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Posts Tagged ‘child poverty’

While the Left fiddles, the Right beats their war-drum

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While the Left has been fiddling about with much gnashing of teeth and tears of concern over the right of two Canadian neo-fascists to speak at an Auckland City council venue – National’s focus has been laser-like at regaining power in 2020.

Like rust, the Right doesn’t sleep. Their failure to install a fourth-term National government came about only because of a fatal mis-step by (most likely) someone in the National Party/Government in a clumsy, ham-fisted ploy to undermine Winston Peters and cripple NZ First in last year’s general election.

Whoever released Peters’ superannuation over-payments to the media did so with political malice-aforethought. It was an agenda to neuter Peters and his party, and it was executed with callous precision.

It failed  because Peters was canny enough to counter with a parry that revealed the ploy for the ruthless strategy that it was.

The black-ops plan succeeded in only alienating Peters and reminding him that National was not to be trusted. With thirtythree years political experience, Peters had no intention to be anyone’s “useful idiot”.

With no potential coalition partner on the horizon (unless one is manufactured by a National MP splintering from his party), National’s only remaining options are;

  1. Coalition with the Greens. Chances: worse than winning Powerball Lotto.
  2. Winning 50%-plus of the Party Vote. Chances: somewhat better than Option One.

National opened it’s 2020 election campaign with three salvos of highly publicised policy released with much fanfare at it’s recent conference.

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Charter Schools

For most middle and upper-middle class voters Charter Schools are a non-issue. Their children either attend State schools, Integrated Schools, or Private Schools. The common thread between all three is that they are established; staffed with qualified professionals; and the curriculum is bog-standard (with minor variations-on-a-theme.)

Charter Schools would appear to further  ghettoise education for lower socio-economic families – a fact already well-known as “white flight” from low-decile State schools.

National’s hard-line stance to increase Charter School numbers should it be re-elected to power is curious because it would not appear to be much of a drawcard  for propertied middleclass voters who tend to vote along self-interest lines.

Which indicates that the policy has other intentions; a toxic “witches’ brew” of  ideological (further) commercialisation of education and a subtle, well-camouflaged attack on teacher’s unions.

So: not specifically designed to be a vote-winning policy. More of an  weaponised attack-policy on State education and unions.

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Classroom sizes

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising policy to be released was classroom size reduction. Made by current National Party leader, Simon Bridges on the day of the Conference opening on 29 July, he committed National to this radical (for Tories) social policy in clear english;

“All our kids should get the individual attention they deserve. That’s why I want more teachers in our primary schools, to ensure smaller class sizes for our children.

Schools currently get one teacher for every 29 nine and ten year olds. It’s lower than that for younger children.

Those ratios should be reduced.”

Mr Bridges’ newfound concern for classroom sizes harks back to several speeches made by former PM, John Key, in 2007 and 2008, where he lamented growing social problems in New Zealand.

In 2007;

“As New Zealanders, we have grown up to believe in and cherish an egalitarian society. We like to think that our children’s futures will be determined by their abilities, their motivation and their hard work. They will not be dictated by the size of their parent’s bank balance or the suburb they were born in.”

And again in 2007;

“During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.

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“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.

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“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”

In 2008;

“This time a year ago, I talked about the underclass that has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. Labour said the problem didn’t exist. They said there was no underclass in New Zealand.”

Once elected into power, National quiety dropped it’s concern for social problems. Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, did not even want to countenance measuring growing child poverty in this country. It suddenly became the fault of the poor.

Now Simon Bridges has dusted off National’s Manual for Crying Crocodile Tears.

Ironically, in tapping into parental fears of over-burdened schools and their children suffering because of over-worked teachers, Mr Bridges’ policy commitment stands diametrically opposed to National’s doomed policy announced on 16 May 2012 to increase classroom sizes;

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The policy was announced by gaff-prone former education minister, Hekia Parata, who  clumsily (if honestly) admitted that the move was purely for fiscal reasons;

”The reality is that we are in a tight economic environment. In order to make new investment in quality teaching and leading, we have to make some trade-offs… ”

Teachers – and more importantly, voting middle-class parents were having none of it. National’s cost-cutting of welfare, health, and state housing was one thing. But interfering with their Little Johnny and Janey’s education? Like hell.

Especially when it was revealed that then-Prime Minister, John Key’s own children attended private schools with… smaller class sizes!

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The over-powering stench of hypocrisy further infuriated the voting public. The policy lasted twentyone days before it was hastily dumped;

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Simon Bridges was unequivocal:  a National government would spend more on education;

“National will invest more to make sure our kids get the best quality start to their education, but we will also demand nothing but the highest standards.”

However, National has not explained how they will pay for the cost of additional teachers. Especially as National continues to  advocate for a billion dollar mega-prison to be built;  promised to dump the Coalition’s fuel taxes, and has not ruled out offering election tax-cut bribes.

As National has been fond of demanding: where will the money come from for extra teachers? Is this National’s own multi-billion dollar fiscal hole?

It was left to Labour’s own education minister, Chris Hipkins to point out;

“It’s very expensive to make even a modest change to class sizes and I think that’s something we want to talk to the teaching profession about.”

However, barely a day after his Conference speech, Mr Bridges was already backtracking;

Simon Bridges admits his promise of smaller class sizes may not mean fewer students per classroom.

The National leader announced a new policy to reduce the teacher-student ratio, as a centrepiece of his conference address over the weekend.

However, many primary schools run “modern learning environments” with several classes in the same room.

Bridges told Kerre McIvor National’s policy is about the number of staff per student, not the number of students per room.

” So in those modern learning environments, that may mean more teachers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean smaller classrooms.”

At least Hekia Parata’s plan to increase classroom sizes lasted three weeks.  Mr Bridges’ ersatz “commitment” did not last 24 hours.

The Coalition should be making mincemeat out of Mr Bridges’ policy u-turn.

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Crime

An oldie, but a goodie.  Tories understand how to tug the fear-strings of a sizeable chunk of the voting middle-class. National and other conservative parties around the world are (in)famous for manipulating middle-class fears on crime for electoral purposes.

One of their 2011 election hoardings explicitly exploited  those fears;

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A recent video campaign on National’s Facebook platform has gone a step further into whipping up fear and paranoia;

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This is a shameful, naked ploy to play on peoples’ fears.

It was backed up by former mercenary, and current National Party “Justice” Spokesperson, Mark Mitchell, who tried to offer “alternative facts” relating to crime figures;

The Government needs to stop looking for excuses to go soft on crime and come up with a plan to reduce crime, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.

“No doubt the report today from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor saying that being tough on crime is to blame for rising prison costs and inmate numbers is music to Andrew Little and Grant Robertson’s ears.

“They’ve been looking for excuses to loosen up bail and sentencing laws so that the Government doesn’t have to go ahead with building the new Waikeria prison and can boast about reducing prison numbers.

“But the cost of prisons cannot be an excuse not to put people in prison, if that’s where they need to be. The priority must be to ensure that victims are kept safe from violent criminals.

“We know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending.

“Violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011 and this is largely the type of crime that people get sent to prison for. This is also the type of crime that has the most serious and long-lasting impact on victims’ lives.

Which is confusing as not too long ago, National was trumpeting several propaganda infographics on their Twitter account;

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Mr Mitchell is at pains to point out that  “we know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending” – yet the infographics above make no such distinction. On the contrary, the second “broken bottles” infographic makes clear the figures relate to “Total Recorded Crimes”.

Perhaps they should get their propaganda straight.

In a startling admission, Mr Mitchell confirmed that ““violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011″. It appears that the “Three Strikes Law” – enacted the previous year in 2010 – has failed to reduce criminal offending.

The questions that  Coalition government ministers should be putting to their National Party colleagues are;

  1. Is it not irresponsible to be exploiting fear about crime for electoral purposes? How will knee-jerk rhetoric assist an intelligent debate on imprisonment and rehabilitation?
  2. If crime, imprisonment, and rehabilitation require cross-party concensus, will National continue to pursue electioneering on “tough on crime”?
  3. If National pursues a get-tough-on-crime election platform in 2020, and if they are elected to government – how will they pay for hundreds more prisoners jailed? Will National borrow a billion dollars to pay for a new mega-prison? Will health, education, DoC, and social housing budgets be cut? Will National increase GST, as they did in 2010 (despite promising not to)?
  4. What is the limit that National will tolerate for an increasing prison population?

National has made clear that it intends to play the “tough-on-crime” card at the next election. The propaganda campaign has already begun.

The Coalition Parties need to formulate a clear strategy to combat fear-mongering by a National party desperate to regain power.

The question that should be put to National is; where will the billions of dollars for new prisons come from?

The prison population has all but doubled in eighteen years, and tripled since 1987, as successive governments have ramped up “tough on crime” rhetoric and pandered to fearful low-information voters;

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Tough-on-crime may be National’s default strategy. If addressed correctly, it can also be their weakness.

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References

NZ Herald: Steven Joyce says he would have advised against leaking Winston Peters’ super details

The Daily Blog: Real reason why National are considering cutting ACT off

NZ Herald: National Party conference kicks off with nod for Simon Bridges from former Australian PM John Howard

Massey University: Education Policy Response Group (p30)

Fairfax media: Parents’ choice driving ‘eye-opening’ segregation in New Zealand schools

NZ Herald: National will cut primary school class sizes if it gets into Govt, Simon Bridges tells conference

NZ Herald: John Key’s ‘A fair go for all’ speech

Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme

NZ Herald: John Key – State of the Nation speech

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Fairfax media: Bigger class sizes announced

NZ Herald: Key called hypocrite over class sizes

Fairfax media: Backlash forces Government class size U-turn

Fairfax media: Smaller class sizes under Nats, says Simon Bridges in major speech

NewstalkZB: Simon Bridges explains smaller class size policy

Radio NZ: No promises from Hipkins on reducing class sizes

NZ Herald: Simon Bridges says scale-back of Waikeria prison flies in the face of latest prison projections

NZ Herald: Sir John Key downplays Simon Bridges’ polling ahead of National Party conference

TVNZ: Simon Bridges says he’ll dump regional fuel tax if elected

Fairfax media: Does the Government have any money for this Budget? Yes

NZ Herald: Murder and mutilation comments emerge on National’s new ‘tough on crime’ social media campaign

National Party: Prison costs cannot be excuse to go soft on crime

Twitter: National Party – The crime rate is falling under National.

Parliament Legislation: Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010

Fairfax media: Key ‘no GST rise’ video emerges

Fairfax media: National leader Simon Bridges talks up ‘tough on crime’ stance

Fairfax media: 20 Years of ‘tough on crime’ stance sees prison population surge

Additional

Radio NZ: Charter school report silent on educational achievement

Other Blogposts

The Daily Blog: What everyone seemed to miss in their criticism of the National Party Conference

The Daily Blog: What the 2018 National Party Conference tells us

Previous related blogposts

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 August 2018.

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Advertisement

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft calls for a fairer, egalitarian New Zealand

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This weekend (26/27 May), two disparate voices called for a more egalitarian society in our country. The voices of Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, and Chief Executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern), Kim Campbell, both made statements on  TV3’s The Nation and TVNZ’s Q+A (respectively), that only a few years ago would have been heresy to neo-liberal orthodoxy.

The neo-liberal economic model demands minimal state intervention in the economy and reliance on private enterprise to provide services and desired outcomes.

After thirtyfour years, the results of our experiment in minimal government/freemarket has been dubious. The housing “market” has failed to meet demand, blaming local government “regulations”, central government regulations/RMA,  “town boundaries”, lack of skilled workers, sunspot activity, etc.

Writing for The Spinoff last year, author and journalist, Max Rashbrooke pointed out;

In short: overall poverty hasn’t increased, but its most extreme forms have. In a way, what the [National] government has done is to revive the old and false idea, never far from middle New Zealand’s intellectual surface, of the distinction between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor. The in-work battlers get carrots, the beneficiaries who make “poor choices” get mostly sticks. It’s a “distinction” that gets you nowhere, though, because those struggling the most are generally facing even tougher battles or have even fewer informal supports around them, rather than being lazier or more feckless.

The other point, of course, is that just maintaining poverty and inequality at their current high levels is a colossal failure. Under Labour both were falling, albeit slowly; that progress has been lost. The New Zealand Initiative likes to point out that our big increase in income inequality – the developed world’s largest – happened in the 1980s and 1990s, as if that diminishes the problem. In fact it intensifies it. Unfair inequality divides society, creating concentrated neighbourhoods of wealth and poverty, reducing people’s empathy for each other, and lowering trust. Poverty denies people a fair chance to succeed and leaves permanent scars on children. Every day those corrosions are left unchecked is a day lost, a day in which a child’s life is damaged and the social fabric is further rent. The fact that these problems have compounded for twenty years makes them worse than if they had sprung up yesterday. And such extremes – one in seven children living in poverty, while the wealthiest tenth have 60% of all assets – are neither necessary nor justifiable.

A July 2017 MSD report confirmed Rashbrooke’s observations;

Beneficiary incomes were flat or declining in real terms. The trajectory of incomes after deducting housing costs (AHC) is less favourable for the medium to long-term picture as housing costs now make up a much larger proportion of the household budget for most…

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For under 65s, over the whole bottom quintile, housing costs account on average for just over half of household income (51%), up from 29% in the late 1980s.

The same MSD report also briefly referred to the wealthiest in our country;

The share of income received by the top 1% of tax-payers has been steady in the 8-9% range since the early 1990s, up from 5% in the late 1980s.

[Note: “Quintile“: Any of five equal groups into which a population can be divided according to the distribution of values of a particular variable.]

In a report this year, Oxfam revealed a ‘snapshot’ of inequality in New Zealand;

A staggering 28 per cent of all wealth created in New Zealand in 2017 went to the richest 1 per cent of Kiwis. While the 1.4 million people who make up the poorest 30 per cent of the population got barely 1 per cent, according to new research released by Oxfam today.

The research also reveals that 90 per cent of New Zealand owns less than half the nation’s wealth.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director, Rachael Le Mesurier,  stated the fairly obvious;

“Trickle-down economics isn’t working. The extreme gap between the very rich and the very poor in our country is shocking. As new wealth is created it continues to be concentrated in the hands of the already extremely wealthy.

2017 was a global billionaire bonanza. This is not a sign of success but of economic failure. Experts are clear, high levels of inequality are bad for economic growth – for everyone except the small number of super-rich, who on a global scale are often able to translate their disproportionate control of resources into disproportionate influence over political and economic decision making. This can lead to policies that are geared towards their interests, often at the expense of the majority.

To end the global inequality crisis, we must build an economy for ordinary working people, not the very few rich and powerful.”

Ms Le Mesurier added something that may not be quite so obvious to some – at least not for those who traditionally vote National;

“Kiwis love fairness, not inequality. Governments can tackle extreme inequality here and globally by ensuring the wealthy and multi-nationals pay their fair share of tax by cracking down on tax avoidance – then using that money to make our country and the global economy a fairer place.”

Since 2008, between 1,053,398 and 1,152,075 New Zealanders – roughly a quarter of the population – have voted for a party that has over-seen a worsening of extreme poverty; falling home ownership; and rising homelessness.

The claim that “Kiwis love fairness, not inequality” may not be as fairly reflecting our society as we might like to believe. At best, it might be claimed that  “*Most* Kiwis love fairness, not inequality”.

Despite not wanting to measure child poverty in 2012,  five years later, Deputy PM Paula Bennett had to concede the enormity of the crisis that National had ignored for so long;

“We had no idea how much it was going to cost. We had no idea it would ever be this big… In hindsight, you always wish you’d gone earlier”.

Thanks to National’s negligence – and supported by over one million voters – our homelessness is now the worst, according to an international report last year;

YaleGlobal Online, a magazine published by the prestigious US university, says “more than 40,000 people live on the streets or in emergency housing or substandard shelters” – almost 1 percent of the entire population, citing OECD statistics.

On 26 May, interviewed on The Nation by Lisa Owen, Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said what *most* New Zealanders know in  their hearts to be axiomatic – or the bloody obvious, in Kiwispeak;

“…The gap is now massive. We dropped the ball on policy for children. I think one of the big, I guess, platforms of our office, the one thing I have to say clearly, is we need to have a community-wide consensus on policy for children. We haven’t had that. We could do it. Other countries leave us behind. Scandinavian countries have parental leave for 16 months. They have free school lunches for preschool and school children for the whole community, free doctor and dental visits, good social housing, free early childhood education. That’s what we need. We’ve never had the systemic commitment to a good policy for children.”

To illustrate (literally) Judge Becroft’s comment  a report from UNICEF published last year compared New Zealand’s abysmal ranking with that of our Scandinavian cuzzies.

Food insecurity:

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Income poverty;

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League Table* – Country performance across nine child relevant goals:

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However, to prove that not all is lost, and that New Zealand can excel – we are the eighth largest milk producing nation on the planet;

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Without doubt we display incredible efficiency when it comes to our agrarian sector.

Not so good, however, when it comes to ridding our shores of child poverty and homelessness.

Priorities, eh?

In our rush to achieve neo-liberal nirvana after thirtyfour years of economic “reforms” and the engendering of hyper-individualism, New Zealanders can only look with envy at Scandinavian countries.

Even Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern), Kim Campbell lamented on TVNZ’s Q+A on 27 May;

“In fact, a government who has stepped right away from the state housing story completely. You know, when I was growing up we had the Ministry of Works building state houses, which were made available through suspensory loans and so on. That’s all gone. And you’re seeing the outcome there. So, frankly, we could fix it if we wanted to.”

But there is no Ministry of Works anymore. It was privatised in November 1996.

We now have to rely on private enterprise to build houses.

We now have families living in garages; overcrowded houses; and cars.

We now have greater income inequality and extremes of poverty.

So as Mr Campbell said on Q+A;

“And you’re seeing the outcome there. So, frankly, we could fix it if we wanted to.”

If we wanted to“…

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[* The Right love League Tables, so that particular one should be in no dispute.]

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References

Scoop media: Mediaworks/Newshub Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft

TVNZ: Q+A – Panel on Homelessness

Investopedia: Neoliberalism

Scoop media:  ACT Party – NZers deserve honest appraisal of Government housing failure

The Spinoff: Why the attacks on National over poverty and inequality are unfounded – mostly

Ministry for Social Development: MSD’s Household Incomes Report and companion report using Non-Income Measures – Headline Findings

Oxford Living Dictionaries: Definition – Quintile

Scoop media: Oxfam NZ inequality data 2018

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2008

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2017

NZ Herald: Home ownership rates lowest in 66 years according to Statistics NZ

NZ Herald: Homelessness rising in New Zealand

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

Mediaworks/Newshub: NZ’s homelessness the worst in OECD – by far

UNICEF: Building the Future – Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries

World Atlas: Top Milk Producing Countries In The World

Wikipedia: Ministry of Works and Development

Treasury NZ: Income from State Asset Sales as at May 2014

TVNZ:  Tax is vital for reducing inequality but NZ is not collecting enough of it – Oxfam report

Additional

Fairfax media: Housing stocktake blames homelessness on drop in state housing

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Govt will have ‘failed completely’ if they don’t reform benefits – Andrew Becroft (video)

Previous related blogposts

An unfortunate advertising placement, child poverty, and breathing air

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

Once were warm hearted

National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

National’s new-found concern for the poor

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 May 2018..

