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What I want for Christmas…

29 December 2017 Leave a comment

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Now is the time of the year when we send in  requests to that mysterious red-garbed being at the north pole for ‘goodies’ of one sort or another.

This is my belated wish-list of gifts. But not gifts for myself. These are gifts for the whole of New Zealand…

Housing for all

As the Coalition’s Associate Finance Minister, David Parker recently stated;

“I have a pretty simple view of this. I don’t think that it should be an international market for houses. I think local homes are to live in.

They shouldn’t be commodities that we trade internationally. I think just about everyone who’s a foreign person buying into New Zealand – they’re a very, very wealthy one-percenter if you like. And I think that’s one of the excesses of global capital when you allow those sorts of interests to influence your local housing market.”

The majority of New Zealanders would agree with him.

Even our former pony-tail-pulling Dear Leader, John Key, was moved to lament seven years ago;

“Now, that’s a challenging issue given the state of the current law and quite clearly it’s evidentially possible and has been achieved that individual farms can be sold. Looking four, five, ten years into the future I’d hate to see New Zealanders as tenants in their own country and that is a risk I think if we sell out our entire productive base, so that’s something the Government will have to consider.”

Granted that he was referring to selling farms to foreign investors, but the same holds equally true for residential property. We literally could become “tenants in our own country” if housing is allowed to be a commodity traded by investor-speculators. Especially without hindrances such as Stamp Duty or Capital Gains Tax. In effect, our housing becomes the plaything of the wealthy, with our children becoming increasingly locked out of ever owning their own home.

Even domestic investor-speculators are having a deleterious effect on home ownership. As recently as March this year (2017) the Property Investors Club revealed that “Auckland investors account for a 43% share of all sales [and] first home buyers have dropped back to a low of 19%“.

When I open up the Christmas gift labelled “Housing”, I find;

  • A capital gains tax, excluding the family home, set at the corporate tax rate of 28%. Rentals are a business; we should tax them as such.
  • An increase of State Housing of at least ten thousand units.
  • Labour’s “Kiwibuild” policy taking off  like a rocket and providing affordable homes for all first-home buyers.
  • Entrenching Housing NZ  in legislation as a public service rather than an SOE; banning dividends or any other transfers from HNZ to central government; reinvest any gst paid by HNZ back into HNZ; banning sales of existing housing; guaranteeing tenancy for all families where children and/or young adults under 21 reside in the home.

Free education for all

One of the greatest scams sold to New Zealanders is that education is a “private benefit” and therefore should be paid for (at least in part) by young people.

This was never the case for Tories such as John Key, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Bill English, et al. Their university tuition was mostly free, courtesy of the State.

An educated population presented solely as a “private benefit” ignores the counter-factual; an un-educated population would be severely handicapped economically, socially, technologically and marked with deprivation on every level.

As a mind-experiment, imagine if every doctor, nurse,  and dentist remained in New Zealand after graduation, and in doing so, their debt was wiped. Who would benefit? Answer:

(a) doctors, nurses, and dentists,who would have no massive debts hanging over them

(b) the public, who would  enjoy their services

(c) central government, which would receive  doctors, nurses, and dentists’ taxation.

Now imagine if those same doctors, nurses, and dentists, all emigrated. Imagine if we were left with not one doctor, nurse,  and dentist in the country. Who would benefit? Who would lose out? Answer:

(a)  Losing out: the public, which would be deprived of their services

(b)  Losing out: central government, deprived of their taxation

(c)  Losing out: the entire country, as the economy, life-expectancies, child mortality, etc, all took a giant leap backwards

(d) Doctors, nurses, and dentists, who would still have massive debts hanging over them.

It’s abundantly clear that an educated population is not primarily a private benefit. It is a collective benefit that allows an entire society and nation to progress.

We used to have (near-)free tertiary education for those who wanted it – with a student allowance thrown in.

Then we had Rogernomics; seven tax cuts; and ended up with over $15 billion in student debt. High student debt has forced many graduates to go overseas. The previous National regime even implemented a policy arresting so-called “loan defaulters” at the border;

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This is the craziness  we have arrived at: making criminals of young people for not paying for a service that John Key, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Bill English, et al, enjoyed for free.

And like a frog in a steadily heating pan of water, this craziness has grown incrementally until New Zealanders have have accepted this state of craziness as “the norm”.

It is not normal. It is as far removed from normal as one can get without permanent residency in the local psych unit.

I open the second Christmas gift. This one is labelled “Education”. In it, I find;

  • Fully funded Early Childhood Education; Primary Schools, and Secondary Schools. All school “donations” are dropped.
  • Increases to Vote Education funding is tagged to inflation/cost-of-living increases.
  • The mandate for  salary increases for teachers is handed to the Remuneration Authority, and is automatically double that of MP salary increases.
  • All university and polytech education is free-to-user.
  • All current student debt is wiped.
  • All criminal convictions for loan defaulters are wiped and their legal fees reimbursed.
  • All student debt amounts paid by graduates become a tax credit. Eg; a graduate having paid $30,000  in debt (including interest) will have a tax credit of the same amount. (An exception being those graduates who voted National and/or ACT. Their debt will be doubled. After all, they support user-pays. Let’s not disappoint them.)

Free breakfasts and lunches in schools

Europe does it. Sweden, Finland, Estonia, UK, Scotland,  and even India does it. They provide varying levels of free meals  for children at school.

The benefits are obvious; healthy meals are provide to all children regardless of social status or class origins. There is no stigmatisation as “coming from a poor family” when everyone is provided with the same service.

