember – National presided over two tax cuts in 2009 and 2010. Cuts which benefitted the highest income earners in the country.

It is abundantly clear that those tax cuts were paid for by massive borrowings; state asset (partial-)sales; raising GST; cuts to funding for  state services; and raising user-pays charges for other State services (often for the most spurious reasons).

In simple, easy-to-understand-terms, low and middle income earners (but especially those on low and fixed incomes) ended up paying for tax cuts for the rich,

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Tax cuts - High earners set to benefit most

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This is what National does.

In the meantime, unemployment is still at 7.1% and – according to the Children’s Commissioner, in his first Child Poverty Monitor – child poverty has dramatically worsened,

The 2013 Monitor shows that one in four Kiwi kids are growing up in income poverty and one in six are going without the basic essentials like fresh fruit and vegetables, a warm house, decent shoes and visits to the doctor. Ten percent of children are at the hardest end of poverty and three out of five kids living in poverty will live this way for much of their childhood.

[…]

Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills says the project is about giving New Zealanders the full picture on child poverty rates and to get Kiwis talking about it.

“265,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty. Is this what we want for our kids?

[…]

The Child Poverty Monitor is funded by the J R McKenzie Trust, an organisation with a long history of involvement in important social issues. The Trust’s Executive Director Iain Hines says they initiated this project because they saw an opportunity to make a difference for children missing out.

“We are concerned that the rate of child poverty in 2013 is twice that of the 1980s. We think this is unacceptable. If New Zealand’s road toll was twice that of the 80s there would be outrage and immediate action taken to reduce it. We need the same momentum and action on child poverty.

It is mind-boggling that we have arrived at a state of affairs where child poverty is increasing each year – and successive governments seem unable/unwilling to tackle it.

To our shame, governments seem more interested in throwing money at multi-national corporations and yacht races rather than the nation’s children – our future.

National, in particular stands guilty of inaction.

This was clearly highlighted when it was revealed that the Children Commissioner’s report was funded by a private organisation, the J R McKenzie TrustKey’s government refused point-blank to fund the investigation and subsequent report. Instead, the cost – $500,000 – was paid by the Trust.

By contrast, National found it easier to hand out corporate welfare such as $30 million to the Rio Tinto private aluminium smelter. Or millions to the Rugby World Cup tournament. Even Southern China Airlines got a $4 million tax-paid hand-out, courtesy, National.

One thing is for certain – Dr Russell Wills should not be expecting to be re-appointed Children’s Commissioner when his term is up. Not if the Nats are still in office by then.

Just to remind the reader, in his speech, Sir Jerry said,

“But not all families could cope with the “inevitable challenges” life threw at them.”

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Unsurprisingly, I take great exception to Sir Jerry’s comments. It is not “life” that is throwing “challenges” at New Zealand’s families: it is successive government policies and inaction. And nor are they “inevitable”. The sun rising every day is inevitable – government policies are not.

Polices such as these have been carefully planned for years prior to National winning the 2008 election and  have been methodically and unscrupulously executed with deliberate  intent to further an agenda of gradual “transformation” to a user-pays, low-tax, minimal-State economy.

It is shameful and sickening that Sir Jerry now laments that  “not all families could cope”. Once again, those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap are blamed for their precarious position. Unfortunately Sir Jerry, not all of us can live at the Governor-General’s residence at tax-payers’ expense.

Some families, however, can cope better than others,

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The NBR Rich List 2013 - The Rich Continue to Get Richer

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Perhaps equally galling is that even while our social problems worsen and poverty increases, people like John Key and Bill English continue to insist that things will, eventually, get better.

John Key in January 2008,

“This is a great country.  But it could be so much greater.  It has been so much greater. 

So the question I’m asking Kiwi voters is this:  Do you really believe this is as good as it gets for New Zealand?  Or are you prepared to back yourselves and this country to be greater still? National certainly is.

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National knows New Zealand has a great future if we embrace good ideas and put them into action. And my sense is that in 2008, New Zealand is ready for those new ideas – ready for a fresh start.