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Handouts to the Racing Industry? So no more homeless then?!

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Deputy PM, Racing Minister, and de facto godfather, Winston Peters  announced on Sunday (28 January) that the New Zealand racing industry was due for tax-cuts for horse breeders and a taxpayer-funded all-weather horse racing track;

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He’s promising the racing industry a multi-million dollar track that can be used even when its pouring with rain. Mr Peters says it is expected to cost around $10 million to construct.

It comes as several races throughout the country had to be abandoned.

The Minister says both taxpayers and the industry will be helping to pay for the new track.

Mr Peters is also promising tax relief for owners who are breeding horses for racing. He says the current legislation, which he delivered last time he was Racing Minister, isn’t working like it should.

This, at a time when homelessness in this country has been steadily rising since the 2006 Census;

The number of homeless people in New Zealand rose between the last two Census counts, a new study says.

The University of Otago study, which is based on Census data, said one in 100 were homeless in 2013, compared with one in 120 in 2006 and one in 130 in 2001.

The study used the Government’s official definition of homeless, which is people living in severely crowded houses, in motels, boarding houses, on the street or in cars.

Between 2006 and 2013, the rise in homeless people outstripped population growth.  New Zealand’s population grew by 4.8 per cent over this period, while the number of homeless grew by 25 per cent.

As Prime Minister Ardern said on TV3’s The Nation on 21 October last year;

“When you have a market economy, it all comes down to whether or not you acknowledge where the market has failed and where intervention is required. Has it failed our people in recent times? Yes. How can you claim you’ve been successful when you have growth roughly 3 percent, but you’ve got the worst homelessness in the developed world?”

For Winston Peters to be offering tax-breaks and taxpayer funded covered racetracks, at a time of critical need for boosting funding for housing, hospitals, mental healthcare, and other services is a return to the corporate cronyism we’ve experienced for the last nine years under National.

National’s corporate cronyism has included;

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There is probably more. National’s nine years in office has been less free-market and more corporate welfare than Muldoonism at it’s height. They’ve simply been more adept at hiding it.

In 2013, when it came to throwing taxpayers’ dollars at The Hobbit, Winston Peters was scathing at National’s corporate welfare  largesse;

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Peters even demanded that Warner Bros repay taxpayer’s money;

“Now the first movie has grossed more than $1 billion, Warner Brothers should repay the $67 million subsidy the movie moguls sucked from Kiwi taxpayers.”

After all the criticisms from Labour and NZ First at National’s corporate welfarism, the Coalition government has succumbed to the same folly of throwing money – our money! – at multi-million dollar businesses.

For an industry sector that turns over $1.6 billion, it beggars belief that they have their corporate hands out for taxpayer largesse and tax breaks. What other industry will be receiving tax breaks? Tourism? Wine and beer producers? Why not our nascent computer-gaming industry? Or Rocketlabs?

Key must be laughing his head off at this fiasco. After all the ‘stick’ given to Key and his National government for their corporate welfare, the Labour-led coalition have engaged in the same practice – only three months into their first term.

Was there no one with sufficient political nouse in Labour or NZ First’s Parliamentary offices to express reservations over this daft plan? That giving tax-dollars and tax-breaks to a “sport” enjoyed by predominantly affluent New Zealanders is not a particularly good idea? Especially when Labour and NZ First (and the Greens) made so much of New Zealand’s housing crisis during last year’s election campaign?

In effect, Peters has just handed the National Opposition a bloody big stick with which to whack the Coalition over their  heads. English and his minions will be gleefully strategising over how they can best use this corporate welfare to attack the Coalition.

National’s strategists have already started by launching this attack-website carrying negative messages;

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Side-note: Interestingly, the website is done in Labour Party colours – not National’s own blue livery. The National Party is not even directly mentioned anywhere on the main page. (Though the “Privacy Policy” link will take you to the National Party website. The authorisation statement is by “G. Hamilton”, National’s General Manager – though few people would know that.)

The racing industry has complained that a covered race-track is essential to allow all-weather events to be held. If so, let the racing industry pay for it. The “Sport of Kings” should not be paid from the taxes of hard-working New Zealanders who expect essential services in health, education, conservation, housing, mental health, policing, etc from their hard-earned tax-dollars. Not enhancing horse-racing facilities.

For perhaps the first (and hopefully the only) time, I find myself nodding in agreement with far-right blogger and former Libertarian/ACT candidate, Lindsay Mitchell, when she wrote her own critique of Peters’ plans;

Today [28 January] Racing Minister Winston Peters apparently promised an all weather track at the cost of $10 million (double it for starters) and either promised or called for tax breaks because the industry (breeding in particular) brings in so much money.

If tax breaks can make one industry stronger, then they can make any industry stronger.

Government picking winners is a recipe for corruption and injustice. We cannot expect New Zealanders who have not a skerrick of interest in the racing industry to disproportionately pay taxes to advance it.

Tax breaks are not subsidies if they are applied universally. Reduce tax period.

You are a guardian of public money Winston. Not a private investor.

On the upside, I am looking forward to our Prime anti-poverty crusader getting it in the neck today over her government’s support for “rich pricks”.

I, for one, will not be defending this policy from criticism from the Right. Because with thousands of New Zealanders homeless and struggling in poverty, it is indefensible. Absolutely, utterly, indefensible.

If the Coalition government wants to assist the racing industry, and they are incapable of raising their own funds, then a suitable compromise is  available. The State could easily borrow on behalf of the racing industry and on-lend to the appropriate racing club. Governments with good credit ratings can generally borrow at lower interest rates than from the commercial banking sector.

But it would have to be paid back.

The responsibility of this Coalition government is simple: Putting roofs over homeless families.

Not roofs over race tracks.

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References

NZ Herald:   Jacinda Ardern arrives at Ratana Pa in first visit by Labour PM since Clark

TVNZ:   Winston Peters announces a multi-million dollar all weather horse racing track is on the way

NZ Herald:  Homelessness rising in New Zealand

Mediaworks:  Homelessness proves capitalism is a ‘blatant failure’ – Jacinda Ardern

Fairfax media: Government denies MediaWorks loan

NZ Herald:  Filling the Cup – cost $500m and climbing

Radio NZ:  Farmers’ ETS exemption progresses

Fairfax media:  Federated Farmers say moving to ETS will cost primary industry $83m

Radio NZ:  Saudi sheep deal – MFAT didn’t provide legal advice on lawsuit risk

Interest.co.nz: Key says Government won’t add to NZ$30 million of support given to Rio Tinto to keep Tiwai Pt open

Fairfax media: $191m in public grants paid to Hollywood for Hobbit trilogy

Fairfax media:  Government called on to stand by existing irrigation contracts

Radio NZ:  Government defends Hobbit subsidies

Fairfax media:  Peters – Hobbit subsidy should be handed back

Otago Daily Times:  Peters signals intention to make ‘positive changes’

National Party: Let’s Undo This

Fairfax media:  Winston Peters back at helm of racing as a return to the old days is heralded

Youtube: Bad Taste

Other Blogs

Lindsay Mitchell:  Winston picking winners

Previous related blogposts

National Party Corporate welfare vs real welfare

National ditches environmental policies

ETS – National continues to fart around

“National Party Corporate welfare vs real welfare”

Corporate Welfare under National

The Corporate Welfare of Tiwai Point – An exercise in National’s “prudent fiscal management”?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 31 January 2018.

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So “throwing money” at poverty does work, according to National?

17 December 2017 2 comments

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One of the most oft-used, parroted cliches in the right-wing lexicon…

Bill English said it;

The hard bit of that is reorganising Government – the way the Government works with our most complex families – because frankly, Government doesn’t do that good a job with people who have really serious needs.

So you shouldn’t expect waves of cash – that’s what everyone else is promising. We can tell you from years of looking at it hard, throwing money at intractable social problems won’t have an impact.”

And again he said it;

I suspect it will be a matter for public debate, because New Zealand First and Labour have a track record of throwing money at every problem and making no difference to those problems.

Paula Bennett said it;

Yeah well if throwing money was the answer to this problem then quite frankly we would see – you know the numbers are coming down significantly through those Labour years, because they put significantly more money into these organisations, but we haven’t seen fewer children being neglected.

And repeated it;

If I thought throwing an extra 30 or 40 dollars a week at beneficiaries would mean that those children were not abused and neglected, I’d be fighting with that with every inch that I’ve got. It is far more complex than that. Far more complex.”

Steven Joyce said it;

The Prime Minister set 10 challenging targets for public services in 2012. That is because we want results from spending, rather than just simply throwing money at problems.”

And again he said it;

Unfortunately, my dear friends at the TEU say we should keep throwing money at everything every time.”

Hekia Parata said it;

Unlike the Opposition, which is very keen to throw money at a problem…”

Gerry Brownlee kind of said it;

Labour’s first instinct is always to throw money at an advertising campaign, rather than fighting fire with fire.

And even National backbenchers like Melissa Lee added their ten cents worth and said it;

It is less about throwing money around on a problem and more about changing the way we work, so that the services we deliver are more effective.”

One of the most commonly parroted cliches from the rightwing of politics; “throwing money at the problem” – usually with the add-on; ” – doesn’t solve anything“.

Except, of course, when it comes to tax-cuts. Then it’s not so much “throwing money” at middle class and affluent voters – as labelling it a “reward” – as Joyce called it in May 2017;

The Budget 2017 Family Incomes Package will provide better rewards for hard work by adjusting the bottom two tax thresholds and lowering the marginal tax rates for low and middle income earners.”

Joyce’s proposed tax-cut wasn’t “throwing money” at families – it was described more like “… important that Kiwi families directly share in the benefits of New Zealand’s economic growth.

National ministers were adamant that “throwing money at problems… made no difference to those problems”. But – according to Joyce – throwing money at households through tax-cuts achieved a remarkable outcome;

The measures in this budget are expected to lift 20,000 households above the threshold for severe housing stress, and reduce the number of children living in families receiving less than half of the median income by around 50,000.

Perhaps there are two different forms of money being used; red money for the poor; blue money for the middle class? Perhaps National should have printed less of the red stuff, and more of the blue?

But what colour money was being thrown at invested in;

Obviously child poverty exists in this country. Despite former Social Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett, refusing to measure the size of the problem five years ago – by September this year, National’s (then-)new, Bill English was forced to concede that it was a serious crisis confronting our country. In the face of mounting pressure from a resurgent Labour, he finally admitted that at least 100,000 children were living in poverty;

The Package is designed to especially assist low and middle income earners, and will reduce the number of children living in families earning less than half of the median income by around 50,000. Labour showed their true colours by voting against it.

If we can get elected within two or three years we can have a crack at the next 50,000 children, getting them out of poverty.

Suddenly, it seems, National ‘discovered’ child poverty existed in this country. It’s amazing how focused a government can be at election time when opposition parties are nipping at their heels.

Perhaps we should have an election every year?

In 2015, National stole a policy page from the Left by announcing it would raise welfare benefits by $25 a week. (Actually, $23 per week after extra accomodation supplements were taken out. Can’t have “benes” wasting an extra $2 on milk, bread  or something equally silly.) Almost overnight, National went from “not throwing money at welfare” – to “throwing money at welfare”.

According to a Radio NZ report, an estimated  110,000 families, with  190,000 children, would benefit from the increase.

The result was a predictable (if slight) success: child poverty fell by 1%.

As reported by Teuila Fuatai for Newsroom;

According to the 2017 Child Poverty Monitor, released by the office of the Children’s Commissioner today, the number of children living in homes considered to be in income poverty has dropped one percent in the last year – from 295,000 (28 percent) in 2016 to 290,000 (27 percent) this year.

Other figures from the annual report, now in its fifth year, also show a dip in the number of children considered to be from New Zealand’s poorest homes – with 70,000 children (six percent) satisfying the threshold for experiencing severe material hardship, down two percent from 85,000 in 2016.

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“In 1982, the percentage of children in families experiencing income poverty was 14 percent, compared to 27 percent now”, the report said.

Paula Bennett – who only five years ago stated categorically that “if throwing money was the answer to this problem then quite frankly we would see – you know the numbers are coming down significantly” – crowed about the success of a fall in poverty;

Judge Andrew Becroft has today confirmed that since the National Government increased benefits in 2015, there has been a drop in the number of children living in low income households.

This is great news and further consolidates National’s track record as a party that shows it cares, rather than just says it cares.

We were the Government that increased benefits for the first time in 40 years. Since 2010 we reduced the number of children living in material hardship by 135,000 and since 2011 we reduced the number of children in benefit-dependent households by 61,000.”

It’s “throwing money at the problem” only until it works. Then it’s a success story, according to a right-wing minister.

As if to allay any doubt, Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft,  confirmed the obvious; that raising benefits helped those at the bottom, of the socio-economic ladder;

It’s the first time we can say that we’re sure that things aren’t getting worse; it’s the first time there’s been a small drop and it’s genuinely encouraging and cause for cautious optimism.

We’re probably seeing the first initial signs in terms of what the previous Government did, in terms of increasing benefit levels by $25 a week for families with children.”

Judge Becroft also attributed the fall in child poverty to dedicated hard work from community groups;

I think we have seen a real rise in the commitment by charities and NGOs and community groups. I think that is one of the untold stories; New Zealand, I think, understands the situation. There is much more of a humanitarian response. Communities are behind what is going on. Charities are doing good work. I think that is underestimated in all of this in terms of providing shoes, clothing, lunches, breakfast. I think the country as a whole is becoming much more involved, and I am encouraged by that.

When asked by The Nation’s Lisa Owen;

So that is charities. That is philanthropy. In terms of income poverty: barely a change. Charities can only give so much, though, can’t they?

Judge Becroft responded;

Yeah, that is true. I think the government has got the ultimate responsibility to put in a strong safety net.

Charities can apply band-aids like buying shoes for children or supplying school breakfasts. But it takes central government to lift incomes. Just as it took the previous National government to legislate to lift the wages (albeit over a five year period) of community support workers, home support, and aged-care staff.

Bennett was quick to claim credit  for  the fall in the number of children living in low income households by increasing welfare benefits.

It is time that National and other right-wing politicians abandoned their deceptive, emotionally-charged rhetoric that raising welfare benefits and other incomes is “throwing money at the problem”. Clearly it is not. Putting our taxes into unnecessary flag referenda, sheep deals for middle east businessmen, aluminium smelters, and cutting taxes for the rich – is “throwing money” away.

Constantly repeating the hoary “throwing money at the problem” cliche reminds us that the right is only too happy to use emotionally-charged rhetoric  to win public support. Even when it is a lie.

Putting money into alleviating  child poverty is not “throwing money at the problem”. The data has conclusively shown this to be a fact; additional money helps lift families out of poverty.

Ironically, by making such dishonest  utterances, they undermine their very real achievement in this area.

Shooting yourself in your own foot has never been so painful. Or stupid.

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References

Mediaworks:  No Budget ‘waves of cash’ to fix NZ’s social problems – English

Parliament: Hansards –  Oral Questions – Questions to Ministers

Scoop media:  Paula Bennett – offensive to say poverty causes child abuse

Parliament: Hansards –  Oral Questions – Questions to Ministers

Otago Daily Times:  Call for funding ‘unrealistic’ – Joyce

Parliament: Hansards –  Oral Questions – Questions to Ministers

Scoop media:  Anderton’s party should pay back $72,585

Parliament: Hansards –  General Debate

IRD:  Budget 2017

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

Fairfax media:  Flag referendum – Where does the $26 million go?

NZ Herald:  Saudi sheep deal – No evidence of legal threat from Saudi businessman

NZ Herald:  Filling the Cup – cost $500m and climbing

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

TVNZ: Bill English says National’s families policy will lift ‘50,000 children above that poverty line’

Mediaworks:  Newshub Leaders Debate – Bill English commits to poverty target

Radio NZ:  Welfare increases – what $25 buys you

Newsroom:  Dip in NZ’s child poverty rate a start

National.org.nz:  Confirmation National’s changes halt child poverty

Fairfax media:  Why we shouldn’t celebrate child poverty falling for first time in years just yet

The World News:  On The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Judge Andrew Becroft

NZ Herald:  Government announces historic pay equity deal for care workers

Additional

Office of the Children’s Commissioner:  Child Poverty Monitor 2017 – Sustainable improvements needed

Fairfax media:  Why are you so afraid of tax?

Other Blogs

Boots Theory: No shit – money alleviates poverty

The Standard:  After nine long years National discovers there is child poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

Once were warm hearted

An unfortunate advertising placement, child poverty, and breathing air

Budget 2013: Child poverty, food in schools, and National’s response

National on Child Poverty?!

On child poverty, to the Sunday Star Times

The Negotiated Pay Equity Settlement for Care Workers – beware the fish-hooks amidst the hyperbole

National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

Tracey Martin – The Children’s Champion

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 December 2017.

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Tracey Martin – The Children’s Champion

1 November 2017 1 comment

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From a blogpost I wrote on 31 December 2013;

Tracey Martin – one of Parliament’s best kept “secrets”. One to watch out for as her career in politics is on the rise. Recently elevated to Deputy Leader of NZ First, she has the potential to increase her Party’s public approval

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NZ First’s Tracey Martin, Minister for Children

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Nearly four years later, and my prediction has become reality. On 25 October, incoming Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that NZ First’s talented Tracey Martin would be appointed to the new Labour-NZF-Green cabinet as a full-ranking Minister;

Tracey Martin (NZ First): Minister for Children; Internal Affairs; Seniors; Associate Minister of Education

… Ms Ardern said New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin would be a strong advocate for children in her ministerial position, which also oversees Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children.

I fully endorse Ms Martin’s appointment to this position. In this blogger’s own experience, Ms Martin should prove to be a dedicated champion to lift children out of the poverty-trap created after thirtythree years of the failed neo-liberal experiment.

In April 2012, Jazmine Heka took a petition to then Opposition MP and NZ First spokesperson for Children, Tracey Martin. The petitions called for;

  1. To provide free healthy school lunches to all children attending schools
  2. To provide free healthcare for all children including prescription costs
  3. To introduce warrant of fitness’s for all rental homes

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Jazmine Heka, anti-Poverty campaigner, meets with Tracey Martin, Member of Parliament.

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There was wide-ranging discussion between Jazmine and Ms Martin with the MP treating her guest with respect. She listened to Jazmine for a full hour, discussing dental treatment in schools; food in schools; a warrant of fitness for all rental housing, and poverty in general.

As I reported at the time;

Ms Martin recalled when, in her youth, every school had a dental nurse and clinic-room on school-grounds, and children’s teeth were properly looked after,

Our policy is that all children must have access to free dental healthcare for the period of their schooling.”