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) wrote in their 2011 report, “Hunger for Learning“;

Yet despite the ubiquity of food insecurity among students at Auckland’s decile 1 and 2 schools, children’s hunger is often portrayed as one of individual moral failure and stigmatised accordingly. (p17)

In all cases breakfasts were provided on a universal basis to all children who wanted one. Principals were very conscious of the stigma attached to targeted provision of meals, even in younger children. For schools working to build trust between themselves and the community principals felt that universal provision sent a message that children and parents would not be judged. (p24)

Anscombe (2009) notes that in the New Zealand context some schools  do not want to be seen as needing to feed children because of the stigma attached to low-decile schools. (p28)

The key argument against free provision is that it takes away parents’ responsibility to provide basics for children. Yet, as this report makes clear,  many families cannot afford to provide adequate nutrition for their children, and also, targeting risks stigmatisation, and it is clear from the interviews conducted for this report that this becomes evident in children well before they leave primary school. Stigmatisation risks missing children that need help (Sheridan, 2001). (p29)

In its estimate of the cost of food in schools in Scotland, the Scottish parliament made a number of observations pertinent to New Zealand. Among them were that a deregulated system led to poorer quality food, something the Scottish legislation sought to address; a universal system removes the stigma attached to targeted provision, improves take up and is cheaper to administer; universal provision helps build a healthy nation, and this was viewed as contributing to the economic, social and healthy wellbeing of Scotland as a whole; and nutritious school meals were recognised as lowering Scotland’s high rates of coronary heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes, and were seen as being of key importance for development and growth in childhood and adolescence (Sheridan, 2001, pp. 2-3). Other, more direct, savings included teacher time (teachers spend time teaching rather than trying to deal with disruptive behaviour) and savings associated with improved attendance. (p36)

One fact we are all fully cognisant of is that the moralising Right are only too willing and quick to jump on a soapbox and judge poor families for not feeding their children. The constantly parroted rhetoric is “can’t afford to feed them, don’t have them” – a subtle code  advocating class eugenics, and attempting to deflect from the real social problems we face.

Make school meals – like superannuation and hospitals – universally free, and that stigma vanishes because everyone’s children is treated equally.

After all, if it was good enough for former Social Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett,  to refuse to  measure poverty

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…then it should be good enough not to measure which children should or should not qualify for free breakfasts and lunches in our Primary and Secondary schools.

I open my third gift, and it contains;

  • Free healthy, nutritious breakfast and lunch for every child in New Zealand.

Orphan medicines for all who need them

In the last few years I have reported on a small number of New Zealanders who have been denied life-saving medication because PHARMAC has insifficient funding to pay for these expensive drugs. Medication for diseases such as Acid Maltase deficiency, or Pompe Disease, are not funded and sufferers either have to pay huge sums – or slowly perish.

NZORD, the New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders, has repeatedly called for PHARMAC to fully-funded orphan drugs for rare conditions.

In August 2013, this blogger reported;

At a seminar in Wellington, Labour’s Health spokesperson, Annette King, announced her Party’s new policy to create a new fund for purchasing so-called “orphan drugs” – medicines – for rare diseases.

Labour’s new policy marks a turning point in the critical problem of “orphan drugs” which are not funded by PHARMAC, but which are a matter of life and death for people suffering rare diseases.

Ms King announced Labour Party policy on the issue of orphan drugs and the problem of lack of funding;

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Annette King orphan drugs NZORD seminar

Health Spokesperson, Annette King, Wellington, 1 August 2013 – NZORD seminar

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“So one of the things that would need to happen soon after an election would be the establishment of on implementation working group, which could be made up of clinicians; of patients; of community representations, and others,  to put in place the details and work on the criteria for access. I do believe that in separating the funding and operation of the orphan drugs policy from PHARMAC. It will let them get on with doing what they do really well, and I think in some ways it will free them to get the best they can for the most of us who don’t need special medicines. But it will mean that for those who have rare disorders, that there will be a fund around that.”

Ms King was advocating a separately-funded body that would over-see orphan drugs for rare diseases.

However, it has become apparent that budgetary constraints and fiscal time-bombs left by the previous, incompetant National government have put Labour’s policy in doubt.

Instead, the new Coalition government is faced with unfunded budget-blow-outs such as new frigates for the NZ Navy;

The cost of upgrading two of the navy’s frigates has blown out again – this time by $148 million. The project – originally estimated to cost $374-million – will now cost $639 million.

This, on top of an eye-watering, jaw-dropping $20 billion “investment plan”  for New Zealand’s military. The Fairfax article appeared to parrot the previous government’s spin with these opening paragraphs;

The Government for the first time has confirmed New Zealand is capable of launching its own cyber attacks as a deterrent to cyber terrorism.

It’s unveiled a $20 billion investment plan in defence force capability, which will see the military establish a new cyber support capability, bolster intelligence units and digitise the army on the battlefield, giving it network enabled navigation and communications systems.

Only further down the story was it revealed that the $20 billion would be spent on new warships, aircraft, and other military paraphernalia.

Meanwhile, health budgets are stretched with PHARMAC unable to afford life-saving medicines.

The next gift to be opened;

  • “orphan drugs” funded for all who desperately need them

There are many other gifts to be opened, but one particular one caught my eye. This one had no cost to it. It was totally, utterly free-of-charge…

Kiwi fairness

Wrapped up in plain brown paper,  and put away in a dusty attic somewhere for the past thirty years, is a little box. It appears unassuming and unremarkable.

Except…

It contains the most precious gift of all; our notion of Kiwi fairness; our identity of caring for others. We had it once, in abundance. We even used to march for it in our streets, for fairness, justice, and peace in far away countries.

In South Africa;

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In South East Asia;

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Even in our own backyard;

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Wouldn’t it be refreshing if those 1,152,075 New Zealanders who voted for National in September this year, thought more of homelessness; child poverty; polluted rivers and lakes; under-funded hospitals, medicines, and mental health services; mounting student debt on our children, etc  – than for their bloated property values?

Wouldn’t it be better for us as a society if our distorted sense of hyper-Individualism – that bratty spoiled ‘child’ of  neo-liberalism and globalisation,  was pared back, and the needs of our communities put first and foremost?