At this election, the National Party has the chance to harness the growing mood for change and march New Zealand towards a better tomorrow.

We know this isn’t as good as it gets.  We know Kiwis deserve better than they are getting.  We are focused on the issues that matter and we have the ideas and the ability to bring this country forward. 

National is ambitious for New Zealand and we want New Zealanders to be ambitious for themselves. “

Five years later, John Key, in December 2013,

“I am passionate about the future of New Zealand, and I’m in politics to make a difference for the better of our society.

By 2038, young people of today will be our leaders – whether it be in politics, business, academia, education, sport or arts.

They will guide the values, principles and direction of the country in years ahead.

One thing I’m sure of is while we will still be a young country, we will be a more confident multicultural country than we are now, a country that was built on a bicultural foundation. And today’s young people will help guide that future.

From the calibre and talent I see in our youth today, there is cause for real optimism about the years ahead.”

According to Key and other right-wing politicians, we just have to keep persevering with their policies.  So that, sometime in the future, things will “get better”.

Even as they get worse.

Getting worse since 1984…

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Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 January 2014.

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References

John Key:  A Fresh Start for New Zealand

Otago Daily Times: English confirms big ACC levy rise likely

Scoop media: Government delivers April 1 [2009] tax cuts, SME changes

NZ Herald: Tax cuts: High earners set to benefit most

Dominion Post: Petrol prices creep higher

NZ Herald: Budget 2010: Income tax slashed, GST to 15 pc

Dominion Post: Tax hikes disguised as `reinvestment’

Sunday News: Hundreds march over early childhood cuts

NZ Herald: Govt borrowing $380m a week

Scoop media: Vulnerable children at risk from Family Court fees increase

Statistics NZ: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlights – Work-Unemployment

NZ Herald: Prescription fees increase

Radio NZ: Pharmacies carry debt for prescriptions

Otago Daily Times: Governor-General urges Kiwis to care for children

Radio NZ: Challenge to help vulnerable families

Fairfax media: Govt pays $30 million to Tiwai Pt

Scoop media: NZ’s first monitor of child poverty released

Scoop media: Wellington philanthropic trust helping with survey of child poverty

Scoop media/NBR: The NBR Rich List 2013: The Rich Continue to Get Richer

NZ Herald/John Key: Kids of today offer bright future for NZ

Fairfax media: Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

Additional

Facebook: Inside Child Poverty New Zealand

Facebook: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Scoop media: Inequality keeps rising, says UC social research expert

Previous related blogpost

A Blighted Future – the price of an apple

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  1. Peter Kennedy
    13 January 2014 at 8:54 am

    A good post Frank, but it makes my stomach turn just reading it. What a truly appalling state of affairs.

  2. 13 January 2014 at 10:38 am

    The even bigger tragedy is that society’s culture war pigs have set the agenda on child poverty. They don’t see starving kids, they only see tomorrow’s criminals. They’re effectively to social class, what the KKK is to race.

    • 13 January 2014 at 1:49 pm

      DEEP RED RIGHT ON THE BUTTON –
      THE NATS DONT GIVE A DAMN 😦

      • 14 January 2014 at 9:24 am

        Indeed, Geoff. It just takes a while for sufficient voters to realise this and vote them out.

        This is what ultimately resulted in the demise of Jenny Shipley’s administration in 1999…

  3. Warren Armstead, Jr.
    28 January 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Thanks also for that this i of Mr. Macskasy’s said accounts STILL recounts also that ” ‘ You WRECK It, We FIX It — ‘ ” but then STILL next wonders also, ” Is That How This Works? ‘ ” and then STILL recounts also that Mr. Governor General, the Right Honourable Sir J. Mateparae’s said Year New’s address WOULD say that in essence, that’s the GIST of its main idea for others and even for us, too….

  4. Theodore
    20 February 2014 at 1:10 pm

    This country should hang it’s head in collective shame, with poverty as rampant as it is!

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