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In depth discussion surrounding the nature of school meals drew constructive discussion from Jazmine and Tracey.

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This blogger also reported Ms Martin’s willingness to draw from other political parties;

Ms Martin agreed and referred to a “brilliant speech” by Russell Norman (Green Co-Leader), where he revealed that government had lost $2  billion of of last year’s tax-take. She said, “three years of that and we wouldn’t have to sell any state assets“.

Had those tax cuts [2009 and 2010]  not happened, we could afford free healthcare for all children.

Ms Martin referred to the Mana Party’s financial transactions tax, which she said  Annette Sykes called “the Hone Heke” tax, and which “was worth looking at, and worth taking really seriously“. It was understood that such a FTT would have to be internationally implemented, as it might otherwise risk causing a capital-flight.

The strength of the Labour-NZF-Greens coalition are the core values which each constituent party has to offer. All three have constructive, forward-looking policies and dedicated, intelligent people willing to deliver them for a better future for our country.

If the willingness of a member of parliament to sit and listen to a sixteen year old is any indication, then our new Minister for Children has been an encouraging,  positive first step for our new government.

Somewhat presciently, I wrote five years ago;

The discussion moved to a related issue, and Ms Heka asked about NZ First’s policy regarding having a high-ranking minister – or even the Prime Minister – as the Minister for Children. The premise being that if the Prime Minister was also the Minister for Children, then it would give extra impetus to policies as they might impact on his portfolio; the nations young people.

Ms Martin agreed saying,

“Well, to keep that in the view, I would have thought. To make sure that it’s part of every conversation; how will this, downstream, affect children.“

If the Prime Minister was Minister for children, it was suggested, then as with US President, Harry Truman,  “The Buck Stops Here” on child poverty issues.

Jacinda Ardern has appointed herself Minister for Child Poverty Reduction. Hopefully, Ms Ardern and Ms Martin will create a powerful partnership with which to combat and eradicate the scourge of child poverty in this country.

Postscript: Meanwhile, back in Rabid Rightwing Ratbag Land…

Right-wing idiocy and mis-information has reached new depths in West Australia with the publication of a scurrilous piece of fake news/opinion, by conservative  so-called journalist and former The West Australian editor, Paul Murray.

In an error-laden, ratbag opinion piece on 25 October, Murray  suggested that homelessness and child poverty did not exist in New Zealand. He dismissed poverty and homelessness;

Well, I’d describe it as hyperbole. If they haven’t got enough to survive they would be dying.

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An inquiry by the New Zealand Herald found Labour was using a very broad definition of homelessness by international standards and judged that claim “mostly fiction”.

While Labour used a university study showing 41,000 people were “severely housing deprived” — meaning sleeping rough, living in cars or garages, or in emergency or temporary shelters — official government figures for those “without habitable accommodation” was about 4000.

Which would be  inexplicable, considering  that  Bill English promised to cut child poverty by 100,000 during the election campaign last month;

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If poverty and homelessness was a “fiction” as Murray asserted, then the Leader of the National Party promised on 5 September, in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers, to raise 100,000 non-existent children out of poverty. And the mainstream media bought it.

Quite a ‘trick’.

He also derided Winston Peters’ decision for his choice in coalition partner;

These themes were echoed by Peters when justifying his decision to bypass the Nationals who won 44.45 per cent of the vote and to install Labour which polled just 36.89 and only 43.16 when combined with the supportive Greens.

Murray omitted to mention that a Labour-Green-NZ First bloc represented 50.4% of the popular vote. Obviously basic arithmetic is not his strong point because 50.4% beats 44.45% every time.

But his outright misrepresentation of facts reached it’s nadir when he shamelessly claimed;

The NZ Nationals got debt down to 38 per cent of GDP compared to Australia’s 47 per cent. Watch that figure skyrocket.

Either Murray is woefully ignorant of recent New Zealand history – or he is wilfully lying. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of facts should  know that by 2008  Labour had paid down net debt to 5.4%;

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National did not pay down debt. They grew it massively, fuelled by two unaffordable tax cuts (2009 and 2010) and shameless corporate welfare.

Never let facts get in the way of a right-wingers flight of fantasy.

This is the sort of rubbish that Labour, NZ First, and the Greens will have to deal with in the coming years.

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References

Radio NZ:  New government ministers revealed

The West Australian:  Opinion – Why the New Zealand poll experiment matters to Australia

Mediaworks:  English says new poverty reduction target was planned

Trading Economics:  New Zealand Government Net Debt to GDP

Other blogs

The Standard:  After nine long years National discovers there is child poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

2013 – The Year that Was

Ms Heka Goes To Wellington.

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 October 2017.

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Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rima)

16 September 2017 1 comment

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Ask David: When is a Bribe not a Bribe?

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National has added to it’s list of expensive election year bribes. Not content with offering $10.5  billion on new roads (which is additional to an  estimated $12 billion  to be spent on seven roads in National’s “Roads of National Significance” plan) – the Nats have promised  to increase their  HomeStart grant by $10,000. First home buyers would get $20,000 to buy an existing house or $30,000 for a newly constructed property.

The election year bribe has been condemned by both Left and Right. Political commentator, Chris Trotter pointed out the bleedin’ obvious;

You’ve had nine years to come up with a policy like this and you leave it until the last 13 days in an election campaign to make such an announcement.

This is a further sign of National Party desperation.

If a government wants to do something, the money is there. If National says they’ll find the money, I’m sure they will, but the question is why has it taken so long?

I think that’s a perfectly fair question, the timing is what is most remarkable.

But as Newsroom reported when National began to offer home-ownership subsidies in an over-heated housing marlet;

Treasury warned the Government in 2013 that increasing first home buyer subsidies would undermine the Reserve Bank’s efforts to slow down the housing market, force an early Official Cash Rate hike and push up house prices.

According to Newsroom, in  2014 Treasury  pointed out what should have been obvious to the Nats – a party that should be well-versed in supply and demand rules;

[Welcome Home Loan and KiwiSaver withdrawal schemes]  may undermine the power and credibility of the Reserve Bank’s proposed use of restrictions on high Loan to Value Ratio mortgages, depending on up-take.

Experience with homeowner grants in Australia suggests that such programmes tend to push prices up in a supply constrained environment by supporting greater demand, rather than improving affordability.

The Kiwi Saver Home Deposit Scheme increases the cash available to homebuyers for deposits. Increasing eligibility may encourage buyers to take on more debt/seek more expensive houses. This could exacerbate house price pressures.”

Nothing better highlights National’s failure to constrain housing prices, pushed up by rampant speculation and unplanned migration , than having to throw tax-payer’s money at the problem. (Obviously not content with putting a sheep farm in the middle of the Saudi desert, costing taxpayers at least $11.5 million.)

National’s favourite holographic coalition partner, ACT’s David Seymour,  also put the boot into National’s election year gift calling it out for what it is – a policy failure and a baked election bribe;

It’s an admission of National’s failure to fix the fundamentals of our housing crisis. Instead of getting homes built, they’re trying to soothe home buyers’ pain with a bribe.

Only a few months of flat price growth has scared National into propping up investors’ capital gains with taxpayer money. ”

However, David Seymour is not above throwing tax-dollars around as election year bribes when it suits his own electoral re-election agenda;

The ACT Party says it would bring in bulk funding for teacher salaries, offering schools $93,000 per teacher but only if they abandon collective agreements.

At its campaign launch this afternoon, ACT leader David Seymour said he wanted to give schools the power to decide what individual teachers earn.

The party would do this by introducing bulk funding, where schools could opt out of the centralised payroll system and collective agreements.

Seymour was blunt in his desire to see teacher’s unions undermined and destroyed;

ACT’s policy will address these pressures. And because it comes with the proviso that schools leave the union contract […] It’s frankly a disgrace that teacher unions would reject a billion dollars in new funding in order to protect the status quo that denies kids the education they deserve.

Seymour couldn’t explain where the money for the outright bribe for teachers to abandon their voluntary union participation would come from. He simply dipped his fingers into government coffers;

Party leader David Seymour said that the Government surplus of $3.7bn meant the party could promise to pay principals $975 million, to pay good teachers an extra $20,000 each, without cutting services or raising taxes.

It is not just National that is showing increasing signs of desperation. When a right-wing political party that supposedly espouses individual freedom of choice offers  tax-payer funded bribes for people to quit an organisation they have voluntarily opted to join – then we begin to understand that the entire neo-liberal paradigm is under threat.

Will David Seymour offer our hard-earned tax money to other people to quit organisations he doesn’t agree with?

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Challenge to David Seymour on the RMA

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Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox; Green Party leader James Shaw; ACT Party leader David Seymour; and United Future’s new leader, Damian Light participated in TVNZ’s Multi Party Debate on 8 September.

Only NZ First’s Winston Peter’s – in a hissy-fit of unbridled ego – refused to take part. Peters’ reasoning could be called weak at best’

“…I was astonished, on a general inquiry late Tuesday, to be told by them that neither Labour nor National had ever accepted the invitation.

Though why Peters believed that the two major parties – National or Labour – would participate in a Minor Parties Debate is unclear.

Anyway, despite Peters’ toy-tossing tantrum, “minor” parties they may be, but their presence in Parliament will often determine the government, and influence policy.

During the debate, the Resource Management Act was made the scapegoat by ACT leader, David Seymour, for the failing of the neo-liberal system to satisfy market demand for housing.

The moderator asked Seymour if his electorate of Epsom would accept higher-density housing developments  if the RMA’s urban protections were removed.  Seymour replied;

Oh, they’ve already accepted it [higher density housing]... People have already accepted it.

Green Party Leader, James Shaw, then issued a startling challenge to David Seymour;

We could make Epsom a RMA free zone and see what happens.

Seymour ducked the challenge, changing the subject.

For good reason.

There would be blue-blood in the streets of affluent, leafy, upper middle-class Epsom if high-rise developments suddenly filled the skyline.

An example of what Epsomites might expect if ACT got it’s way and the RMA was abolished or significantly weakened to allow unfettered urban development can be found in the Wellington suburb of Mt Victoria.

Amongst the single, two-story, and occassional three-story homes is a massive high-rise block of apartments called  Melksham Tower. The building was constructed around 1975, prior to the passing of the Resource Management Act in 1991 (ironically by the then Bolger-led National Government).

Melksham Tower around 1975 with locals protesting;

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Melksham Tower, currently. Note the height of the ten story building and surrounding house(s);

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Victoria University’s Salient magazine reported local public opposition to the development;

A newly completed block of high-rise flats in Mt. Victoria has become the focal point in a struggle between private developers and local residents.

The local residents, led by the Mt. Victoria Progressive Association, are angry about the construction of Williams Development Holdings’ new 10-storey Melksham Towers building, which was originally given a council permit on the basis that it would be a block of flats.

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Residents have mounted a vigorous campaign against the tower block itself, but the main attack has been focused on the roots of the problem—the inability of a community to have any say in the development of their area. The campaign started from general meetings of the Progressive Association and a small group of people went from door-to-door in the area discussing Mt. Victoria’s development and the significance of Melksham Towers.

The response was such that a demonstration of 70 residents gathered outside the tower block recently to show their disapproval of what has been described as ‘a human filing cabinet’. They also discussed what steps could be taken to prevent the construction of any similar structures.

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The struggle between the interest of private developers and local communities will continue as long as people are told that area planning is perogative of those experts ‘who know best’. But, even if the Mt. Victoria residents have been too late to stop the construction of the Melksham Towers monstrosity, they have been successful in building a much closer community which is more aware of the injustices that surround it and the forces that control it. As one resident said: ‘The protest has only just begun.’

If David Seymour takes up James Shaw’s challenge, the good people of Epsom could “share the pleasure” of Mt Victoria’s citizens of  learning the hard way what unfettered development has in store for them.

Would Seymour accept that challenge?

For Epsomites, ‘The protest will have only just begun’.

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English’s Committment on child poverty – real or “aspirational”?

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On 4 September, during  TV3’s Leader’s Debate, National Party Leader and soon to be ex-Prime Minister, Bill English, sprung a surprise on the people of New Zealand. English committed his administration to committed to raising 100,000 children out of poverty in the next three year Parliamentary term;

There’s two things you need to do, one is lift incomes the other is get inside the very toxic mix of social issues which we know are family violence, criminal offending and long-term welfare dependency. We’ve got the best tools in the world now to support rising incomes with cracking the social problems.

All we have to do is party-tick National and give him that fourth term in Parliament. Simple as, bro!

Which raises some interesting and obvious questions;

  1. Why didn’t National do this earlier in their nine years in office? Why have they put it off until now, when National is floundering in the polls?
  2. What has changed since October last year when then-Dear Leader, John Key, refused to measure and address child poverty because it was “a complicated area and there are many particular measures you can use”?
  3. How are they defining who those “100,000 children in poverty” really are? Will they be using dodgy stats such as Statistics NZ uses for unemployment? Thus far, National has steadfastly refused to measure child poverty in this country.
  4. Paula Bennett  refused to accepted a recent UNICEF report on child poverty in New Zealand, disputing it’s figures. How will we know which figures are acceptable to National if it disputes the UN?

But worse still – how seriously can we take Bill English’s “committment” when National Ministers have excused their failings to meet their own goals by labelling them as “aspirational” only;

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When Minister Tolley was challenged on TV3’s The Nation why welfare numbers were still high, she replied;

It’s a very aspirational target.

“Aspirational” – National’s way of setting ambitious goals (especially at election time), and then shrugging when things don’t eventuate.

I wonder if National’s campaign for re-election is also… “aspirational”?

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ACT considers Eugenic Final Solution for the Poor?

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According to ACT’s Beth Houlbrooke, the poor should not be allowed to breed;

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The sub-text of Houlbrook’s assertion is clear and simple; poverty is the fault of the poor. Obviously they are incapable of enjoying the benefits of the neo-liberal, free-market system and have chosen to remain – poor. So after thirty-plus years of the “Revolution”, the peasants cannot recognise the paradise put before them by the likes of Roger Douglas, Ruth Richardson, et al.

In which case, if ACT believes so deeply that “parents who cannot afford to have children should not be having them” – then it should be prepared to make that Party policy and legislate accordingly.

I therefore call upon ACT Leader, David Seymour, to publicly announce that his party will be putting forward legislation to ban low-income families from having children. He can advise the public how much people must earn before the State will issue a permit to breed.

Of course, that still leaves the thorny problem of what to do with children of parents who lose their job(s); become bankrupt; lose their business, and must rely on welfare.

One response to ACT’s announcement offered a possible ‘solution’;

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I look forward to how ACT will sell this policy to the public.

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References

Fairfax media:  National announce $10.5 billion roading plan

Radio NZ:  National pledge to add $10k to HomeStart

Fairfax media:  National to double Home Start Grant for existing houses

Newsroom:  Election 2017 Live – National doubles first home grant

NZ Herald:  Editorial – Saudi sheep deal leaves bitter taste

Scoop media:  National pumps up house prices with HomeStart bribe

Radio NZ:  ACT promises bulk funding if schools drop union contracts

Scoop media:  Broken union model creating third-world staff shortages

Fairfax media:  ACT says it will give schools $20k more per teacher, if they abandon union contracts

ACT Party: Principles

Mediaworks:  Winston Peters pulls out of minor parties debate

TVNZ:  ‘We could make Epsom a RMA free zone and see what happens’ – Greens leader lands jab on ACT’s David Seymour

Wikipedia:  Resource Management Act 1991

Victoria University:  Salient – Volume 38, Number 14. June 20, 1975 – Photo of Melksham Tower, Mount Victoria

Victoria University:  Salient – Volume 38, Number 14. June 20, 1975 –  Mt Vic On The Move

Mediaworks:  Newshub Leaders Debate – Bill English commits to poverty target

Fairfax media:  National drops to 39 in new bombshell poll, Labour remains ahead

Fairfax media:  Government won’t commit to a poverty target because it’s too ‘difficult’ – John Key

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

Mediaworks:  Paula Bennett disputes UNICEF poverty report

NZ Herald: Anne Tolley – Government’s benefits target ‘very aspirational’

Scoop media:  On The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Bill English, Anne Tolley and Hekia Parata

Twitter: ACT Party – Poor shouldn’t have kids

Twitter: Wendy Smith responds to ACT

Additional

Newsroom:  National doubling first home buyer subsidies in face of Treasury opposition and Australian experience

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Nat/ACT don’t think poor people should have kids

Previous related blogposts

Election ’17 Countdown: The Promise of Nirvana to come

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (tahi)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rua)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (toru)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (wha)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 September 2017.

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The Mendacities of Mr English – Social Services under National’s tender mercies

12 February 2017 3 comments

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Context

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On 25 January, as Radio NZ returned to it’s normal broadcasting schedule (and putting away it’s dumbed-down “summer programming” until next December/January), John Campbell had his first interview with John Key’s replacement, Bill English.

Campbell raised several issues with English; the US withdrawal from the TPPA; the Pike River mine disaster; and the housing crisis. At this point, English made this staggering claim;

@ 5.58

“We’ve got a government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest social issues. There may be disagreement over means by which we’re doing it, ah, but our direction is pretty clear. And you know over, certainly heading into election year we think that the approach the government’s developed around social investment, around increasing incomes is the right kind of mix – “

English’s bland assertion that “government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest social issues” is at variance with actual, real, mounting socio-economic problems in this country.

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Key indicator #1: Unemployment

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The latest HLFS unemployment stats show an increase from 4.9% to 5.2% in the December 2016 Quarter. However, in all likelihood, the unemployment numbers are actually much, much, higher since Statistics NZ arbitrarily altered the way it  calculated what constituted  unemployment.

On 29 June 2016, Statistics NZ announced that it would be changing the manner in which it defined a jobseeker;

Change: Looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work. This change brings the classification in line with international standards and will make international comparability possible.

Improvement: Fewer people will be classified as actively seeking work, therefore the counts of people unemployed will be more accurate.

The statement went on to explain;

Change in key labour market estimates:

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate

  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent 

  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force 

  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

The result of this change? At the stroke of a pen, unemployment fell from 5.7% to 5.2% for the March 2016 Quarter (and subsequent Quarters).

If the “current unemployment figures” from Stats NZ are reported as “5.2%’, they may well be back to the original March 2016 figure of 5.7%, before the government statistician re-jigged definitions.

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Key indicator #2: Housing

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– Home Ownership

According to the 1984 NZ  Yearbook, in 1981 the number of rental dwellings numbered 25.4% of housing. 71.2% were owner-occupied. Nearly three quarters of New Zealanders  owned their homes.

Home ownership reached it’s maximum height in 1991, when it stood at 73.8%. Since then, it has steadily declined.

By 2013 (the most recent census survey), the numbers of rental dwellings had increased to 35.2% (up 33.1% in 2006). Home ownership had decreased to  49.9%  (down from  from 54.5% in 2006). If you include housing held in Family Trusts, the figure rises to 64.8% of households owning their home in 2013, down from 66.9% in 2006.