The last gift I open;

  • The Kiwi identity of a fair go for all.

Without it, nothing else can be achieved. Perhaps that one is the most important of all.

A very Merry Christmas, festive season, happy new year, and family time for all,

irrespective of how you may choose to celebrate it.

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References

NBR: Foreign Buyer Ban – it’s the enforcement, stupid

NZ Herald:  PM warns against Kiwis becoming ‘tenants’

Property Investors Club:  First buyers still missing out in Auckland’s most affordable properties

Labour Party:  Our plan to start fixing the housing crisis

NZ Herald:  Student loan debt – 728,000 people owe nearly $15 billion

Fairfax media:  Kiwi lawyer comes home from UK to find $16,000 student loan grown to $85,000

NZ Herald:  Woman arrested at airport over student loan debt

NZ Herald:  Third person arrested at the border over student loan debt, as Govt ramps up crackdown on borrowers

NZ Herald:  Student loan debtor arrested at border, more warrants sought

Radio NZ: Two dozen prosecuted for defaulting on student loans

Child Poverty Action Group: Hunger for Learning

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

National Party:  29 fiscal time-bombs waiting to blow

Radio NZ:  Navy budget blowout – ‘Our sailors aren’t safe’ – Ron Mark (audio)

Fairfax media:  Defence White Paper – Government unveils $20b defence plan for new planes, boats and cyber security

Electoral Commission:  2017 General Election – Official Result

Additional

Bay of Plenty Times:  Inside Story – The student loan effect

Previous related blogposts

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key (12 Nov 2012)

Terminal disease sufferer appeals to John Key – Update & more questions (28 Nov 2012)

Health Minister circumvents law to fulfill 2008 election bribe? (18 Dec 2012)

Johnny’s Report Card – National Standards Assessment – Compassion (9 Jan 2013)

“There’s always an issue of money but we can find money for the right projects” – John Key (20 Jan 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part tahi (4 March 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part rua (4 March 2013)

“One should judge a society by how it looks after the sick and vulnerable” – part toru (4 March 2013)

Opposition parties work together on “orphan drugs” (part wha) (10 Aug 2013)

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homeless families living in a car cartoon

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 December 2017.

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Wellingtonians say; “Everyone deserves a home – no more homelessness!”

28 November 2015 3 comments

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“Housing is a basic human need and access to decent quality, affordable and safe housing should be seen a human right. This means that our society and more specifically the State has an obligation to ensure that everyone living in New Zealand always has access to adequate and secure housing. We further believe that this obligation means that housing needs to be considered as more than a commodity whose allocation is decided entirely by markets and the profit motive.” – Hikoi for Homes/Child Poverty Action Group

Wellington, NZ, 21 November – Around two hundred people gathered in Cuba Mall, central Wellington, as part of a nationwide day of protest at growing homelessness; poor standards of housing; state house privatisation, and lack of long-term stability in rental accomodation;

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After safety instructions were issued by Ian Harcourt, one of CPAG’s march organisers, the protesters set off through the streets of Wellington, headed to the Civic Square;

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Throughout the entire event, there was only a brief, sole police presence as one lone police car halted traffic to allow marchers to cross a busy intersection;

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Greeting the marchers at Civic Square, Nigel Parry and Ruth Prentice,  sang a song dedicated to Emma-Lita Bourne, who perished  in August 2014 whilst living in a damp, cold house infected with toxic mould. Nigel and Ruth page tribute to Emma-Lita, and to the coroner, who had the guts to speak the truth as to why Emma-Lita died needlessly;

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The number of protesters had swelled to around 300 people and constituted  a wide cross representation from the community, including many families with children. These were citizens concerned at the direction New Zealand was heading toward;

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Banners flew from the various groups involved with the day’s event, including UNICEF, one of the  organisers;

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Labour’s Grant Robertson was present;

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The first speaker, Dr Nikki Turner, from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), addressed the crowd;

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Dr Turner reminded people that twenty years ago, New Zealand signed the UN covenant on the rights of children. She said this included a duty of care to ensure safe, decent housing for children. She asked, “so why are we here today?

She said that this is a national shame that New Zealand are not providing basic human rights for families in need.

Dr Turner said that as a General Practitioner she was seeing people turning up at her clinic daily, sick, from unsafe houses. They were “sick and recurrently sick, because the houses were not adequate“.

Dr Turner listed poverty-related diseases that were common to people living in damp, cold houses; asthma, colds, chest infections, pneumonia, rheumatic fever, chronic lung diseases, saying that  “our housing makes our children sick“. She said cold affects our immune systems, making people more vulnerable to moulds  and diseases shared through over-crowding.

If we fix our housing, we’re going to go a long way to improving our health in New Zealand,” said Dr Turner.

Dr Turner then listed seven issues necessary for government to implement, saying they were achievable;

  1. To stop the sale of all state and council houses,
  2. A one billion dollar provision to build more public and social housing,
  3. Minimum standards for all rental houses,
  4. Greater tenure protection for all tenants,
  5. A rent freeze for five years,
  6. A statutory right to be housed, as a human right,
  7. State subsidies for modest income-earners for home-ownership, as New Zealanders had a right to a home.

Dr Turner said that the current situation was unfair; costly; and affecting our children. She said that many of the medical problems caused by inadequate housing led to permanent, on-going crippling that would last throughout their lives.  “We need to fix this for the future of our community.”

Dr Turner was followed by Dr Philipa Howden-Chapman, from Otago University’s Department of Public Health;

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Dr Howden-Chapman pointed out that about a third of New Zealanders lived in rental accomodation. She said that many rental homes were cold and damp, far colder than what was recommended by the UN. She said “they were built in another age, when someone was home most of the time, ventilating the house, and keeping the fires going“.