Whether you include housing held in Family Trusts (which may or may not be owner-occupied or rented out), home ownership has fallen steady since the early 1980s.

Renting has increased from 25.4% to 35.2%.

More and more New Zealanders are losing out on the dream of home ownership. Conversely, more and more of us are becoming tenants in our own country.

As Bernard Hickey from Interest.co.nz said in December last year;

Nearly two thirds of the 430,000 households formed since 1991 are tenants.

Think about that for a moment. It is a stunning revelation of how the young and the poor have been hit the hardest by the changes in New Zealand since the mid-1980s, and on an enormous scale.

It means two thirds of the kids born in those families grew up in rental accommodation, and more than 80% of those are private rentals (although the Housing NZ homes are often no better). That means they often grew up in mouldy, damp, cold and insecure housing. It’s true that some homes occupied by their owners are also below par, but it’s a much lower proportion and owners have the option to improve their homes through insulation and ventilation.

The NZ$696 billion increase in the value of New Zealand’s houses to NZ$821 billion between 1991 and 2015 means the 64% of owners in live-in houses have also had plenty of financial flexibility to improve those houses. Renters have had no access to that wealth creation and are not allowed to put a pin in the wall, let alone put in a ventilation system or some batts in the ceiling. The take-up for the Government’s home insulation and heating subsidies were vastly higher among home-owners than they were for landlords.

Those 284,000 renting households formed since 1991 have also often been forced to move schools and communities and all the roots that build families because New Zealand’s rental market is so transient.

[…]

It illustrates the scale of the fallout from that collapse in home ownership from 1991. Not only has it handicapped the education, health and productivity of a entire generation of New Zealanders, but it is set to magnify the likely growth in pension and healthcare costs of our ageing population. And that’s before the wealth and income inequality effects.

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– Affordability

In 2016, the 13th Annual International Demographia International Housing Affordability survey rated New Zealand as one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world;

The most affordable major housing markets in 2015 are in the United States, with a moderately unaffordable Median Multiple of 3.9, followed by Japan (4.1), the United Kingdom (4.5), Canada (4.7), Ireland (4.7) and Singapore (4.8). Overall, the major housing markets of Australia (6.6), New Zealand (10.0) and China (18.1) are severely unaffordable. (p2)

[…]

In New Zealand, as in Australia, housing had been rated as affordable until approximately a quarter century ago. (p24)

A 2014 report by the NZ Institute for Economic Research stated  the “the average house price rose from the long-run benchmark of three times the average annual household income to six times“;

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house-price-to-income-ratio-new-zealand-housing-affordability

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The NZIER report refers to several reasons for increasing housing prices; slow supply of land; demographic demand (from ‘Baby Boomers’); and investor demand caused by lack of a capital gains tax. Interestingly, the Report also refers to an “over-supply of finance”;

The loosening of financial standards and rising household debt relative to income has happened over a long period of time. The increase in indebtedness has coincided with rising house prices relative to incomes. This suggests that increased household indebtedness has at least partly contributed to the increasing price of homes. (p14)

Prior to Roger Douglas de-regulating the banking/finance sector, New Zealand banks could only lend depositor’s funds as mortgages.

As a result, mortgage money was “tight”, and scarcity helped keep house prices down. Vendor’s expectations were kept “in check” by scarcity of bank funds. Prior to the mid 1980s, Vendor’s Finance (by way of a Second Mortgage) were commonly-used financial tools to assist house-owners to sell and buyers to complete a purchase.

Once the banking sector was opened up, and monetary policy relaxed, cheap money flooded in from overseas for banks to on-lend to house-purchasers. As property investor, Ollie Newland vividly explained in the 1996 TV documentary, Revolution;

“I got a phone  call from my bank manager to say some bigwigs were coming up from Wellington to have a chat with me. I thought it was just one public relations things they do. I had a very small office, it wasn’t much bigger than a toilet cubicle, and those five big fellows  crowded in with their briefcases and books and they sat on the floor and the arms of the chairs – I only had one chair in the place – and stood against the walls. Their first words to me were, we’re here to lend you money. As much as you want. For somebody like me, and I’m sure it’s the same for everybody else, to suddenly be told by the bank manager that you could have as much money as you want, help yourself, that was a revelation. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.”

Unfortunately, the side affect of this was to increase vendor’s expectations to gain higher and higher prices for their properties. Combined with recent high immigration, and a lack of a comprehensive capital gains tax, and the results have been troubling for this country;

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As well as increasingly unaffordable housing, we – as a nation – are sitting on a trillion-dollar fiscal bomb.

Think about that for a moment.

Little wonder that in September last year, the Reserve Bank issued the sternest warning yet that we were headed for impending economic mayhem;

A sharp correction in house prices represents a key risk to the financial system, and one that is increasing the longer the current boom in house prices persists. A severe downturn in house prices could have major implications for the banking system, with over 55 percent of bank loans secured against residential property. Moreover, elevated household debt levels and a growing exposure of the banking system to investor loans could reinforce a housing downturn and extend reductions in economic activity, as highly indebted households are forced to reduce consumption and sell property.

As with many other individuals, institutions, organisations, business leaders, left-wing commentators, media, political pundits, political parties, the NZIER was (and still is) calling for a comprehensive capital gains tax to be implemented.

Even then, this blogger suspects we may be too late. National (and it’s predecessor, to be fair) have left it far to late and the economic horse has well and truly bolted.

Even a Capital Gains Tax at 28% – New Zealand’s current corporate tax rate – may be insufficient to dampen speculative demand for properties.

Meanwhile, the dream of Kiwis owning their own homes continues to slip away.

Depressingly, New Zealanders themselves have permitted this to happen.

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– State Housing

If the Middle Classes and their Millenial Offspring are finding it hard to buy their first home, think of the poorest  families and individuals in our communities. For them, social housing consists of packing multiple families into a single house; living in an uninsulated, drafty,  garage; or in cars.

Last year, the story of mass homelessness exploded onto our media and our “radar” as New Zealanders woke up to the reality of persistent poverty in our cities;

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homelessness-in-new-zealand

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Although on occassion, the mainstream media found them themselves  in embarrassingly ‘schizophrenic’ situations as they attempted to reconcile reporting on our growing housing crisis – whilst raising advertising revenue by  promoting “reality” TV programmes that were far, far removed from many people’s own disturbing reality;

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According to UNICEF;

295,000 New Zealand kids are living beneath the poverty line, which means they are living in households where income is less than 60% of the median household income after housing costs are taken into consideration.

One way to alleviate poverty is to provide state housing, at minimal rental, to families suffering deprivation. Not only does this make housing affordable, but also strengthens a sense of community and reduces transience.

Transience can have deletarious effects on families – especially on children – who then struggle with the stresses of losing friends; adjusting to new neighbourhoods, and new schools.

A government report states that transience for children can have extreme, negative impact on  their learning;

Nearly 3,700 students were recognised as transient during the 2014 year. Māori students were more likely to be transient than students in other ethnic groups.

[…]

Students need stability in their schooling in order to experience continuity, belonging and support so that they stay interested and engaged in learning.

All schools face the constant challenge of ensuring that students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate at school. When students arrive at a school part-way through a term or school year, having been at another school with different routines, this challenge may become greater.

Students have better outcomes if they do not move school regularly. There is good evidence that student transience has a negative impact on student outcomes, both in New Zealand and overseas. Research suggests that students who move home or school frequently are more likely to underachieve in formal education when compared with students that have a more stable school life. A recent study found that school movement had an even stronger effect on educational success than residential movement.

There is also evidence that transience can have negative effects on student behaviour, and on short term social and health experience

Writing for The Dominion Post, in April 2014, Elinor Chisholm and  Philippa Howden-Chapman pointed out the blindingly obvious;

Continuity of education and supportive relationships with teachers are critical for children’s educational performance.

“Churn” is not good for educational performance or enrolment in primary health care, where staff can ensure children are properly immunised and chronic health problems can be followed up.

It was for this reason that, in our submission on the Social Housing Reform Bill late last year, we strongly recommended that families with school- age children should be excluded from tenancy review.

Secure tenure and stability at one school would allow children the best chance of flourishing. In high- performing countries such as the Netherlands, children are explicitly discouraged from changing schools in the middle of the school year.

The bill had announced the extension of reviewable tenancies to all state tenants (new state tenants had been subject to tenancy review since mid- 2011). However, the housing minister, as well as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, had made clear that the disabled and the elderly were to be excluded from tenancy reviews.

In our submission, we acknowledged the Government for recognising the importance of secure tenure.

People who are compelled to move house involuntarily can experience stress, loss, grief and poorer mental health. Housing insecurity is also associated with poorer physical health.

National’s policy of ending a state “house for life”;  increased tenancy reviews for state house tenants, coupled with the sale of state houses, is inimical to the stabilisation of vulnerable families; the well-being of children in those families; and to communities.

In 2008, Housing NZ owned 69,000 rental properties.

By 2016, that number had dropped significantly to 61,600 (plus a further 2,700 leased).  National had disposed of some 7,400 properties.

Between 2014 and 2016, at least 600 state house tenants lost their homes after “reviews”.

This, despite our growing population.

This, despite John Key’s own family having been provided with the security of a state house, and Key enjoying a near-free University education.

This, despite John Key, ex-currency trader,  and multi-millionaire, admitting in 2011 that New Zealand’s under-class was growing.

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Key indicator #3: Incomes & Inequality

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In June 2014, Oxfam reported on New Zealand’s growing dire child poverty crisis;

The richest ten per cent of New Zealanders are wealthier than the rest of the population combined as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier said the numbers are a staggering illustration that the wealth gap in New Zealand is stark and mirrors a global trend that needs to be addressed by governments in New Zealand, and around the world, in order to win the fight against poverty.

“Extreme wealth inequality is deeply worrying. Our nation is becoming more divided, with an elite who are seeing their bank balances go up, whilst hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders struggle to make ends meet,” said Le Mesurier.

Figures for the top one per cent are even more striking. According to the most recent data, taken from the 2013 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, 44,000 Kiwis – who could comfortably fit into Eden Park with thousands of empty seats to spare – hold more wealth than three million New Zealanders. Put differently, this lists the share of wealth owned by the top one per cent of Kiwis as 25.1 per cent, meaning they control more than the bottom 70 per cent of the population.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director, Rachael Le Mesurier, was blunt in her condemnation;

“Extreme inequality is a sign of economic failure. New Zealand can and must do better. It’s time for our leaders to move past the rhetoric. By concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few, inequality robs the poorest people of the support they need to improve their lives, and means that their voices go unheard. If the global community fails to curb widening inequality, we can expect more economic and social problems.”

A 2014 OECD report placed New Zealand as one of the worst for growing inequality;

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oecd-2014-income-inequality-increased-in-most-oecd-countries

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Not only was inequality a social blight, but according to the report it impacted negatively on economic growth;

Rising inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 4 percentage points off growth in half of the countries over two decades. On the other hand, greater equality prior to the crisis helped increase GDP per capita in a few countries, notably Spain.

According to the OECD assessment,  income inequality had impacted the most on New Zealand, with only Mexico a close second;

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oecd-2014-estimated-consequences-inequality-cumulative-growth

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The OECD Report went further, making this “radical” observation;

The most direct policy tool to reduce inequality is redistribution through taxes and benefits. The analysis shows that redistribution per se does not lower economic growth.

The statement went on to “qualify”  any suggestion of socialism with a caveat. But the declaration that “analysis shows that redistribution per se does not lower economic growth” remained, constituting a direct contradiction and challenge to current neo-liberal othodoxy.

In August 2015, former City Voice editor, and now NZ Herald social issues reporter, Simon Collins revealed the growing level of child poverty in this country;

The Ministry of Social Development’s annual household incomes report shows that the numbers below a European standard measure of absolute hardship, based on measures such as not having a warm home or two pairs of shoes, fell from 165,000 in 2013 to 145,000 (14 per cent of all children) last year, the lowest number since 2007.

Children in benefit-dependent families also dwindled from a recent peak of 235,000 (22 per cent) in 2011, and 202,000 (19 per cent) in 2013, to just 180,000 (17 per cent) last year – the lowest proportion of children living on benefits since the late 1980s.

But inequality worsened because average incomes for working families increased much faster at high and middle-income levels than for lower-paid workers.

The net result was that the number of children living in households earning below 60 per cent of the median income after housing costs jumped from a five-year low of 260,000 in 2013 to 305,000 last year, the highest since a peak of 315,000 at the worst point of the global financial crisis in 2010.

In percentage terms, 29 per cent of Kiwi children are now in relative poverty, up from 24 per cent in 2013 and only a fraction below the 2010 peak of 30 per cent.

In September 2016, Statistics NZ confirmed the widening of  income inequality from 1988 to 2015,  between households with high  and  low incomes;

  • In 2015, the disposable income of a high-income household was over two-and-a-half times larger than that of a low-income household.
  • Between 1988 and 2015, the income inequality ratio increased from 2.24 to 2.61.  

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The neo-liberal “revolution” took place from the mid-to-late 1980s. Hardly surprisingly, the rise in income inequality takes place at the same time.

Income inequality dipped from 2004 when Labour’s “Working for Families” was introduced.

However, income inequality worsened after 2009 and 2010, when National cut taxes for the rich; increased GST (which impacts most harshly on low-income families and individuals); and increased user-charges on essential services such as prescription fees, ACC levies, court fees, etc. Increasingly complicated WINZ requirements for annual re-applications for benefits and complex paperwork may also have worsened the plight of the country’s poorest.

Despite all the promises made by the Lange government; the Bolger government; and every government since, our neo-liberal “reforms” have not been kind to those on low and middle incomes.

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Key indicator #4: Child poverty

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According to Otago University’s Child Poverty Monitor in 2014;

Child poverty has not always been this bad – the child poverty rate in the New Zealand many of us grew up in 30 years ago was 14%, compared to current levels of 24%.

Thirty years prior to 2014 was the year 1984. David Lange’s Labour Party had been elected to power.

Roger Douglas was appointed Minister of Finance. The Member for Selwyn, Ruth Richardson, was also in Parliament, taking notes.

The term “trickle down” entered our consciousness and vocabulary. It promised that, with tax cuts; privatisation; winding back state services; and economic de-regulation, wealth would trickle down to those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

How is that working out for us so far?

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So much for  the “aspirational dream” offered to us by “trickle down” economics.

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Key indicator #5: The Real Beneficiaries

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In June last year, Radio NZ reported  the  latest survey of household wealth by Statistics NZ. It found;

“…the country’s richest individuals – those in the top 10 percent – held 60 percent of all wealth by the end of July 2015. Between 2003 and 2010, those individuals had held 55 percent. The richest 10 percent of households held half of New Zealand’s wealth, while the poorest 40 percent held just 3 percent of total wealth.”

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Following hard on the heels of the Stats NZ report,  Oxfam NZ made a disturbing revelation;

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Three years after her previous public warning,  Oxfam New Zealand’s, Rachael Le Mesurier, was no less scathing. Her exasperation was clear;

“The gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest of us is greater than we thought, both in New Zealand and around the world. It is trapping huge numbers of people in poverty and fracturing our societies, as seen in New Zealand in the changing profile of home ownership.”

National minister, Steven Joyce responded. He was his usual mealy-mouthed self when interviewed on Radio NZ about the Oxfam report;

“There’s always inequality but again you have got to look at those reports carefully because in that report a young medical graduate who has just come out of university would be listed as somebody who is in the poorest 20 per cent because they have a student loan.They’ll pay that student loan off in about four years and they’ll be earning incomes of over $100,000 very quickly.

So although they’re in those figures today, they won’t be in those figures in five years’ time.”

Which appears to sum up the National government’s head-in-sand attitude on child poverty and income inequality.

Economist, Shamubeel Eaqub, though, had a different “take” on the issue and warned;

“Every time we see a new statistic on inequality, whether it’s in terms of income, opportunities or wealth, it shows very clearly that New Zealand is being ripped apart by our class system.”

When economists begin to issue dire social warnings, you know that matters have taken a turn for the worse.

So where does that leave our New Dear Leader Bill English  with his insistence  that “we’ve got a government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest social issues”?

English’s assertion to John Campbell on Radio NZ, on 25 January, (outlined at the beginning of this story) makes sense only if it it is re-phrased;

“We’ve got a government actually with a good record on addressing, in fact, some of the toughest wealth-accumulation issues. There may be disagreement over means by which we’re doing it, ah, but our direction is pretty clear. And you know over, certainly heading into election year we think that the approach the government’s developed around private investment, around increasing incomes for the wealthiest ten percent is the right kind of mix – “

Not a very palatable message – but vastly more truthful as income inequality continues to wreak appalling consequences throughout our communities and economy.

Otherwise, English appears to reside not so much in the Land of the Long White Cloud, but in the Realm of Wishful Thinking.

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References

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – Bill English on the challenges of his first month as PM

Scoop media: Unemployment rate rises to 5.2 percent as labour force grows

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Revisions to labour market estimates

NZ 1984 Yearbook: 3A – General SummaryCensus of population and dwellings 1981 (see “Tenure of Dwelling”)

Statistics NZ: Owner-Occupied Households

Statistics NZ: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlights – Home Ownership

Interest.co.nz: Bernard Hickey says the collapse in home-ownership rates among families formed since 1991 is an unfolding disaster for NZ’s economy, our society and the Government’s finances

International Demographia: 13th Annual  International Housing Affordability

NZ Institute for Economic Research: The home affordability challenge

Monetary Meg: What is vendor finance?

Radio NZ: NZ immigration returns to record level

NZ On Screen: Revolution

NZ Herald: New Zealand residential property hits $1 trillion mark

Reserve Bank: Regulatory Impact Assessment of revised LVR restriction proposals September 2016 – Adequacy Statement

The Guardian: New Zealand housing crisis forces hundreds to live in tents and garages

Fairfax media: One in 100 Kiwis homeless, new study shows numbers quickly rising

Al Jazeera: New Zealand’s homeless: Living in cars and garages

NZ Herald: Homelessness rising in New Zealand

Radio NZ: Homeless family faces $100k WINZ debt

TV3 News: The hidden homeless – Families forced to live in cars

TV1 News: Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars

UNICEF: Let’s Talk about child poverty

Education Counts: Transient students

Dominion Post: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

NZ Herald: State housing shake-up – Lease up on idea of ‘house for life’

Radio NZ: Thousands of state houses up for sale

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2015/16

Fairfax media: Nearly 600 state house tenants removed after end of ‘house for life’ policy

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Oxfam: Richest 10% of Kiwis control more wealth than remaining 90%

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

Statistics NZ: Income inequality

Law Society: Civil court fee changes commence

Fairfax media: Prescription price rise hits vulnerable

Salaries.co.nz: ACC levies to increase in April 2010

Radio NZ: Thousands losing benefits due to paperwork

Scoop media: Health Issues Highlighted in Child Poverty Monitor

NZ Herald: Hungry kids foraging in pig scraps ‘like the slums of Brazil’

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

NZ Herald: More living in cars as rents go through roof

NZ Doctor: Tackle poverty to fight rheumatic fever

Radio NZ: 10% richest Kiwis own 60% of NZ’s wealth

Fairfax media: Wealth inequality in NZ worse than Australia

Radio NZ: Steven Joyce responds to Oxfam wealth inequality report

Additional

Dominion Post: Kids dragged from school to school

Other Blogs

The Standard: John Key used to be ambitious about dealing with poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies – ** UPDATE **

National exploits fudged Statistics NZ unemployment figures

2016 – Ongoing jobless tally and why unemployment statistics will no longer be used

CYF – The Hollowing Out of a State Agency

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 18: “No question – NZ is better off!”