Dr Howden-Chapman said many homes were between 12 to 16 degrees, making them no warmer inside than outside. She said babies were particularly susceptible, being unable to shiver, and losing heat much faster than an adult. Older people also got colder faster than fit, younger people.

Dr Howden-Chapman said that around a third of houses had mould growing in them. She said that mould at certain times of the year release spores and toxins, some of which were the most dangerous substances known.

According to Dr Howden-Chapman, New Zealand spends $3 billion per annum maintaining the roading network.  But there were no equivalent regulations  required to maintain rentals at a set standard or provide adequate heating or ventilation. She said Emma-Lita Bourne‘s family had an insulated house, but could not afford heating. By contrast, Europe had solar-heating on houses that constantly prevented  homes from dropping below 18 degrees.

“But we don’t do any of that.”

Dr Howden-Chapman asked why we have Health officials going around coffee-bars to check on hygiene or WoF mechanics to check the brakes on our cars, but no one is responsible to check on the quality of rental housing.

It was pointed out that a third of housing-related ACC costs could be saved if unsafe steps and other parts of houses were fixed.

She asked  “does this government care”?

Dr Howden-Chapman said it was disgraceful that Bill English admitted that the National government was the biggest slumlord in the country and could “dismiss the whole housing stock”.

She said that a small country of 4.4 million people should be able to work together, with government, local bodies, and NGOs co-operating so  that everyone had access to warm, dry, safe housing.

Dr Howden-Chapman decried New Zealand in the 21st century where children were found to be living in cars, camping grounds, homeless in the streets, or containers, or crowded houses. She said it was no accident that children regularly  miss school and fall behind in their studies, or end up in hospital Intensive Care, where many die.

She said “we can do better, we must do better“.

Dr Howden-Chapman demanded security of tenure for tenants so that the problem of transient families could be reduced. She said families in Housing NZ homes should be able to stay in one house for as long as their children were at school. Dr Howden-Chapman said it was vital that families moved from a state house be re-housed in the same neighbourhood so that their community links with other people could be maintained, as well as allowing children to remain in the same school.

She acknowledged that many New Zealanders cared about this pressing social problem and asked the government, “do you care?

Ian Harcourt introduced a musical group, ‘Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘. He said that while this protest was about speaking truth to power, that they the singers he was introducing were here to “sing truth to power”;

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One of the group’s “novel” acts was to engage the audience with participation; to ask us to raise our hands; extend two fingers; and wave it in the direction of Parliament;

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Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘ was followed by Ariana, from the State Housing Action Network;

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Ariana spoke of the formation of the State Housing Action Network as a response to Bill English’s announcement that National was looking at selling up to eight thousand state houses. She called the move despicable, given that there was a critical shortage of state  housing in New Zealand.

Ariana announced a petition calling for a halt to forced evictions from state houses, calling it a form of social cleansing. She described the privatisation of state housing as National’s determination to make a profit from the sales. Ariana warned that if National had their way, they would sell the entire housing stock, worth around $15 billion.

Ariana described National’s rationale for the sale, based on the properties being “run down” as just an excuse and nothing more. She said that National had a “track record of selling state houses”. She also pointed out that lack of maintenance of state housing had been caused by successive governments.

Ariana said that it was important that not only new state houses were built, but that the current stock should be brought up to standard.

Ariana congratulated the good work done by CPAG and UNICEF, as well as political parties like Labour, Greens, and Mana giving support. She said we have to work together on this problem by forming a strong coalition to oppose the neo-liberal agenda.

Ariana further stated that when market rents for state houses were introduced in the 1990s, it was predicted that it would be the single biggest cause of poverty increasing. She said that current policies by National were an extension of  the 1990s.

She condemned taking money from those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, and transferred to those who were already wealthy.

Ariana called for an introduction of a capital gain tax instead of taking money from those who could least afford it. She said National agenda would eventually lead to charities taking over the role of providing for the poor, as in Victorian times.

Ariana said that the State Housing Action Network strongly endorsed the seven points put forward by Dr Nikki Turner (see above).

Ariana then led a chant,

“Everybody deserves a home!”

Following Ariana, was Martin, a state house tenant, with Kyrie in his arms (who seemed totally fascinated by the microphone in front of him);

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Martin described  a state house with nine people living in it’s three bedrooms. He said there was now seven people living in that house, including five adults. Of those people, Kyrie, the little boy in his arms, had athsma. He said such over-crowding was not conducive to good health.

He said he contacted Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennett, to complain of an open drain that was outside the property; the rotting windows inside; and the general state of disrepair. He said Paula Bennett passed him on to Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith. Martin said Nick Smith advised him to take his case back to Paula Bennett.

Martin invited Paula Bennett to visit Kyrie’s delapidated state house to look at the problems herself. Martin said she refused. (Though this blogger can report that Bennett is not averse to visiting state or social housing when there is a photo-op involving a “good news” story.)

Martin said he had to phone his local MP, Annette King, to try resolve the problem. He said that remedial work was undertaken, but that it was “cheap and shoddy, and they’ve done repairs that are of no fit standard for people to live in“.

He said this was happening all over New Zealand and would be our future. He said Kyrie deserves better.

He encouraged people to stand together; stand strong, and to hold this government to account.

Following Martin, ‘The Ruths‘, entertained  the crowd with some beautiful singing. The songs were delightful, as well as political in flavour, in the best tradition of 1960s singer-activists such as Joan Baez. Ruth Mundy on guitar, with Ruth Prentice on violin;

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Following ‘The Two Ruths‘, Paul Barton, from the Christian Council of Social Services addressed the crowd;

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Paul spoke on behalf on the Living Wage movement, describing it as a response to the growing gap in our society between the rich and the poor. He spoke of the top 10% over the last thirty years having enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of us who have been told “we can’t afford higher wages“.

He said that the wealth gap is shown in the  housing crisis where “literally, this hits home”.

Paul said that the Kiwi dream of home ownership is fast evaporating with house prices rising and a growing number of the population resorting to renting. He pointed out that half the population now lives in rented housing. He said renters tended to be younger, poorer, and families.

It was pointed  out that the housing and wealth inequality problem was not due to “mysterious forces beyond our control”.  He said it has been a direct result of decisions our society has made how we share the bountiful wealth we have in this country. He said we needed to find ways to do things differently.

Otherwise, Paul said, we run the risk of a generation left behind in sub-standard housing.

Paul said the living wage was one response to this problem, where employers paid an income to live, not just “get by”. He said a Living Wage would not only allow people to pay their rent, but also save to buy their own home.

“And that way, paying a living wage overcomes part of the housing affordability problem.”

Paul congratulated the Wellington City Council for having the courage to pay it’s staff and security contractors the Living Wage. He said over 500 workers had had their wages increased from just above the minimum wage, to the Living Wage. He hoped that soon cleaning and recycling-collection contractors would also soon be covered by the Living Wage.

Paul related how workers and their families who had their wages lifted to a Living Wage were motivated to persist to make their lives better.

He added that the Living Wage has not happened “by chance” and that it was the result of a building movement for change. He pointed to the “wonderful support from you people here in Wellington” and said,

“We can achieve change but we need to work together.”

Paul said that people and organisations can work together to make a difference and reduce inequality, and that we did not need to wait for a change of  government or change the law.

He said that local authorities like the Wellington City Council played a major part in the Living Wage movement, and were an important part of our daily lives.  Paul said that Wellington City Council had a role in the kind of housing that we live in. He said that at the last 2013 local body election it was the Living Wage and building warrant of fitness that were the main political issues.

Paul encouraged Wellingtonians that next year’s local body elections also made housing, warrant of fitness, and social housing a major political issue. He encourage people to  get involved in “overcoming this awful housing problem“.

“Don’t say we can’t do something, because we know we’ve already proved we can make a difference.”

Deborah Morris-Travers from UNICEF and ‘Make our Future Fair‘ was the last speaker;

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The former Parliamentarian and currently National Advocacy Manager at UNICEF NZ, told the crowd that, as part of the United Nations, her organisation was mandated to stand up for children’s rights all around the world

Deborah stated that New Zealand Aotearoa was currently breaching the rights of its children by not providing an adequate standard of living, of which housing playing a major part.

She said that we all have a part to play in creating a nation that grants all New Zealanders safe and adequate housing, that lays the foundation for our communities and our society. She encouraged people to keep working together on these issues.

Deborah revealed that “the government is madly polling and running focus groups. They’re sensitive to the mood of the public.”

She said we have to keep building the public mood to ensure that our families are kept safe.

Deborah announced that UNICEF was launching the Fair Future Campaign and said that Radio NZ would be airing a story on children’s rights. She said that UNICEF would be working hard on this issue as National was about to start work on it’s next Budget.

“We have got to keep the message upfront in the news media, in social media, in our families, in our communities, that we will not tolerate our children being left behind.”

She said that every year $10 billion was spent on  “picking up the cost of child maltreatment and child poverty.” Deborah said this was unsustainable as well as being unjust.

Deborah asked, “What do we value in Aotearoa-New Zealand? What do we stand for? Surely it is be a fairer future.”

She said, “Housing is a fundamental human right. This about rights, not favours!”

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As the event concluded, a reporter from Radio NZ interviewed one of the  participants;

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homelessness - housing - state housing - child poverty (41)

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As far as could be determined, Radio NZ was the only msm that sent a reporter to cover the event. Apparently TV1, TV3, print media, commercial radio, et al, were too busy still dealing with the global fall-out from Ritchie McCaw’s resignation from the All Blacks.

As the protest event came to it’s conclusion, this blogger turned to look up at the sky which had darkened with ominous grey clouds. Fluttering atop the Wellington Civic Building were the five flag-options for the present Flag Referendum;

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homelessness - housing - state housing - child poverty (37)

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It was a sobering moment when one considered the symbolism of those five flags.

Notably the $26 million price tag that went with the Referendum.

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homelessness - housing - state housing - child poverty (35)

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References

Fairfax media: Toddler’s death in damp state house a ‘broken promise’, says Labour

Fairfax media: Damp state house played part in toddler’s death

Interest.co.nz: Finance Minister English says govt… wants to reform state’s role as ‘biggest slum landlord’

Fairfax media: Social housing rollout opens doors for the disabled

UNICEF: UNICEF NZ calls on PM to make good on promise to children

Radio NZ: Hundreds march to demand action on housing

Radio NZ: Insight for 22 November 2015 – What More Can be Done for Children?

Additional

Radio NZ: Community interest sought for state housing

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

State Housing Action Network

Living Wage Movement

NZ Herald: New bill to give Government control over state houses

NZ Herald: Editorial – Housing hikoi sign of rising social unrest

Other blogs

The Standard: Hikoi for Homes

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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Salvation army - bill english - sale o=f state housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 November 2015.

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= fs =

Budget 2014 – How has National exposed itself in Election Year?

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2014 election

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Right Wing blogger and National Party apparatchik, David Farrar, wrote in the Dominion Post on the day after the Budget,

“By contrast I expect debate on the New Zealand Budget to be over by Monday morning.”

Really?!

Don’t you believe it, sunshine.

National’s sixth budget contained spending on;

  • $171.8 million to extend paid parental leave (PPL):
    • Additional four weeks, starting with a two-week extension from 1 April 2015, and another two weeks from 1 April 2016.
    • Extend eligibility of paid parental leave to caregivers other than parents (for example, “Home for Life” caregivers), and to extend parental leave payments to people in less-regular jobs or who recently changed jobs.
  • $42.3 million to increase the parental tax credit (PTC) from $150 a week to $220 a week, and increase the payment period from eight to 10 weeks, from 1 April 2015.
  • $155.7 million to help early childhood centres remain affordable and increase participation towards the 98 per cent target.
  • $33.2 million in 2014/15 to help vulnerable children, including eight new Children’s Teams to identify and work with at-risk children, screening of people who work with children, and additional resources to support children in care.
  • $90 million to provide free GP visits and prescriptions for children aged under 13, starting on 1 July 2015.