Foot in mouth award – Bill English, for his recent “Flat Earth” comment in Parliament

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

Rebuilding the Country we grew up in – Little’s Big Task ahead

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 February 2017.

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Lies, Damned lies and Statistical Lies

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In the last few years,  my writing has involved a wide range of topics affecting the social/economic/political aspects of our nation. The one common factor in my writing has been the ability to  research facts and figures and put them into some usable context, either for evidential, or high-lighting purposes.

Offering an opinion that the government is hollowing-out Child,Youth, and Family is one thing. Carrying out research; finding information through the ‘net; asking specific questions using the Official Information Act are the means by which hard facts can be mined; refined; and presented to the reader in a form that presents a credible case to the audience. Stories such as  “State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?” and “Ongoing jobless tally” are put together using information, quotes, financial and statistical data.

Two stories late last year illustrated how National – with silence or active co-operation by compliant state-sector bosses – has been able to manipulate statistics to present a favourable public perception of it’s management of the country.

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Media stories of the Week - Police Commissioner Mike Bush on dubious police practices

 

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Though occassionally, the truth slips out, as Greg O’Connor revealed on TVNZ’s Q+A on 25 October, last year;

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Weekend Revelations 3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

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Fudging statistics, numbers, facts, and dollar-figures is not isolated when it comes to this government. Only a few days ago, English was sprung giving false financial information relating to Sue Moroney’s paid-parental leave bill;

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English admits maths error in bill veto defence

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The Radio NZ report went on to state;

Ms Moroney challenged him about the figures in Parliament.

“Does he stand by his statement to Radio New Zealand on 17 June 2016 that extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks would add when it’s fully in place about $280 million a year.”

Mr English admitted he was incorrect and should have used the figures written in the veto certificate he himself had tabled.

“The government currently spends about $280m a year on paid parental leave, Labour’s proposal once fully implemented would cost around $120m per year on top of that – or $100m per year net of tax. Net of tax the proposal would cost $280m over the next four years.”

Ms Moroney then asked how Mr English got it so wrong.

He replied that he did so because he confused the $280m over four years, with $280m a year.

This is our Finance Minister confusing $280 million per year with over a four-year period. No wonder we’re over $60 billion in debt.

National has been crowing for the last few years that “crime has been falling“;

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Offences at 24-year low, crime down for third year running

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Even the Police Commissioner got in on the ‘act’;

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Crime rate falls to 29-year low

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A huge amount of hard work from our Police has gone into achieving these fantastic results,” said Tolley in 2013. “Fantastic” is right – as in fantasy-fantastic.

Because it did not take long before people started realising that the Police stats were dodgy, and most likely bogus.

This was confirmed by  outgoing Police Association President, Greg O’Conner, on TVNZ’s Q+A, on 25 October, in a very candid  interview with Michael Parkin.

On statistics,  Parkin referred  to  National and Police  trumpeting a 30% drop in crime. O’Conner responded wryly;

@3.10

“Well, it’s uh, lies, damned lies, and statistics. If you look at the crime stats, um, which is those recorded stats, you’ll say the government and police administration are right. If you look at the stats around calls for service, they’re the phone calls that police receive in communications centes, etc, and just an example, family violence, domestic disputes; up by 10% a year pretty much, and across the board, 20% increase. So it’s the calls for service, to the extent that the communications centres couldn’t manage last summer. There’s a fear, and we’re obviously we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen this year. So the two are going in completely different directions.”

Parkin pointedly asked if the statistics are being manipulated. O’Conner’s response  was startling in it’s honesty;

@3.55

“Of course they are. Every government department – I mean, what happens is that, the stats themselves are fair, but I mean I see it as a debate [like] about health, y’know, medical – the waitings lists have going down, but people get kicked of waiting lists and so it’s, you achieve – Put it this way, with crime stats, what we’ve set out to do is the way to cut crime stats is to hit your bulk crime. So if you have any success there, of course, that’s going to be big numbers down. And what you ignore is your small  numbers. You ignore, in fact, interestingly enough you ignore drugs. You ignore a lot of your serious stuff that you only find if you go looking. And in the past that’s got us into real trouble. Got us into trouble with the child abuse files, in particular, and you remember, that they were put aside. Because they weren’t politically known. They were business as usual. All of a sudden we were concentrating on the crime and crash reduction, um, and we ignored that stuff. And so you’ve got to be careful. And this is where the politicisation of policing is really dangerous. It’s not done by the Minister saying ‘you gotta do this and you gotta do that’, it’s done by funding.”

O’Conner’s scorn is confirmed by an event last year where one police district was caught out, red-handed, falsifying crime statistics. Seven hundred burglary offences “disappeared”;

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Police made burglaries vanish - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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Herald journalist, Eugene Bingham, reported;

“ It transpired others knew about the allegations around the same time, including the local MP and then-Minister of Justice, Judith Collins.”

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Two-year search for 'ghost crimes' truth - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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A police report “raised questions over pressures to meet crime reduction targets”, but Police were quick to assure that the fudged stats were “isolated“;

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Police deny being caught out by false review claims - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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“Isolated”? As far back as 2012, Police were issuing warnings for petty-crime, instead of prosecuting;

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Warnings to petty crims 'freeing up police time'

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Then-Police Commissioner Peter Marshall said;

“ These are 19,000 people who would otherwise go to court, who would clutter up the system in terms of court time, let alone police officers preparing prosecution files and spending time in court.”

So the policy of issuing warnings “freed up police time” and “un-clogged the Court system”?

It also created a drop in crime statistics.

How convenient.

The above Herald story, “Warnings to petty crims ‘freeing up police time’ ” appeared in the Herald in January 2012. So by April 2013, Police Minister Anne Tolley was able to say with (almost) a straight face;

“ These statistics show that our Police are getting it right, and I want to congratulate the Commissioner and all Police staff for their efforts in preventing crime and making communities safer.”

It’s easy to reduce crime. Just “massage” the stats  away.

“Massaging” statistics does not work for long, as current Police Commissioner Bush recently discovered;

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Police concerned at national crime spike

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(Listen also to Radio NZ Checkpoint interview (2′ 39″))

Both Police Minister Judith Collins and Commissioner Bush resorted to old-fashioned “spin” (aka “bullshitry”) to explain away this embarrassing development;

Police Commissioner Mike Bush told MPs at today’s Law and Order Select Committee the jump in crime had to be kept in perspective.

“Burglary rates are some of the lowest rates in over a decade, in recent times there has been an increase – now that concerns me,” the commissioner said.

Police Minister Judith Collins tried to put a positive spin on the jump in crime when speaking to reporters later.

“Well there may have been a slight bump in crime and I think the commissioner said that was most likely so, but I think what we’re seeing is if police go after drug offenders, that’s always going to be counting as offences,” she said.

On this basis, if  Police  did not arrest anyone; nor prosecuted anyone, there would be zero crime in New Zealand. According to statistics, anyway.

So much for one one National’s vaunted, lynch-pin policies;

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National hoarding staying strong on crime

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National’s ministers have never liked statistics. They have a tendency to show up the failings of this inept government. Who can forget then-Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett in August 2012 giving an explanation (of sorts) why her government was not willing to undertake measuring the poverty line;

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measuring-poverty-line-not-a-priority-bennett

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“ There is no official measure of poverty in New Zealand. The actual work to address poverty is perhaps what is most important. Children move in and out of poverty on a daily basis.”

Though how Bennett proposed to “address poverty” when she was fearful of even measuring it has never been fully explained.

But as we know, since Bennett’s decision, poverty has increased and stories of people living in garages, cars, and families crammed into over-crowded houses have come to light. Despite not being measured, poverty refuses to go away.

What an inconvenient, annoying nuisance.

On 29 June 2016, Statistics NZ announced that it would be changing the manner in which it defined a jobseeker;

Change: Looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work. This change brings the classification in line with international standards and will make international comparability possible.

Improvement: Fewer people will be classified as actively seeking work, therefore the counts of people unemployed will be more accurate.

The statement went on to explain;

Change in key labour market estimates:

  • Decreases in the number of people unemployed and the unemployment rate

  • Changes to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate range from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points. In the most recent published quarter (March 2016), the unemployment rate is revised down from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent 

  • Increases in the number of people not in the labour force 

  • Decreases in the size of the labour force and the labour force participation rate

The result of this change? At the stroke of a pen, unemployment fell from 5.7% to 5.2%.

Simply because if a person was job-searching using the internet they were “not actively seeking work“.

Which beggars belief as the majority of jobseekers will be using the internet. It is the 21st century – what else would they be using?

In fact, a government website – careersnz – states categorically;

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careersnz - use the internet

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Work and Income’s (WINZ) website states similarly;

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work and income - where to look

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On-line job advertising company, Seek,  reported a sharp rise in job adverts on their websites.

For the government statistician to unilaterally declare that “looking at job advertisements on the internet is correctly classified as not actively seeking work” beggars belief. One might as well say that if a person admitted to hospital shows no outward signs of serious illness, then that person is obviously not sick.

When most jobs are advertised online – as stated by government agencies!!! – where else would one look for a job? By studying tea-leaves perhaps?

The result of Statistics NZ’s “improvements” by removing online job-hunting as job-seeking is obvious; the rate of unemployment dropped.

How surprising.

Stats NZ actually seemed pleased with the consequence;

Fewer people will be classified as actively seeking work, therefore the counts of people unemployed will be more accurate.

How can “the counts of people unemployed” be “more accurate” if large numbers of unemployed are culled from the count?!?! In what Universe is this an accurate count to include some unemployed, but not others, for the most specious reason?

This makes no sense in terms of accurate statistics. To any sober person, an unemployed jobseeker is one who is;

  1. Unemployment
  2. Job-seeking

There is no rationale for arbitrarily removing job seekers who use the internet to seek work. Especially as two government departments encourage on-line searching because “most jobs in NZ are advertised online“.

There can only be one rational explanation: the unemployment statistics are inconvenient. Therefore change the parameters of the statistics.

This change to Statistics NZ is of considerable benefit to the National government. Their policies have consistently failed to reduced unemployment in a meaningful way.

The perception is that “strings have been pulled”; “whispers made into certain ears”; and Ministers’ expectations made clear to certain senior civil servants.

If all this is true, this would have to be one of the most under-hand things that National has done these last eight years. This would have to be one of the worst.

Aside from the fact that it is another in a long list of lies, bendy-truths, omissions, etc, this one is a wilful attempt to hide the consequences of their failing policies.

It was bad enough when Stats NZ defined being “employed” as;

Employed: people in the working-age population who, during the reference week, did one of the following:

* worked for one hour or more for pay or profit in the context of an employee/employer relationship or self-employment

* worked without pay for one hour or more in work which contributed directly to the operation of a farm, business, or professional practice owned or operated by a relative

If working one hour, without pay, is the minimum measure of being “employed”, then what must our true rate of unemployment actually be?

As much as possible, I deal with facts in my writing. But when supposedly independent, non-partisan, ostensibly-accurate data-collection and presentation is no longer a true reflection of reality, then we have reached a point where I am dealing in assumptions, half-facts, and outright distortions.

This government has done what few other Western democracies have achieved; a state of Orwellianism that Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, and other dictatorships required unrelenting brute force to achieve.

When it comes to National, believe nothing; question everything. Misinformation is policy.

Welcome – to National’s “Brighter Future”.

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National-Party-Holds-Conference-Wellington-sJ7OyG8uc6Yl

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Note: Some parts of this story are an excerpt from a previous blogpost,  Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics.

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References

TVNZ: Q+A – Police Association president steps down

Radio NZ: English admits maths error in bill veto defence

Beehive.govt.nz: Offences at 24-year low, crime down for third year running

NZ Herald: Crime rate falls to 29-year low

NZ Herald:  Police made burglaries vanish

NZ Herald:  Two-year search for ‘ghost crimes’ truth

NZ Herald:  Police deny being caught out by false review claims

NZ Herald: Warnings to petty crims ‘freeing up police time’

Radio NZ: Police concerned at national crime spike

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – Police concerned at national crime spike (audio)

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Revisions to labour market estimates

Careersnz: Job hunting tips

Work and Income: Where to look

Fairfax media: Wellington jobs advertised on Seek up 11 per cent over past year

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Definitions

Other Blogposts

Polity: English canards

The Daily Blog: To make the unemployment stats drop, Government now claims anyone looking for jobs on the internet isn’t unemployed

The Standard: The great big list of John Key’s big fat lies (UPDATED)

The Standard: “Post-truth” politics (and false equivalences)

Previous related blogposts

John Key’s “pinch of salt” style of telling the truth

National – self-censoring embarrassing statements?

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

Media stories of the Week: Police Commissioner Mike Bush on dubious police practices

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

The Mendacities of Mr Key # 16: The sale of Kiwibank eight years in the planning?

That was Then, This is Now #28 – John Key on transparency

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dilbert_made_up_numbers

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 3 July 2016.

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= fs =

Success for National Govt – new bank opens!

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In 2002, the Labour-Alliance Coalition gave us a new bank;

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Kiwibank_Logo_Wide

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This year, National’s policies (or lack of) delivered us this new bank;

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New foodbank opens in New Lynn - Radio NZ - Generation Ignite - John Campbell

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Nothing quite spells “success”  like a new Food Bank opening in a community near you.

Listen to John Campbell interviewing Jo Noema on her foodbank project, “Generation Ignite“. Truly a remarkable New Zealander.

Generous people like Jo are the reason that disadvantaged, impoverished families are able to survive. They are doing what well-paid, well-resourced National Ministers are tasked to  do, but are failing miserably.

When John Key promised us a “Brighter Future”, I don’t think this  is quite  what we were anticipating.

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References

Radio NZ: New foodbank opens in New Lynn

Additional

Facebook: Generation Ignite

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Dear Leader John Key sitting on his hands - Tremain

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on11 June 2016.

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= fs =

Letter to the editor – homelessness, class eugenics, and middle class sensibilities

11 June 2016 2 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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The first three paragraphs are brilliant. The next three are a descent into the depths of wilful human blindness. It is tragic how many people feel this way…

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letter to the editor - homelessness - class eugenics - russell vant

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… as if the right to have a family and raise children to be good citizens of this country  is now the sole privilege of the affluent.

So I replied, with my thoughts;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: The Wellingtonian <editor@thewellingtonian.co.nz>
date: Sat, Jun 4, 2016
subject:Letter to the editor

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The editor

The Wellingtonian

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Russell Vant’s first three paragraphs of his letter, on homelessness, conveyed the true spirit of Kiwi generosity. (26 May)

But his last three paragraphs appears to make a subtle argument for what can only be described as class eugenics; the elimination of undesirables from society for economic reasons.

Mr Vant demands, “at what point does the collective have a say in the reproductive process, coming together to work out how many children our society can adequately support”?

It is a chilling suggestion that our “reproductive processes” should be pre-determined and enforced like some Kiwi version of China’s one-child policy.

Perhaps his idea is more targetted at a specific group in our society? Not Jews – this time it’s poor families. The suggestion that poor people shouldn’t “breed” because of their financial circumstances is not uncommon.

It is a naive, simplistic response to low incomes and growing poverty since the neo-liberal revolution in 1984.

Addressing the real causes of income/wealth disparity is a complex process. That is no reason to make scapegoats out of those who have been crushed by the cold invisible hand of the so-called “free” market.

The day New Zealand allows only the affluent to raise a family is not a day I want to live to see.

.-Frank Macskasy

[address and phone number supplied]

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halloween trickle down - what could go wrong

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 June 2016.

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= fs =

Letter to Radio NZ – Homelessness, Poverty, and the Final Solution

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Morning Report <morningreport@radionz.co.nz>
date: Wed, May 18, 2016
subject: Homelessness and the Final Solution

Kia ora Suzie & Guyon,

I’ve been hearing some of your listeners making comments that the homeless should not have children.

In effect, what they are doing is blaming the poorest in society for their predicament. Really? When did the poor ever decide economic policy in this country?

What those correspondents are saying is only the well-off should have children.

The only question that remains to be answered is what do working families do when they are made redundant and end up in garages or cars with their children – what method do your correspondents advocate to euthenase those children?

Because that is what they’re advocating; a Final Solution for the Poor.

– Frank Macskasy

 

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= fs =

National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

5 March 2016 4 comments

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Recently obtained OIA figures from the Ministry of Social Development reveal that 836 schools currently participate in the Kickstart food-in-schools programme. The programme began in 2009, between Fonterra and Sanitarium, to address a growing child poverty crisis.

According  to MSD’s data, over 100,000 breakfasts  are served to 27,061 children on a weekly basis.

This is in stark contrast to John Key’s claims on 5 November 2014, that hungry children in schools was only a minor problem;

“I do not believe that the number of children who go to decile 1 to 4 schools who do not have lunch is 15 percent. I have asked extensively at the decile 1, 2, 3, and 4 schools I have been to. Quite a number of principals actually even reject the notion that they need breakfast in schools. Those who do take breakfasts in schools tell me that for the odd child who does not have lunch, they either give them some more breakfast or provide them with lunch. But what they have said to me is that the number of children in those schools who actually require lunch is the odd one or two.”

The odd one or two” is contradicted by the ministry’s own figures which states that from 13 December 2013, “more than 5.9 million breakfasts  have been served since expansion“.

This would tally from Key’s own admission, on 18 October 2011, that poverty in New Zealand was continuing to worsen under his administration;

Mr Key made the concession yesterday when asked about progress with the underclass, saying it depended what measures were used but recessions tended to disproportionately affect low income earners and young people.

He said he had visited a number of budgeting services and food banks “and I think it’s fair to say they’ve seen an increase in people accessing their services. So that situation is there.”

National expanded the Kickstart programme in May 2013, in response to growing public disquiet and clamour to address the spectacle of children turning up hungry in our schools. It was also in response to Hone Harawira’s  Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill (aka, “Feed the Kids” Bill), which had been included six months earlier in the private member’s ballot system.

As Harawira explained in May 2014,

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"I know this bill isn't the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa. "All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done."

I know this bill isn’t the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa.
“All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done.”

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National’s subsequent, watered down programme to feed hungry children was derided by then-Labour leader, David Shearer;

“National’s been dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line on this. It’s only through public pressure and the pressure of Opposition parties like the Labour Party that’s got them there. But overall, it’s good for those kids who go to school hungry.”