(Source: Treasury)

 

It was perhaps the last item – free healthcare for Under 13s – that took the media, public, and Opposition by surprise. As others have stated, it was a policy lifted straight from the policy pages of Labour, Greens, or Mana.

Other increases in  funding included increased funding ($10.4 million) for sexual violence services

Sexual violence services have been critically under-funded since 2012 and many were forced to cut back on staffing as funding dried up in Wellington, Auckland, and elsewhere. It is fairly evident that funding increases for child healthcare, parental leave,  and sexual violence services have all been left for 2014.

Which conveniently also happens to be election year.

As far as cynical self-interest goes, these Budget funding-measures are an obvious – if utterly crude – attempt at  currying public favour as Election Day bears down on this government.

Why was funding for sexual violence community groups not made available earlier, so that full staffing levels and services for survivors could be maintained? $10.4 million dollars out of a Government revenue of $64.1 billion is not massive by any standard. In fact, it is just a shade under one year’s worth of Ministerial travel, at $11 million.

By comparison, National gave a  tax-payer funded bail-out of $30 million to the Rio Tinto  aluminium smelter last August – three times what was eventually budgetted for sexual violence services.

Even the $2 million of taxpayer’s money paid  by National to a Golf Tournament over the last three years would have assisted these much-needed groups  keep their services intact and skilled counsellors employed,  until this month’s Budget.

Leaving critical funding till Election Year is tantamount to abusing the victims of sexual violence all over again.

The same could be said of funding free healthcare for Under 13s. If it is a good idea now – why was it not a good idea two years ago?

It’s not as if John Key did not acknowledge the growing under-class in this country only three years ago;

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Key admits underclass still growing

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And a year later, this staggering headline appeared in the media – a story few of us would ever believe would happen here, in Gods Own;

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Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

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Little wonder then, that Dr Nikki Turner, from the  Child Poverty Action Group, was less than impressed by National’s sudden transformation into a quasi-social democratic party with a newly-cloned heart, and a belated attempt to improve children’s health;

A child lobby group says free doctors’ visits and prescriptions will make little difference to reducing child poverty without also improving the incomes and the housing conditions of the very poor.

“Without adequate income, without adequate warmth and housing, we’re not going to (make) a lot of difference at this stage to our children’s health.”

Indeed. Without addressing the core causes of poverty-related diseases, National’s free health-care plan is simply a  multi-million dollar band-aid. The root causes of those diseases will still be present in many households up and down the country.

If Key and English thought that their band-aid solutions would be gratefully accepted by an uncritical, compliant media and public, they were mistaken.

An un-named author of an editorial in the Dominion Post on 16 May stated,

“This is a deliberately bland and even boring Budget. The Government has clearly decided that grey and safe is its best hope in election year. The only surprise was free doctors’ visits for under-13-year-olds. Middle New Zealand will welcome it, as it will many of the other, carefully telegraphed, handouts. More paid parental leave: who could object? A bit more help with childcare costs: why not?”

The same editorial went on,

“The other glaring black hole in the Budget is the housing crisis. More and more New Zealanders cannot afford a house, and the Government’s response is muted and inadequate. The Budget promises to remove tariffs on building supplies, a sensible step following revelations about the high price of such materials here compared with Australia. But the change will cut only a few thousand dollars from the price of a house.

Much bolder moves will be needed, including a capital gains tax. But National’s caution here is a drawback, not an advantage. Sometimes problems are serious and need action. National seems to believe it will be enough to cut red tape and remove some of the planning obstacles in the way of housing. It won’t.”

This is where John Key and Bill English have mis-calculated badly, and which no one (?) has picked up.

After all, if a problem with children’s health was not critical, why would a fiscally conservative government fund free doctor’s visits to the tune of $90 million? Indeed, as Trevor McGlinchey for the NZ Council of  Christian Social Services said, on 16 May,

“In providing $500 million of support for children and families over four years the Government has recognised many of our families are suffering.”

The key-word here is “recognised“.

In funding free healthcare, National has admitted to anyone who will take notice that a problem of some magnitude exists in this country. They can no longer hide behind platitudes.

As the above editorial went on to state,

“At present there is little rage about poverty, inequality and the housing crisis. These problems are raw and real but voters are patient and only a minority of voters now seem to actually hate National. It will probably take another term before a majority is truly fed up with Key and his band. In the meantime, this bland document may be a document for the times.”

The author of that piece is being optimistic. By acknowledging that a problem exists; by acknowledging that state funding is required; and by acknowledging that a “radical” (for National, this is radical stuff) solution is required – they have left themselves wide open in this election campaign.

A campaign manager with a posse of motivated, clued-up, and capable strategists, will be able to use this in the up-coming election campaign. Like a game of chess, in trying to show how “clever” they were in manipulating public perception, National have left their “social policy flank” exposed and vulnerable.

So much for Kiwiblogger Mr Farrar’s misplaced optimism that “I expect debate on the New Zealand Budget to be over by Monday morning”.

Quite the contrary, David.

By shining a bright, $90 million spotlight on this problem, they can no longer deny that it exists or is “improving”.

It’s only just begun.

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Postscript #1

The cost of financing this country’s $59 billion debt is shown in this Dominion Post graphic;

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Revenue and expenses 2014 budget new zealand government

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The cost of financing our debt is shown to to $3.9 billion, per year.

Two years ago, the Green Party used Parliamentary Library information to estimate the cost of the 2009 and 2010 tax cuts;

“The Green Party has today revealed that the National Government has so far had to borrow an additional $2 billion dollars to fund their 2010 tax cut package for upper income earners.

New information prepared for the Green Party by the Parliamentary Library show that the estimated lost tax revenues from National’s 2010 tax cut package are between $1.6–$2.2 billion. The lost revenue calculation includes company and personal income tax revenues offset by increases in GST.”

The cost of those tax cuts is  roughly the equivalent of what we are now paying to service our overall debt.

So much for National’s “prudent fiscal managing” of the government’s books.

Postscript#2

Someone at the Dominion Post seems to have a rather shocking memory. At the bottom of Page A4, in their 16 May edition, this item was published;

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Past budgets 2009 - Dominion Post - 16 May 2014

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Promised tax-cuts in 2009 were not “axed”. As this IRD page explained;

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IRD technical tax area 2009 

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Key even made this helpful suggestion to those who did not want their tax cuts to donate them to charity,

“I am just as sure there are many who are in a position to donate some of that extra income”.

Which would make it hard to donate non-existent tax cuts, as the author of the Dominion Post article claimed.

Postscript #3

This graph from Treasury (with a minor enhancement by this blogger) shows our borrowings from 2003 to 2013, with subsequent estimations.

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Treasury New Zealand debt

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According to the graph, we can see how Labour paid down the country’s sovereign debt, leaving New  Zealand well-placed to weather the on-coming Global Financial Crisis and resulting recession. Something even Key and English have had to admit on occasion;

“The level of public debt in New Zealand was $8 billion when National came into office in 2008. It’s now $53 billion, and it’s forecast to rise to $72 billion in 2016. Without selling minority shares in five companies, it would rise to $78 billion. Our total investment liabilities, which cover both public and private liabilities, are $150 billion – one of the worst in the world because of the high levels of private debt in New Zealand.”

Indeed.

 

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References

Dominion Post: English spreads the lolly far and wide

NZ Treasury:  Key Facts for Taxpayers (Part 1)

NZ Herald: Budget 2014 – Building products tariffs lifted temporarily

Manawatu Standard: Boost for rape crisis services welcomed

Fairfax media:  Rape crisis line forced to cut staff

Dominion Post: Wellington rape centre forced to cut hours

NZ Treasury: Government Revenue

Fairfax media: MPs’ travel costs rise

NZ Herald: PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto

NZ Herald: Golf event tots up $2m in Govt aid

NZ Herald:  Key admits underclass still growing

Fairfax media: Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

Radio NZ: Child lobby sceptical of budget moves

Dominion Post: Editorial – The crowd goes mild at Budget

Parliament: Inequality—Assets and Income

Scoop media: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting

Dominion Post: Child poverty still not being corrected

IRD: [2009] Tax cuts for individuals

Otago Daily Times: Key says donate tax cuts to charity

NZ Treasury:  Net debt peaks as a share of GDP in 2014/15

National.co.nz: Mixed Ownership

Previous related blogposts

Letter to the Editor: playing politics with rape victims, National-style

Letter to the Editor: $3000 offer to the Unemployed is a joke – and not a very funny one!

Letter to Radio NZ: $3000 offer to the Unemployed is a joke – and not a very funny one (v.2)

 

 

 


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 18 May 2014.

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= fs =

Kiwi Hero: Jazmine Heka

15 January 2012 5 comments

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or,  good women!

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One thing that I find about writing this Blog, is reporting on all the unpleasant things that are happening in our country; our communities; at this very moment. Whether it’s high unemployment; pollution in our rivers and coastline; constant attacks on welfare beneficiaries; racism; cutbacks in our social services; the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor; a rather nasty anti-union campaign on Auckland’s waterfront… after a while, I can fully understand why 100,000 of my fellow New Zealanders shipped off to Australia.

Half the time I wonder why I’m still here.

Nah, I ain’t going anywhere. It’s too hot over there; they have snakes; crocodiles; spiders the size of a small car; dinosaurs, mutant kangaroos, and god knows what else. Plus, they speak funny. (It’d take too long to teach our Aussie cuzzies  how to speak proper English – like we Kiwis do.)

Anyway, every so often, there is a ray of sunshine that pokes through the gloom of bad  news. Like this one, the story of Ms Jazmine Heka. She’s 16 years old. And she has more compassion and wisdom than half the adult population in this country. She certainly shows greater awareness than our current batch of political leaders.

Because Jazmine Heka, at age 16, and when other young women her age are out flirting with post-adolescent boys with acne and over-powered cars, is different.

Jazmine Heka cares.

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Full Story

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Full Story

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Jazmine watched Bryan Bruce’s document, Inside Child Poverty – and came away disgusted; angry; and confused as to how something like this could be happening in our own country. And well she might; New Zealand was supposedly a wealthy country with an abundance of food and resources.

What has gone so terribly wrong?

Jazmine’s response to the documentary was perfectly normal. Any sane, compassionate,  person would have viewed Bruce’s documentary about our crisis in poverty, with similar feelings of outrage and disgust.

Those that viewed it – and simply shrugged it off  – did so because they have become inured to life’s hardships and uncertainties. For many of us, poverty and other social ills have become a normal aspect to everyday life. For many well-off, middle-class folk, poverty is “somewhere over there” and “beyond our ability to deal with“.

For many of us, we have “normalised” poverty; inequality; poor housing; lack of food; lack of adequate incomes; and lack of hope.

Those living in poverty live the same “train wreck” of their lives; day-after-day; week-after-week; their families; their community – and no hope of ever getting out. For these families, a life of poverty is also “normalised“.It’s all they’ve had and all they are likely to ever have.

Meanwhile,  products and images of products of a wealthy, consumerist society is all around these poverty-trapped families.

Eventually, those who suffer such hardship cannot cope any further with the constant stresses,  of their dismal lives. Some cease to care. Others lose themselves in anger, fueled by cheap, plentiful alcohol and drugs. Brutalised beyond any measure of comprehension by Middle New Zealand, they commit acts of self-harm and violence to others that the rest of us find inexplicable.