In June 2013, then Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, assured Radio NZ that only another hundred schools would take up the expanded Kickstart programme.

By the beginning of 2014, the programme was expanded to include all decile 1 to 10 primary, intermediate, and secondary schools.

However, MSD’s Deputy Chief Executive, Murray Edridge,  revealed that there had been a “47 per cent  increase since the expansion of the programme” in 2013;

“82 per cent of all participating schools are now providing KickStart breakfasts for more than two days per week and 58 per cent of schools are serving breakfasts for all five days of the week.”

This is at variance with Key’s assertions – made as late as 19 March last year – that hungry children going to school was not a problem. In minimising the problem, Key said;

“These are the facts,” Mr Key said. “At Te Waiu o Ngati Porou School, Ruatoria, Decile one, how many children came to school without lunch – answer – zero.”

At Sylvia Park School, decile two – there one or two kids, and at Manurewa Intermediate, a decile one school with a roll of 711, perhaps 12 had gone to school with no lunch.

Yes there is an issue where some children come to school without lunch. That number of children is relatively low.”

The rise in demand for KickStart breakfasts occurred at the same time as those on  welfare benefits was cut dramatically;

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said today the 309,145 people on benefit at the end of the December 2014 quarter was 12,700 fewer than last year.

“This is the lowest December quarter since 2008 and the third consecutive quarter with such record lows,” Tolley says.

Numbers on the Jobseeker Support benefit had fallen by more than 5500 since last year and had declined consistently since 2010, even as the overall working age population increased.

Even children with disabilities did not escaped this government’s culling of welfare recipients;

More than 11,000 disabled children have lost access to a welfare benefit that is supposed to support them, as officials try to rein in previously-ballooning costs.

A Child Poverty Action Group report on disabled children, launched in Auckland today, said children supported by the child disability allowance almost trebled from 17,600 in 1998 to 45,800 in 2009, but were then cut back to just 34,500 last June.

The cut has been achieved both by tightening criteria and by simply not publicising the allowance.

The problem of hungry school children drew John Key’s attention as far back as 2007, when he was still Leader of the Opposition;

National launches its Food in Schools programme
Sunday, 4 February 2007, 1:21 pm
Press Release: New Zealand Government

John Key MP
National Party Leader

3 February 2007

National launches its Food in Schools programme

National Party Leader John Key has announced the first initiative in what will be a National Food in Schools programme.

“National is committed to providing practical solutions to the problems which Helen Clark says don’t exist,” says Mr Key.

During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.

Mr Key has since received an approach from Auckland-based company Tasti foods.

“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.

“We’re putting Tasti and Wesley Primary together. This is a fantastic first step. In addition to this, Tasti has indicated they may wish to expand their generous donation of food to other schools in need, and we’ll be looking to facilitate that.

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”

Mr Key is also inviting other businesses to contact National so it can work on expanding the programme.

“I want this to be the first of many schools and businesses that we put together. I’m interested in what works and I am humbled by the support this idea has received already. We are going to put together the package while in Opposition. We are not waiting to be in Government, because all our kids deserve better.”

According to National,  this was a critical problem in 2007.

Yet, on 19 March, National and it’s coalition supporters voted down Mana’s “Feed the Kids” Bill (which had been taken over by the Green Party after Hone Harawira lost his Te Tai Tokerau seat in 2014). The Bill was defeated 61 to 59, courtesy of National, ACT, and Peter Dunne.

MSD also disclosed that 26 applications for participation in the KickStart programme had been declined. This included Early Childhood Education (ECE) providers. No reason was given despite the OIA request specifically asking the basis for which applications were declined.

This indicates that pre-schoolers are presently attending ECE facilities and going hungry.

The MSD also admitted that Charter Schools – which are funded at a higher rate than State and Integrated Schools – also participate in the KickStart programme. Their information did not reveal how many or which Charter Schools were participating. The MSD statement confirmed that “the provision of the [KickStart] programme  does not affect a school’s funding“.

Kidscan currently lists fourteen schools that are still awaiting “urgent support, that’s 1,661 children waiting for food, clothing and basic healthcare“.

In contrast, several European nations provide free meals to school children;

The school lunch provides an important opportunity for learning healthy habits, and well-balanced school meals have been linked to improved concentration in class, better educational outcomes and fewer sick days. Given the importance of these meals, what is being done across Europe to ensure all children have a balanced and enjoyable lunch?

Many countries in Europe have policies to help schools provide nutritionally balanced meals which also reflect the general eating culture of each nation. Often, lunch is eaten in a cafeteria-like setting where children receive food from a central service point (e.g. Finland, Sweden and Italy).

In Finland and Sweden, where all school meals are fully funded by the government, lunches follow national dietary guidelines including the ‘plate model’. An example meal is presented to guide children’s self-service…

Finland – which consistently scores highly in OECD PISA educational rankings – introduced free school meals in 1948;

Finland was the first country in the world to serve free school meals. 1948 is seen as being the year when free school catering really  started, though catering activities on a smaller scale had been around since the beginning of the 20th century.

[…]

Section 31 of the Basic Education Act states that pupils attending school must be provided with a properly organised and supervised,  balanced meal free of charge every school day.

[…]

The role of school meals is to be a pedagogical tool to teach good nutrition and eating habits as well as to increase consumption of  vegetables, fruits and berries, full corn bread and skimmed or low fat milk.

Interestingly, the Finns describe free school meals as an Investment in Learning;

In Finland, we are proud of our long history of providing free school meals…

… A good school meal is an investment in the future.

With rising housing and rental costs, and wage increases  at or below inflation, not every family can successfully balance budgets to ensure a nutritious meal for their children. When it comes to a decision whether to pay the power bill, or cut back on groceries for the week – it is often the latter that is sacrificed.

The Salvation  Army recently  outlined the problem of the phenomenon known as the “working poor“;

Every week 314 new people contact the Salvation Army for assistance, and those who are currently working are often at risk too.

[…]

The Salvation Army says it is meeting more and more responsible people who have experienced misfortune that has derailed their lives.

It believes the cost of rent is a dangerous factor, even for those working.

“It doesn’t leave a lot of room for something to go wrong,” says Jason Dilger, a representative for the Salvation Army. “I do believe there are a significant number of people out there who are vulnerable.”

It says an increasing number of Kiwis are living pay-by-pay, but ideally everyone would have a financial safety net set aside to help with any unexpected hiccups.

“So many people aren’t even in a position to think that way because they’re just trying to meet expenses week to week.”

In a 2014 report, the Salvation Army stated;

Given the recent growth in the number of jobs available and the gradual decline in levels of unemployment, we should have seen a  tapering off in demand for food parcels from food banks. We have not seen this. Such demand has remained virtually unchanged since 2010, which suggests that many households are still struggling to pay bills and feed their family despite the economy recovery. Overall living costs of low income households appear to be moving in line with general inflation.

Which illustrates that the problems faced by poor, lowly-paid, and beneficiary families is not choices in expenditure – but low incomes which fail to meet the many day-to-day, week-to-week, demands placed on them.

From the 1950s through to the  1970s, a single income was often sufficient to raise a family and pay the bills.

In contemporary New Zealand, this is no longer the case. Falling rates of home-ownership is just one indicator that incomes are not keeping pace with rising costs of living.

Growing child poverty is another symptom of the increase in inequality since the mid-1980s. Prior to the 1980s, food banks were practically an unknown rarity;

Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999).” – “Hard to swallow – Foodbank Usage in NZ”, Child Poverty Action Group, 2005

Shifting responsibility for this ever-growing problem onto  victims of inequality and poverty is a form of denial. It is little more an attempt to evade the problem, especially when no practical solutions (other than class-based eugenics) are offered.

Addressing the real causes of poverty and working-poor will be a tough call. Ensuring that all children are provided nutritious meals at school is the first step down this road.

As John Key said nine years ago;

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.

… all our kids deserve better.”

Indeed, John. I couldn’t have said it better.

Postscript

The MSD response to my OIA request also confirmed that the increased up-take of the KickStart programme was not restricted solely to low-decile schools;

Since the expansion [in 2013] 170 schools rated decile five or higher have joined the programme.

Which indicates that schools in middle-class areas are now requiring State assistance to feed hungry children.

 

 

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References

Email: OIA Response from Ministry of Social Development

Kickstart Programme: Home

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – November 5

Scoop media: Hone Harawira – Feed the Kids Bill

NZ Herald: Harawira’s ‘feed the kids’ bill begins first reading

Radio NZ: Govt gives $9.5m to expand food in schools programme

Radio NZ: Government to expand food in schools programme (audio)

Kickstart Programme: FAQ

NZ Herald:  Government votes down ‘feed the kids’ bill

Radio NZ: Parliament rejects free school lunch bills

Fairfax media: Beneficiary numbers fall again: Government

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme

Radio NZ: Ministry says charter schools “over-funding” is $888,000

Kidscan: Supporting Schools

European Food Information Council: School lunch standards in Europe

Wikipedia: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – 2012

NZ Federation of Family Budgetting: Why are so many of us struggling financially?

Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand

Additional

Fightback: Feed the Kids, end the hunger system

NZ Herald: Number of Kiwi kids in poverty jumps by 60,000

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

Once were warm hearted

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 February 2016.

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Letter to the Editor – Rightwinger caught out parroting his own garbage

9 January 2016 7 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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From the NZ Herald, ex-ACT leader Jamie Whyte had his usual Right wing nonsense about “no real poverty in New Zealand“;

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Jamie Whyte - Poverty statistics suffer from paucity of common sense

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… and the usual cliches, prejudices, and other garbage spouted by a man who has little inkling what poverty is like, and how it crushes the human spirit.

Then came this startling revelation;

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Jamie Whyte defends 'self-plagiarism' claim

 

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To which I replied with  this letter-to-the-editor;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Fri, Jan 8, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
NZ Herald

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Regarding former ACT-leader, Jamie Whyte’s self-plagiarism (“Jamie Whyte: Poverty statistics suffer from paucity of common sense”, 7 January) – the fact he re-used a ten year old piece he’d written previously, and simply changed a few key identifiers, speaks volumes about his view on poverty.

It implies that he is not so much interested in looking at the facts and data, as simply re-stating his prejudices. His use of two boys (10-year-olds “Jimmy” and “Timmy”) who are inter-changeable between Britain and New Zealand, implies that his examples are made up fantasies, plucked from his imagination, and little else.

The real problem here is that after thirty years, the Right cannot admit that poverty exists in New Zealand. Nor that it has increased since the late 1980s.

To do so would be a tacit admission of failure, and that the whole “trickle down” notion is a fraud.

That is why the Right will argue, like AGW skeptics, that poverty exists.

Because to admit it, the next question must logically follow: what to do about it.

-Frank Macskasy

 

 

[address and phone number supplied]

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References

NZ Herald: Jamie Whyte – Poverty statistics suffer from paucity of common sense

NZ Herald: Jamie Whyte defends ‘self-plagiarism’ claim

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Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act

7 December 2015 2 comments

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official-information-act-OIA-NZ

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A formal complaint has been laid with the Ombudsman’s Office after Education Minister, Hekia Parata, failed to comply with the Official Information Act.

A OIA request was lodged with the Minister’s Office by this blogger, seeking details of National’s Food In Schools programme, which was announced in May 2013. The limited programme, costed at $9.5 million, offered low decile 1-4 schools free milk and Weet-Bix throughout the school week. It would be run in conjunction with Fonterra, Sanitarium and children’s charity KidsCan.

The $9.5 million would be spread over a five year period, from 2013 to 2018.

More critically for National, the expanded “Kick Start” breakfast programme was promoted to directly counter Hone Harawira’s more comprehensive Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill which at the time was rapidly gaining traction throughout the country.

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food in schools

 

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ

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Mana Party leader and then-MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira, said on 24 January, 2013;

It’s a pretty simple bill really. Invest in making sure the 80,000 kids going to school hungry each week are fed and ready to learn and realise the benefits in better educated and healthier school leavers down the track”.

In Parliament, Harawira was clear on the benefits of his Food in Schools Bill;

It is nice to know that KidsCan feeds some 10,000 of them on most days, and that the KickStart Breakfast programme feeds about 12,000 a day, but the reality is that even with the Government’s announcement in last year’s Budget, nearly 80,000 children are still going to school hungry in Aotearoa every single day. Yes, schools around the country have started their own breakfast clubs with support from teachers, students, parents, local businesses, and the wider community, but they tell us that it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of goodwill to keep them going, and that having secure funding would be a godsend.

The really embarrassing thing is that nearly every country in the OECD, apart from us, already runs programmes to feed kids at school. Some countries like Finland and Sweden provide fully State-funded meals to every school student as part of a wider framework of child well-being. It is a commitment that sees them regularly top the international surveys in child health and educational achievement. Some countries provide free meals to kids with parents on low incomes, and others provide free meals to schools in areas of high deprivation. But although the approaches differ, they all share the same view, backed up by the same kind of research and information from teachers, doctors, nurses, and policy analysts that is available to us here: kids need a good feed every day if they are to develop into healthy and well-educated adults. New Zealand really needs to join the rest of the enlightened world and make a commitment to feeding our kids, starting with those in greatest need, to help them to grow well and learn well.

Harawira’s Bill was supported by a range of diverse groups and individuals ranging from Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, the NZ Educational Institute, as well as Child Poverty Action Group, Every Child Counts, Unicef NZ, Save the Children, IHC, Poverty Action Waikato, the Methodist and Anglican Churches (Methodist Public Issues and Anglican Action), Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora (Māori Women’s Welfare League), PPTA, NZ Principals’ Federation, CTU Rūnanga, the NZ Nurses’ Organisation, and Te Ora – the Māori Medical Practitioners’ Association.

Harawira’s Bill was estimated to cost upwards of $100 million.

This contrasts with the  Children Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, which reported in December 2012 that the total economic costs of child poverty ranged up to $8 billion;

Currently, the economic costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 billion per year
and considerable sums of public money are spent annually on remedial interventions. Failure
to alleviate child poverty now will damage the nation’s long-term prosperity. It will also
undermine the achievement of other important policy priorities, such as reducing child abuse,
lifting educational attainment and improving skill levels.

In July 2013, Herald journalist, Kate Shuttleworth, reported;

In December 2012 the Expert Advisory Group on solutions to Child Poverty – a group comprising policy, public health and law experts – recommended that a food programme starting with decile 1-to-4 primary and intermediate schools, be implemented as one of their six initial priorities for immediate release.

[…]

Figures show 270,000 children in New Zealand – one in four – live in poverty.

Dennis McKinlay, Chairman of ‘Every Child Counts‘,  stated that 169 countries had a food in schools programme.

Shockingly, the Bill was eventually defeated in a Parliamentary vote of 61 votes to 59, with ACT and Peter Dunne also voting against it. The New Zealand government spends billions on school infra-structure, but not to feed hungry school-children from poverty-stricken families.

On 27 October, this blogger lodged a OIA request with Education minister, Hekia Parata. The request sought answers to the following;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

By 12 November, after no response or even an acknowledgement, this blogger wrote again to Minister Parata;

On 27 October, I lodged this OIA request with your office. I have recieved no reply or even an acknowledgement.

Please advice whether or not you intend to respond to my OIA request. If not, I will proceed by laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

As at 29 November, no response had been forthcoming from the Minister’s office, and a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman’s Office. As this blogger pointer out in the complaint;

I do not believe it is satisfactory that a Minister of the Crown wilfully ignores the law and fails to follow her obligations under the Official Information Act.

Readers of The Daily Blog will be kept updated as this issue progresses.

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Addendum1

Parata has apparently “gone to ground” on this issue. It is not the first time she failed failed to respond to media enquiries; requests for interviews; or fronted at events for which she has direct responsibility.

From a blogpost published on 18 January 2013;

Muppet #1 – Hekia Parata

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I actually think she’s a very effective communicator; in fact if you look at her history in politics, she’s been one of the smoothest communicators we’ve actually had.” – John Key, 18 January 2013

See: Parata safe in her job – Key

Prime Minister John Key says Education Minister Hekia Parata will be safe in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, … because she is hugely talented and one of National’s best communicators.

See: Parata’s job safe in shuffle

*snort!*

I’d be a happy chappy if the Nats DID have more like her in Cabinet!!

If she’s one of the Nat’s “best communicators”, I’d luv to know why she’s kept ducking calls for media interviews and instead sent Lesley Longstone to cover for Parata’s f**k-ups,

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2 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (2)

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3 October 2012

Ministry of Education admits some errors in data

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4 October 2012

Education Minister avoids her critics

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26 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (3)

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29 October 2013

Longstone challenged to find solutions

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14 November 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (1)

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28 November 2012

lesley longstone Schools still beset by Novopay problems

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When Lesley Longstone’s resignation was announced last year on 19 December, Hekia Parata was still nowhere to be seen. The announcement was handled by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie (see:  Education secretary quits),

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19 December 2012

lesley longstone Education secretary quits

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20 December 2012

lesley longstone Parata, Key refuse to front over education debacle

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Parata’s office explained why she couldn’t front,

Parata is currently on holiday and has refused to front on Longstone’s resignation, but in a statement released this afternoon she thanked Longstone for her efforts in leading the Ministry.

See: Education Ministry boss quits after ‘strained relationship’

Hmmmm, judging by Parata not fronting for most of last year, was she on holiday for most of 2012?!

“Smooth communicator…”!?

Ye gods, this deserves a Tui billboard.

Roll on 2013 – it’s going to be a great year.

Addendum2

In January 2013, Hekia Parata’s responsibilities surrounding Novopay were transferred to Minister For Everything, Steven Joyce. Joyce was not above publicly denouncing those responsible for the Novopay debacle;

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government-sticking-with-novopay-for-now

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References

Kickstart Breakfast Programme

Radio NZ: Food in schools ‘could get good results’

Feedthekids: Support grows for MANA’s Feed the Kids Bill

Parliament: Harawira, Hone: Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Feedthekids: Feed the Kids Bill a “good initiative” – Jamie Oliver Food Foundation

NZEI: Food in schools bill will help children learn

NZ Herald: Food in schools bill delayed for second time

Commissioner for Children:  Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty

NZ Herald: Head boy disappointed in Dunne over food bill

ODT: Joyce to take on handling of Novopay

Every Child Counts

Radio NZ: Government sticking with Novopay for now

Previous related blogposts

Parata, Bennett, and Collins – what have they been up to?

Karma for Key?

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The hypocrisy from world leaders overCharlie begins to rattle observers. NZ's John Key's words of January 8 in particular raised many eyebrows amongst the'4th Estate'. Rod Emmerson 14/01/15

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 December 2015.

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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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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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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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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!