Try to explain to Middle New Zealand why a bunch of young people would torment an infant until it died from it’s injuries and internal bleeding – and you’d get a blank look.

Or, most likely, it is blamed upon the parent(s) and immediate family for abusing to death their child. Only then do we, as a society,  take an interest in that family, as they are put through the Court system; paraded on our television “news” each night; and we shake our collective heads in dismay and wonder what kind of “animal” kills it’s own young.

A stressed, abused, mal-treated “animal” – that’s what kind.

When things go terribly bad in poverty-stressed families, it is not the start of a crisis – it is the end-result; a culmination, of years of living in squalid conditions that few of us have ever experienced.

That is poverty. Or, at least, a visible part of it.

Most families, of course, don’t end up killing or bashing their children. As Jazmine quoted, 22% of children in New Zealand live in poverty. And most families do the best they can, with limited money, and constant demands for that money; rent, electricity, food, medical bills, school costs, transport…

Most families  survive. Even our Prime Minister grew up as a child to a solo-mother in  State House. Of course,  John Key not only had a state house over his head, but had the benefit of a free, tax-payer funded tertiary education.

That’s right folks. Mr Key went to University prior to 1992, before student fees were introduced. He may even have had access to a student allowanvce that was commonly accessible those  days. And his mother didn’t have to pay for prescription medicines – those were free, before Rogernomics came into play.

State house. Free education. Free prescription medicines.

That was all replaced with User Pays. National sold off about 13,000 state houses in the 1990s. And medical care became more and more expensive.

At the same time, taxes were cut seven times since 1986; gst was introduced; and User Pays and higher government charges made living more and more expensive for those on low incomes.

As the economy was de-regulated in the late 1980s, factories that had once employed locals to produce locally made goods closed down – and instead we had them produced and imported from China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Fiji, and other low-wage economies.

That’s called “exporting jobs”.

In return, we got cheap shoes from China – and growing poverty in New Zealand. Most unfair of all, it is children growing up in poor families that bear the brunt of our 27 year old free market economy.

Though that’s not to say there haven’t been success stories. For a few, anyway,

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Full Story

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It’s not hard to see who benefitted most from seven tax cuts in the last 26 years.

In turn, Fonterra plans to re-introduce milk in low-decile schools – something not seen in New Zealand since 1967. A return to school milk seems indicative where we have arrived as a nation: full circle since 1937, when free milk was first introduced in schools throughout the country to fight poverty’s effects on children.

And here we are – back again.

Even National was promising something similar,  in  February 2007, when John Key was Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps this was a political “stunt” – who knows,

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Full Story

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But it’s even more of a harsh reality now.

I’ve even emailed John Key, to ascertain what happened, to his “Food in Schools” programme,

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from:    [email]
to:    Prime Minister John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date:    Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 9:16 AM
subject:    National launches its Food in Schools programme

Sir,

On 4 February 2007, you released a Press Release headed, “National launches its Food in Schools programme”.

As outlined in Bryan Bruce’s document, “Child Poverty”, there is a growing problem of poorly fed, malnourished children in NZ.  Could you please advise what progress your government has made in the area of providing meals for children in low-decile schools?

This issue is a critical one. Poorly fed children do not do well in the classroom, and this results in difficulties further along in their lives, including social dislocation; poor education;  unemployment; and more expensive interaction with government services.

Thankyou for your time,

-Frank Macskasy
 Blogger, “Frankly Speaking

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I’ve received an acknowledgement and that the email was passed on to Education Minister Hekia Parata. But nothing further.

This, to me, is why it is so important that good men and women like Bryan Bruce, Jazmine Heka, KidscanChild Poverty Action Group, etc,  raise our consciousness on these matters. These problems will not go away by themselves. They must be resolved with planning, determination, and  money.

But more importantly, Bryan Bruce and Jazmine Heka need our collective voices to aid them, and to back them up. Bryan and Jazmine and many others are working to fix a problem that should never have been allowed to grow and fester. But it’s here now, and we have to deal with it.

As Judy Callingham wrote on Brian Edwards’ blog,

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The government has prioritised a number of policies to stimulate the economy in an effort to get us out of the current recession. None of these policies, to my mind, tackles head-on the most urgent task of all – eliminating ‘child poverty’.

This should be the number one priority. Nothing is more important. Nothing is going to stimulate the economy better in the long run than having our kids grow up healthy and well educated.  It’s a damn sight more important than ultra-fast broadband and super-highways.”

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Or Jacqui, a mother in Otangarei,

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I think it’s amazing what you’re doing. A lot of our people are disheartened, they’ve given up. The standard of living of people in New Zealand is shocking, people are struggling. It’s something the government needed to address a long time ago. If adults say it they think we’re just complaining, or it’s our own inadequacies. Her voice will get through, that’s the cool thing.

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Last year, the combined raised voices of Wellingtonians stopped the Wellington Airport from erecting a silly sign on the Miramar hillside. (Instead, they erected a marginally less-silly sign.)

And the year before that, in 2010, the collective anger of New Zealanders stopped the National government dead-in-its-tracks to mine on Schedule 4 Conservation lands.

I believe that with the same support for Bryan, Jazmine, and other community groups fighting poverty, that this government can be made to pay attention to this problem.

I believe that, acting together, there is no reason  why we cannot achieve our common goal of beginning to solve this growing crisis in our communities. None whatsoever.

So let’s help Jazmine to help New Zealand.

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Additional

National launches its Food in Schools programme (4 February 2007)

Milk and Honey off the menu

Jazmine Heka – Hero of the Week

Radio NZ: Teenage child poverty activist (31 January 2012)

Contact Jazmine

Email: childrenagainstpoverty@hotmail.co.nz

Facebook: Children-Against-Poverty

Snailmail: PO Box 585, Whangarei 0140.

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