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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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An unfortunate advertising placement, child poverty, and breathing air

2 September 2015 6 comments

 

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mike hosking - simon collins - 300000 plus kiwi kids now in relative poverty - nz herald

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I was reading Simon Collins’ piece on child poverty in the Herald, and a small advert caught my eye… (See image above)

I’m not sure if Mike Hosking wants to be associated with our mounting child poverty crisis. It’s simply not his style. More accurately, it makes people like him feel queasy and uncomfortable. Rich people don’t like feeling uncomfortable – that is what wealth is supposed to eliminate. It reminds Hosking, and others like him, that whilst he is enjoying their wealth, others are surviving their poverty.

That sticks in his mind, deep down, somewhere, in the places where his parents tried to instill values of fairness in him when he was a child. That makes him resentful.

That is why the affluent; the rich; the powerful; the Comfortable Classes,  hate the poor so much. Otherwise, why do they invest so much time writing so defensively and caustically, when a blogger like Chloe King airs her views, in defence of the poor and the powerless? What is Chloe King to them?

Why bother?

Because they feel guilty.

Especially when she reminds them why they should be feeling guilty.

When  Mike Hosking made his views on child poverty perfectly clear on 9 April;

“Children cost money. If you can’t afford it, don’t have them. It’s not hard.”

– he was in full vengeful retaliation mode.

This was Mike Hosking – mouthpiece for the Comfortable Class – sheeting blame for poverty to the victims who have to endure it.

It would be like the victims of the Great Depression being blamed for being out of work; no money; and relying on soup kitchens to survive each day.

Now, when I was young, growing up, we lived off my dad’s sole income; mum stayed home and herded us kids. Dad’s income paid for the mortgage, food, power (a bill once every two months!), fuel for the car (an American  gas-guzzling, noisy, metal beast that I swear was a reincarnated T29 Soviet tank  in a former life), insurance, doctor’s visits (medicine was free – remember that?), and even a camping holiday to Taupo or somesuch place. We weren’t rich by any means. But dad’s income was sufficient for the things that average Kiwi families enjoyed.

And funnily enough, we didn’t need mass consumerism or seven day shopping and other such nonsense to get by.

The point is this; not being able to “afford kids” is like telling someone they are not worthy to breathe the air or drink water.

When did an act of nature become dictated by the amount of money a person had? Especially in New Zealand – a country  once upon a time we thought to be egalitarian?!

If our fellow New Zealanders “can’t afford” to have children, I suggest it’s not the cost of having children that is the problem. It is the inadequart income being earned by New Zealanders that is the core problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) here.

In his article, Simon Collins presented two charts showing the growth (or lack thereof) of incomes since 1982;

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Table1

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Table2.

Notice how incomes for the lowest paid have stayed low – even after Working for Familes was introduced in 2004? The lowest ten percent have moved from $15,400 to $17,700. Last year, they failed to be counted as Collins pointed out;

The report does not include figures for the poorest 10 per cent of households, who include most beneficiaries, because the names of benefits changed in 2013 and some beneficiaries appear to have reported only how much they received since the new benefit names were created, missing out their incomes for the first half of the 2013-14 year.

Very convenient for the government, no?

Meanwhile, the top ten percent have increased their income by fifty percent, from $50,200 in 1982 to $75,400, last year.

Let’s be clear here. When right-wing ‘pundits’ and cheerleaders for the rich deride the poor for having children, this is barely-coded moralism and victim-blaming.

It is attempting to paint the poor as suffering “deeply flawed character”, almost to a DNA-level.

In fact, many right-wingers openly refer to welfare recipients as “inter-generational”; the subtle nod to ‘bad DNA’ being made without recourse to the more clumsy eugenics policies of you-know-who.

By blaming the poor for the temerity to have children, the Right shift the blame and deflect attention from the real question; why are people so poor that they cannot afford to raise a family as we used to, before the advent of Rogernomics?

Is it because, since 1986, Baby Boomers have voted seven tax cuts for themselves?

Is it because, as taxes were cut, GST was introduced and increased, as was user-pays in areas such as education?

Is it because simple things like medicine has gone from being free – to five dollars for each item?

Is it because trade unions are no longer able to advocate for their members, and wages have not kept pace with productivity, as this chart from the New York Times showed for US workers (and most likely applies here as well)?

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Yes. All of the above, and more.

The next time a right winger is ranting on about the “breeding poor”, remember that what they are really trying to say is;

… it’s their fault they are poor; they are unfit humans. Their bank accounts prove it.

… it’s not my fault I’m paying less tax than my counterparts did, thirty years ago. I just voted for it.

… only the Comfortable Class should breed. For we are superior because we have the moral fortitude (and good genes) to make money and keep it.

… don’t bother me about the poor. I’m trying to enjoy my Beluga caviar and Bollingers, thank you, without being reminded…

Well, too bad.

We will continue to remind you.

Don’t choke on your bolly.

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Create a society that values material things above all else. Strip it of industry. Raise taxes for the poor and reduce them for the rich and for corporations. Prop up failed financial institutions with public money. Ask for more tax, while vastly reducing public services. Put adverts everywhere, regardless of people’s ability to afford the things they advertise. Allow the cost of food and housing to eclipse people’s ability to pay for them. Light blue touch paper.” –  Andrew Maxwell, Irish comedian

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References

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

The Daily Blog: Now we got bad blood – being poor in a rich world

Newstalk ZB: Mike’s Editorial – The cost of a child

NY Times: Bill Marsh/The New York Times
Sources: Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley; “The State of Working America” by the Economic Policy Institute; Thomas Piketty

Previous related blogposts

When the teflon is stripped away

Mike Hosking as TVNZ’s moderator for political debates?! WTF?!

Mike Hosking – Minister for War Propaganda?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 August 2015.

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Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

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260,000 kiwi kids live in poverty

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When the so-called “reforms” of Roger Douglas – lovingly referred to as  “rogernomics” – swept the country; privatising publicly owned assets; cutting state services; introducing user-pays; down-sizing the state sector; closing post offices in small towns and large cities; and witnessing the wide-spread creation of Food Banks for the first time since The Great Depression, we were told that the restructuring of our economy would pay off with a higher standard of living.

Instead, we ended up with this;

It is not only the government’s figures that reveal alarming levels of poverty. On top of the surge in demand for Income  Support grants is an explosion in food bank usage. Food banks have been described as the most visible face  of poverty in New Zealand. They are the only banks we now own. Only a few food banks existed before National’s election in 1990 on the hollow promise of a ‘Decent Society’. The first food bank in Auckland appeared in 1980, although researcher Adrian Whale noted in a 1993 thesis that throughout the 1980s, food banks were ‘predominantly small scale appendages to welfare services offered by city missions and other voluntary organisations’. But in the early 1990s, food banks established a ‘significant presence among the range of welfare providers in the community’. At least 70 percent of food requests to the Salvation Army  in 1992 were to support families with children. Figures from Presbyterian Support Services show that the number of food banks in the Auckland metropolitan area grew from 16 in 1980 to 130 in 1994.” – Mike Moore, “Children of the Poor”, 1996

Ten years ago, the Child Poverty Action Group reported;

Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999).” – “Hard to swallow – Foodbank Usage in NZ”, Child Poverty Action Group, 2005

In December, last year, the Waikato Times published a story on the growing need for foodbanks in their community. One particular comment stood out;

Humphry has worked with the Christian Combined foodbank for “so many years I can’t remember when I started”, but remembers when it opened in 1998.

“I can’t remember who the prime minister was at the time, but someone [from the prime minister’s office] came and opened the foodbank [in Hamilton] and I remember he said, ‘This will only be a short-term thing, people will only need the foodbank for a few months’.”

If the free market “reforms” of the 1980s and 1990s were such a success, one has to ask the obvious question; why do food banks still exist?

Mike Moore was correct when he pointed out nearly twenty years ago; “Food banks have been described as the most visible face  of poverty in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s poverty – like our domestic violence and child abuse – is best done privately, behind closed doors, and out of sight. The middle classes get queasy at the sight of poverty.

Little wonder that when Bryan Bruce’s sobering documentary, Inside NZ: Child Poverty was broadcast in November 2011, it raised a howl of furious indignation (mostly from the Right) that the election had been “politicised”.

Bryan Bruce reminded us just how far we had come, in the last few decades;

I’m a baby boomer. I went to primary school in the late 50’s when they gave us free milk, free health care and a free education. In those days, Kiwi’s were able to boast that New Zealand was a great place to bring up kids. So when I learned that we’d dropped to number 28 on the list of 30 OECD countries for child well being, with just Mexico and Turkey behind us, I decided to find out what’s gone wrong and what we have to do to fix it.”

Someone in history (the actual utterer remains uncertain) once said of the poor who could not afford to buy bread;

“Let them eat cake.”

Today, in 21st Century New Zealand, it is more like;

“Let them drink coke.”

It certainly is cheaper, as my trip to a local supermarket on 29 June demonstrated;

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Pak n Save (1)

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One of the most common moralistic exhortations by the Right is that the poor should be able to feed themselves and their families. They just need to “budget more prudently”.

Well, at 95 cents per 1.5L bottle of soft-drink, the poor have a much cheaper alternative than the more pricey (and healthier) option of milk.

It’s just a shame it will probably kill them through obesity-related diseases.

Is this what Roger Douglas really intended for his country, back in 1984?

There are six policy reforms which, if carried out, would go a long way to reversing the ingrained poverty caused by forty years of a failed free-market experiment;

1. Reverse the 1991 benefit cuts. This would allow the poorest families in New Zealand to at the very least buy milk instead of teeth-rotting soft-drinks, and turn the heaters on in winter.

2. Take GST of basic foods – fruit, vegetables, bread, milk, meat, fish, et al.

3. Raise the minimum wage to the Living Wage ($19.25/hr). The increase in take-home pay would be a boon to low-income families, as well as benefitting businesses throughout the country, as expenditure increased. As business turn-over increased; they would hire more people; leading to less paid in welfare, and more paid to the State in PAYE tax (helping Bill English finally balance those pesky fiscal books).

4. Implement Hone Harawira’s ‘Food in Schools’ Bill immediatly. Well-fed children learn better; succeed better; and contribute to society much better.  If our Scandinavian cuzzies can do it, so can we.

5. Build more State houses, and stop flogging them off to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who comes knocking on Bill English’s door.

6. Free healthcare for all children 13 and under.

Can we do it?

Of course we can. If we can implement radical policies that changed New Zealand from a Fortress Economy (ex Muldoon) to one of the planet’s most open economies (ex Douglas) – then we can implement social policies that will make us a better, fairer, safer country.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

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References

Amazon: Children of the poor – How poverty could destroy New Zealand’s future

Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand

Waikato Times: Big demand puts pressure on foodbank

TV3: Inside Child Poverty – A Special Report

Additional

J R McKenzie Trust:  Child Poverty Monitor

NZ Council of Christian Social Services: Facts about poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 June 2015.

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Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches…

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child poverty graph 1982-2012

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One of the most constant cliches spouted by the naive; the well-meaning; and down-right simple-minded Right, is that the poor should be able to supplement their income by growing their own food.

This tenants in this house, located  in one of Wellington’s inner suburbs, grew their own vegetables and raised chickens. The planter-boxes were well-tended, and were well-filled with a variety of vegetables.

One day, a couple of months ago, I noticed that the furniture in the house was gone and the sound of the chooks was no longer evident.

This is what the once well-tended vege-garden looks like now;

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poverty - untended vegetable garden

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Weeds have become the dominant plants in the garden;

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empty house and gardens (2)

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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.”

So said Herman Melville, author of ‘Moby Dick‘.

Lecturing the poor to grow their own food becomes a fatuous  exercise when the poor generally do not own their own homes, and are subject to eviction at whatever whim  takes the landlord. The tenants move on; the food is left behind; and goes to seed and rots.

When confronted with the problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) of poverty, the response from the well-meaning or politically deluded for the poor to produce their own food is little more than buck-passing. It is a barely-concealed attempt to salve their consciences by pointing the finger back at the poorest in our society, and blame them for their lot.

After all, if the poor are poor by their own lack of determination, then the rest of us don’t have to consider the problem at all. It’s their fault, not ours.

After all, why shouldn’t they be able to grow their own food?

They just need to buck their ideas up. And buy a house.

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Additional

J R McKenzie Trust:  Child Poverty Monitor

NZ Council of Christian Social Services: Facts about poverty in New Zealand

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 June 2015.

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“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

29 June 2015 7 comments

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anne tolley - corin dann - tvnz - q+a - poverty - ministry of development

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On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 21 June,  political reporter Corin Dann interviewed Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley. To describe the interview as pathetic would be generous.

To describe it as illustrative of how National views the poorest people of this country with barely-concealed disdain would be an understatement.

Tolley was former Minister of Corrections and Police, from 2011 to 2014.  Her crowning “achievement” was showing off  the destruction and compacting of a seized motor vehicle;

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Then Police Minister, Anne Tolley, triumphantly standing atop a crushed ‘boy racer’ car (with camera-carting media in attendance) – June 2012. (More)

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Her other “achievement” was over-seeing the awarding of a twentyfive year long contract to multi-national company, Serco, to manage the newly opened 960-bed Wiri Prison. That contract will sting tax-payers to the tune of $900 million – almost a billion  tax-dollars over quarter of a century.

Tolley’s latest ministerial ‘gig’  is to hold the portfolio of Minister for Social Development.

Last year, two year old old Emma-Lita Bourne died last year from a brain haemorrhage. Emma-Lita had been suffering from a pneumonia-like illness in the final days of her short, misery-filled, life, leading up to her death.

In a coronial  inquest, Coroner Brandt Shortland concluded;

“I am of the view the condition of the house at the time being cold and damp during the winter months was a contributing factor to her health status.”

Corin Dann pointedly asked Tolley about Emma-Lita’s  death;

@ 6.35 –

“Some would argue with the recent case, for example, with Emma-Lita Bourne who died in the state house, [a] damp house, why not just give those families more money to pay their power bill, rather than give the organisations money to come in and work and all the rest of it?”

Tolley responded;

@ 6.54 –

“And, and, when you look at something like Whanua Ora, they are doing some of that. See, see, what we’ve got with the focus on individual programmes and agencies working in silos, families don’t work like that. They’re very complex issues so if I don’t know the details of that particular family…”

Tolley admitted not knowing the details of that particular family!

Let’s re-cap;

  •  This was a family living in circumstances within her ministerial ambit.
  •  A child died from illness which the coroner has stated was, at the least, exacerbated, by her living conditions.

Any normal, rational  individual in a position of responsibility in such a situation would have called for a full report on the incident, as well as a copy of the coroner’s findings.

Yet, according to her own statement, Tolley has evidently not done so.

She does not  “know the details of that particular family”.

Dann suggested to the Minister “in charge” of Social Development that a solution would be to  provide heating for cold, damp State houses;

“One solution though, one solution at least is that the child, if there are children in that family, they get a guarantee of a warm house.”

Tolley’s response was dismissive, followed by bureacratic gobbledegook double-speak;

“Well, not necessarily. Not necessarily. Um, and, and, you can have a warm house that is completely enclosed, that is high moisture content, and you can have related illnesses to that as well.

So what I’m saying is, one part of that, you can solve one part of that. But actually all the other problems are going to continue. And what we’re trying to do is get, um, much more joined up work from the State agencies, but our focus [is] on actually changing the outcomes for those families.”

So, there you have it.

Heating cold, damp houses is “not necessarily” a solution.

But “joining up State agencies” will somehow provide the warmth to keep children out of hospitals.

This is ‘Pythonesque’ humour at it’s darkest and comes at the expense of sick and dying children.

No wonder Tolley made this eye-brow-raising comment a few minutes into the interview;

@3.40 –

“I liken it to National Standards.”

National Standards – another of National’s misguided, moronic, and messy experiments.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping comment from  Tolley also came at the very beginning of the interview, when she complained;

@ 0.40

“One of the main difficulties that we have is that we don’t know what works. We haven’t got good evidence. We haven’t got good data.”

There is good reason why we do not have “good evidence” and “good data” –  because former Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett did not want it;

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Measuring poverty line not a priority - Bennett

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Because having hard data on poverty means government having a measurable, defined problem dumped into its lap. And three years ago, Bennett was having none of that.

As Labour MP, Jacinda Ardern, said at the time;

“The message is clear. Either Paula Bennett doesn’t want to admit to the scale of the problem, or she is afraid of exposing her government’s lack of progress in fixing it.”

Bennett’s excuses ranged from this;

“One week they can be in poverty, then their parent can get a job or increase their income and they are no longer in poverty … This is the real world, and actually children move in and out of poverty at times on a weekly basis.”

… to parroting neo-liberal clap-trap like this on TVNZ’s Q+A, in November 2013;

“At the end of the day, what is going to make the biggest difference for child poverty, in my opinion and this government’s opinion, and it is tackling the tough stuff. That is long-term welfare dependence. It’s actually more jobs, yeah, so that’s business growth. It feels like to me that Labour’s more interested in welfare growth and not business growth, and as a consequence, are we ever going to agree on that? Probably not.”

… and finally, this garbled ‘gem’ for why she refused to measure child poverty, in the same interview;

“So why do an official measure that then by very definition still has, quite frankly, you know, it’s, sort of, wherever you put the measure, you’re always going to have people in poverty, because you’re taking a median income, taking housing prices off it, so there’s always going to be people- “

Hopefully Minister Tolley will read this and understand why the department she inherited from her predecessor (Paula Bennett) has no “good evidence” or “good data”.

As for solving the life-threatening problem of cold, damp houses that are killing our children – Tolley’s plans to ‘re-jig’ government departments  and NGOs will not heat one single house.

Not. One. House.

But it will result in more children becoming ill, and dying.

This is happening on your watch, Minister Tolley.

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Emma-Lita Bourne – 2012-2014

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 June 2015.

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References

TVNZ Q+A:  Revolutionary changes in store for social services (14:11)

Green Party: $900 million for empty beds

NZ Herald:  Ana Apatu – Disempowered living in poverty

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

NZ Herald: Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

TVNZ: Q+A – Paula Bennett interview

Additional

Bryan Bruce – Inside Child Poverty (2011)

Previous related blogposts

The law as a plaything

Random Thoughts on Random Things #3

John Key’s government – death by two cuts

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

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

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date: Tue, Jun 23, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
Sunday Star Times

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Prime Minister John Key has called on tenants of State houses to report cold, damp, neglected conditions of their homes. Key says;

“We want to make sure people get assistance. I mean I accept that there’s a lot of people and the Government’s record actually of improving those houses (has) been a strong one over the course of the last four or five years.

We’ve worked hard on trying to improve them. But I accept that some people are cold and some people have, you know, less resources and on the back of that they should definitely reach out for more help.” (Radio NZ, “More state housing action needed – English”, 23 June)

Mr Key seems unaware that government claims that Housing NZ has sufficient money to fix up delapidated properties is at variance with HNZ’s 2013/14 Annual Report which stated, in part;

The responsive repairs programme, which includes work on vacant properties, is dependent on demand, which was higher than expected in 2013/14. Consequently, the budget was overspent due to higher volumes of work orders. The average cost per work order was also higher as a result of more comprehensive repairs and upgrades being carried out on vacant properties. To mitigate this overspend, we deliberately reduced the planned maintenance programme, which decreased the percentage of maintenance spend on planned activity. [p28]

Part of the problem is that the National Government has demanded tens of millions of dollars in dividends from Housing NZ. This year alone, Housing NZ will pay $90 million to the government in dividends – money that could be better spent on maintaining run-down, leaking, mouldy, cold houses. Heating vouchers for the poorest families would also help alleviate illnesses like rheumatic fever.

That should be our esteemed Prime Minister’s first priority.

How many more children must die before this government acts?

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-Frank Macskasy

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[Address & phone number supplied]


 

References

Radio NZ:  More state housing action needed – English

Parliament: Hansards – Housing, Affordable – Progress and Management of Housing New Zealand

Housing NZ: 2013/14 Annual Report

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The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

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The latest on Budget 2015;

Prime Minister John Key is lowering expectations about measures to combat child poverty in this week’s budget.

Mr Key says there’ll be “some support” for those suffering material deprivation.

“But you’d appreciate that there’s a limited amount of resources that we’ve got in very tight financial conditions,” he told reporters on Monday.

Key has driven home the lack of “resources” (ie; money) in this year’s budget. On the Paul Henry show – that great bastion of critical thinking –

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–  Key was his usual relaxed self as he casually informed his host;

“We don’t have a lot of money. But again what I’d say to you is that we already do a lot, but there could be more we could do.”

And just to drive home the point, again casually;

“When you go to a Budget, you don’t have a lot of cash – and we haven’t, because we’ve been wanting to get the books in order.”

Of course National doesn’t “have a lot of money“.

Remember the tax cuts that Key promised during the 2008 general election? That was the  money National gave away in 2009 and 2010.

2008 was election year, and National’s aspiring leader, John Key, was pulling out all stops to win. His promises of tax cuts were the lynch-pin of National’s campaign strategy.

On  2 August 2008, National announced;

National will fast track a second round of tax cuts and is likely to increase borrowing to pay for some of its spending promises, the party’s leader John Key says.

But Mr Key said the borrowing would be for new infrastructure projects rather than National’s quicker and larger tax cuts which would be “hermetically sealed” from the debt programme.

The admission on borrowing comes as National faces growing calls to explain how it will pay for its promises, which include the larger faster tax cuts, a $1.5 billion broadband plan and a new prison in its first term.

On  26 September 2008, the Herald reported;

GDP shrank 0.2 per cent in the June quarter, confirming what everyone already knew – that the country is in recession. The smaller than expected June quarter decline followed a fall of 0.3 per cent in the three months to March, so the country now meets the common definition of recession: two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.

Undeterred by the country entering into recession, on  6 October 2008, Key promised;

John Key has defended his party’s planned program of tax cuts, after Treasury numbers released today showed the economic outlook has deteriorated badly since the May budget. The numbers have seen Treasury reducing its revenue forecasts and increasing its predictions of costs such as benefits. Cash deficits – the bottom line after all infrastructure funding and payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are made – is predicted to blow out from around $3 billion a year to around $6 billion a year.

With a looming election only a month away, on 14 October 2008, National maintained it’s commitment to tax-cuts;

National will not slash spending at a time when people are looking to the government for a sense of security. In developing our economic management plan, we have concentrated on the fundamentals of the economy, and particularly on laying the foundations for a future increase in productivity.

National’s rebalancing of the tax system is self-funding and requires no cuts to public services or additional borrowing.

Over the next term of government the total cost of National’s personal tax cuts is balanced by the revenue savings from:
• Changes to KiwiSaver.
• Discontinuing the R&D tax credit.
• Replacing Labour’s proposed tax cuts.

Overall, our fiscal policy does not result in any requirement for additional borrowing over the medium term.

National won the election on 8 November 2008.

By 6 March 2009, the Global Financial Crisis had crashed New Zealand’s economy;

Budget deficit worse than forecast; debt blows out by NZ$15.4 bln

The New Zealand government’s operating balance before gains and losses (OBEGAL) for the seven months ended January 31 was NZ$600 million, which was NZ$800 million below the pre-election update and NZ$300 million below December forecasts, Treasury said. Tax revenue and receipts during the period were NZ$500 million lower than the pre-election forecast. Meanwhile, Treasury also disclosed a NZ$15.4 billion rise in Gross Sovereign Issued Debt to NZ$45.4 billion (25.3% of GDP) from the pre-election forecast. This included fresh Reserve Bank bill issuance to mop up the liquidity from lending to the banks against securitised mortgages.

Despite falling tax revenue, and increased borrowing by the government,  the tax cuts went ahead regardless. First, on 1 April 2009. The second trance on 1 October 2010.

The cost of these tax cuts was in the billions.

According to Key, the 2009 tax cuts cost the government $1 billion;

“…The tax cuts we have delivered today will inject an extra $1 billion into the economy over the coming year, thereby helping to stimulate the economy during this recession. More important, over the longer term these tax cuts will reward hard work and help to encourage people to invest in their own skills, in order to earn and keep more money.”

And according to information obtained from Parliamentary Library, and released by the Greens, the 2010 tax cuts cost the country an additional $2 billion;

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.

All up, National gave away an estimated $3 billion – per year – in tax cuts.

That is why John Key has reneged on his promise – made on 22 September 2014, on TV3’s ‘Campbell Live‘ – that his third term would be spent combating child poverty.

No money.

Not only will National abandon any serious work to alleviate growing child poverty in this Country of Plenty, but it seems that the viability of  community organisations doing invaluable work  are threatened by chronic under-funding.

These community groups are often the ones on the front-line, picking up the pieces after government programmes are cut back or cancelled entirely. Even as our Brave New Free-Market World widens the wealth-gap even further, year after year.

Since National came to office in 2008, their cuts to community organisations has been systematic and dire.

From Women’s Refuge;

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Women's Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

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Then it was the turn of  Rape Crisis;

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NZ Herald - Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours - government funding cuts

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To medical clinics serving our most vulnerable, in-need youth;

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Christchurch's 198 Youth Health Centre to close its doors as management fails to implement directives from CDHB - National cuts to community organisations

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A Radio NZ report on 19 May revealed that yet another community organisation has become the latest victim of National’s mania to starving community organisations of funding;

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Relationships Aortearoa - funding cuts - Anne Tolley - budget 2015

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Relationships Aotearoa is facing closure as Radio NZ outlined on 19 May;

Relationships Aotearoa, New Zealand’s largest provider of counselling services, says its funding has been cut by $4.8 million since 2012 and the situation is increasingly dire with no assurance of more government funding.

The organisation posted a $271,000 deficit for the year ended 30 June 2014.

[…]

Relationships Aotearoa spokesman John Hamilton said since 2012 its funding from government agency contracts had fallen by $4.8 million – a fall of about 37 percent from $13.1m to a forecast $8.2m.

“There’s been no grants or injections to the bottom line … there’s been no CPI increase for MSD services for seven years but there has been increasingly complex demands in reporting requirements.”

Mr Hamilton said the situation was increasingly dire and more than 120 staff and 60 contractors would potentially lose their jobs if went goes under.

A funding cut of $4.8 million…

A deficit last year of $271,000…

Staff cuts of  46…

When interviewed on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, Minister Anne Tolley’s outright denial of any cuts to Relationship Aotearoa’s funding – despite evidence presented to her –  left seasoned journalist and interviewer, Guyon Espiner, frustrated with her moronic semantics game-playing;

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radio nz - Min. Tolley responds to potential collapse of counselling - relationship aotearoa - underfunding

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Tolley’s exercise in word-games beggars belief and if she thinks any intelligent person listening to her comments gave  credence to her obvious avoidance-tactics, then she is delusional. There is a world of difference between Radio NZ’s critical audience – and those who stare stupified and lobotimised at ‘X Factor‘/’My Kitchen Rules‘/’The Block‘.

As Key lamented,

“We don’t have a lot of money. But again what I’d say to you is that we already do a lot, but there could be more we could do.”

“When you go to a Budget, you don’t have a lot of cash – and we haven’t, because we’ve been wanting to get the books in order.”

Though there is always cash for really important things that “matter to New Zealanders”.

Things like corporate welfare;

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PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto

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Or like a flag referendum – $26 – $27 million;

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John Key defends cost of flag referendums

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And even spending $6 million of taxpayer’s money to build a sheep farm for a Saudi millionaire;

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NZ Government gifts $6m to offended Saudi businessman

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Key will always find money for things that matter to his government.

Child poverty just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

 

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References

NZCity News:  PM lowering expectations on child poverty

NZCity News: Child poverty targeted in budget

TV3 News: Child poverty targeted in Budget – John Key

NZ Herald: Nats to borrow for other spending – but not tax cuts

NZ Herald: Recession confirmed – GDP falls

NZ Herald: Key –  $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts

Jo Goodhew MP for Rangitata: Newsletter #41

Interest.co.nz: Budget deficit worse than forecast; debt blows out by NZ$15.4 bln

Parliament: Hansards – Tax Cuts – Implementation

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

Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

NZ Doctor: Christchurch’s 198 Youth Health Centre to close its doors as management fails to implement directives from CDHB

TV1 News: ‘Devastating news for vulnerable Kiwis’ – Relationships Aotearoa struggling to stay afloat

Fairfax media: Government may let Relationships Aotearoa fold

TV1 News: Relationships Aotearoa hanging on at ‘awful’ 11th hour

Radio NZ: Counselling service rejects claim it’s badly run

Radio NZ – Morning Report: Min. Tolley responds to potential collapse of counselling (alt. link) (audio)

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

NZ Herald: John Key defends cost of flag referendums

TV1 News: NZ Government gifts $6m to offended Saudi businessman

Other blogs

Local Bodies: Government Kills Relationships Aotearoa

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, this is Now #6

Budget 2013: petrol taxes

“It’s fundamentally a fairness issue”- Peter Dunne

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200000-abandoned-for-national-tax-cuts-ht-william-joyce

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 May 2015.

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I have seen one future, and it is bleak

31 October 2014 3 comments

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nz national party magazine cover

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Way back in March, 2012,  I wrote this story regarding a march to support striking workers at Ports of Auckland. It appears there was some prescience about some of my observations at the time…

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18 March 2012 – I was looking at several images taken from the March 10 rally and the port picket lines, and for some reason, this one stuck in my mind. The more I look at the image of this young Kiwi girl (I hope I haven’t got that wrong!),  it eventually came to me.

In my mind, I was wondering; what will be her future?

Depending very much on what my generation (“Baby Boomers”) and Gen X does now, in the Present, she probably has three likely futures ahead of her…

Future 1

More of the same. Casualisation of jobs; wages driven downward as businesses compete with each other, and overseas providers of goods and services;  few job opportunities except in  low-paid fast food, care-sector, cleaning, and suchlike. A wealth/income gap that has become so vast that even the Middle Class are now designated as the Shrinking Class. Top earners and asset-holders – the Privileged Class – are paying less and less tax; low income earners having to pay more and more; with fewer social services  readily available. More user-pays; more alienation; less engagement with the electoral process.

This young lass cannot escape to Australia as she is either unemployed or under-employed. She is part of a growing Struggling Class that is resented by the Shrinking Class, and viewed with disdain by the Privileged Class, though grudgingly accepted as a useful pool of cheap labour.

The Shrinking Class know in their heart-of-hearts that they are living under a failed economic system that benefits only a few. But they are too frightened to vote for an alternative centre-left Party; they fear the back-lash from an angry under-class only too happy to exact revenge.

Meanwhile, the Baby Boomer generation has hit retirement – but there are few skilled care-workers left in New Zealand. So the government imports migrant workers from Third World countries under a bonded-system (so they cannot, in turn, escape to Australia). Taxation levels are now so low that government subsidies have ceased and  full user-pays is now in effect for Rest homes. Baby boomers are selling up their residences and investment properties; the market is flooded with cheaper and cheaper houses – but with incomes so low, few can afford to buy them. Those that are sold reap less and less capital gains.

Future 2

More of the same, but she has been fortunate enough to be able to find resources and support from whanau over-seas – and she is of to Australia.

In Australia, she finds a relatively good job with decent pay. Her work conditions are protected by a strong Union; she has access to decent social services; and the government assists her and her new partner to build a house. They are both working; earning higher and higher incomes; and contributing to Australia’s economy and tax-base.

In a year or two, she helps other members of her family escape from New Zealand.

They leave behind a no-longer-smiling Prime Minister who is promising to “revitalise the economy” to “entice overseas Kiwis to come back” – then cuts another  1,000 workers from the State Sector and sells the last remaining profitable State Owned Enterprise.

Future 3

New Zealanders’ appetite for New Right, minimalist government, that has produced very few gains or benefits – has come to an end. The Smile & Wave Prime Minister is thrown out at the next election where he retires to his Hawaiian beach house, and is forgotten.

Meanwhile, a new centre-Left government takes stock and adopts a Scandinavian model of governance, taxation, and social services. The new government starts off with a crash programme of building 10,000 new state houses.  Free school meals for breakfast and lunch starts in the first year. Free doctor’s visits and boosting immunisation rates up to 99% follows. New Zealand returns to a system of free education. (Howls of protest from a few remaining New Right supporters are either ignored or ridiculed. Some are offered a free plane flight to a Libertarian-run state of their own choosing – if they can find one.)

Amongst this “radical” social democratic reform, the young girl above is supported by well-resourced local community groups and by strengthened state social services to journey through the education system. A new “Social Contract” requires that all young people will be in education; a job; or serving in a new New Zealand Civic Corp, which involves fair pay for working on major  infra-structure projects and ongoing tertiary/polytech education.

A Capital Gains Tax and Financial Transactions Tax,  is a first step toward capturing heretofore un-taxed wealth and assets. As returns from these taxes kick in, the government makes the first $11,000 of income tax free. As incomes increase, government looks at Gareth Morgan’s “negative tax” system.

The young girl has grown, graduated, and is now working in the community in the children’s health sector. Her education is on-going, as the State encourages workers to undertake further tertiary education. This increases her productivity and value to society, and she is paying more in tax as her income rises. She is a saving some of her pay in an expanded Kiwisaver Account;  spending more; and local businesses are benefitting from her expenditure. She meets a young man who is finishing his Builder’s Certificate through the NZ Civic Corp.

Together, they have a family.  One stays at home to care for the family, the other remains in paid work. The negative taxation system advocated by Gareth Morgan has been implemented and the stay-at-home parent still recieves an income from the State. People are not disincentivised to have children; raise a family;  who then grow up to be the next generation of tax-paying citizens.

With none of the pressures that young families are currently facing, their home is not stressed because of financial pressures and job uncertainty/insecurity, and the children are raised in a stable, relaxed environment. The children’s future ahead of them is reassured; early childhood education; schooling; tertiary education; and finally tax-paying citizens.

In this reformed society, children are number one on the list and will always have first recourse to resources. The Prime Minister is Minister for Children.

In school, civics is part of the curriculum, and young people are taught recent history of our country; the mistakes we have made; and how they can hold politicians to account.

Meanwhile, she has persuaded some of her whanau to return to New Zealand. They like what they see and can feel themselves ready to become a part of a true, inclusive New Zealand Society.

The best thing about the three futures I’ve described above? The power to choose which one we’ll have is entirely in our hands. No one else can give or take it away from us.

Which is it to be, I wonder?

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates the three possible futures for the toddler pictured above than the all-too real – and thought-provoking – story of Aroha Ireland, formerly of low-income area, McGehan Close.

In February 2007, Key shamelessly exploited Aroha’s situation to attack the then-Labour-led government;

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Aroha Ireland, John Key, McGehan Close, Waitangi Day

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As I further reported on 23 November 2012 on Key’s cynical publicity stunt,

It’s somewhat disturbing to note that National list MP Jackie Blue, who had a close personal  relationship with Aroha’s family, played along with the photo-op. That was despite reservations expressed by some,

“Labour list MP Dover Samuels was the only one publicly labelling Mr Key’s invitation a stunt yesterday, but others quietly voiced similar concerns.”

The family, though, seemed blissfully unaware that they were little more than pawns in National’s pre-election grand strategy and expressed their comfort with events,

“…Mrs Nathan told Close Up last night that the invitation had given her daughter a good opportunity.

She continued to disagree with some of Mr Key’s views on McGehan Close, but she believed he was trying to push for positive changes.”

The 2007 episode ended badly for Aroha and her mother, as the NZ Herald reported on 10 February 2010,

The mother of the 12-year-old girl John Key took to Waitangi three years ago says she has been let down by the Prime Minister, and her daughter now wants nothing to do with him.

Joan Nathan said she and her family were worse off since National won the election.

She’d lost her job with National list MP Jackie Blue, arranged by Key, and a training allowance she received had been cut.

“They gave me the job to sweeten the deal, and then as soon as they got elected I got the sack,” she said.

“I’m pretty anti-Mr Key at the moment”..

[…]

“He’s just made everything worse for us and made it easier for ones that are higher up. I’m struggling every week.”

 

On 7 September this year, Fairfax Media published this up-dated story on  Aroha Ireland, formerly of  McGehan Close, and now residing comfortably in Australia;

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Aroha of McGehan Close flees NZ

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In his story above, Fairfax reporter Simon Day wrote,

Three years later Aroha, now 20, feels she was used by Key – and the Prime Minister won’t be getting her vote.

“The last time I spoke to him was when he took me to Waitangi Day. After that I have never heard from him again. I absolutely believe that I was used as a publicity stunt,” she says. “I wouldn’t vote for National.”

[…]

Now, she says, the opportunities she has in Australia just aren’t available here.

“I have a full time job that pays good, $38 an hour,” she says. “I have a house, rent is cheap, about $265 a week for 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, double garage, me and my husband are close to buying our own house. Life couldn’t be any better. There was nothing left in New Zealand.

“All this from someone who came from a ‘dead end’ street, right?”

She recently returned home to visit her mother. She couldn’t believe how expensive the price of living in New Zealand was compared to Australia.

“Petrol has shot up – $2 for petrol, really? I also brought about seven or eight items from one of the supermarkets and it came to a total of $78. No wonder people can’t fill their fridges. I’m glad I got out of New Zealand when I did.”

Over the past four years she has seen her mother’s financial situation worsen. “My mum works full time and she is still struggling really bad,” she says. “It is like she is worse off.”

“I have everything that I would never ever have in New Zealand. I would probably still be on the benefit if I lived in NZ right now.”

It seems that for Ms Ireland, of the three possible futures I outlined in 2012 – voters have chosen this path to follow;

Future 2

More of the same, but she has been fortunate enough to be able to find resources and support from whanau over-seas – and she is of to Australia.

In Australia, she finds a relatively good job with decent pay. Her work conditions are protected by a strong Union; she has access to decent social services; and the government assists her and her new partner to build a house. They are both working; earning higher and higher incomes; and contributing to Australia’s economy and tax-base.

In a year or two, she helps other members of her family escape from New Zealand.

They leave behind a no-longer-smiling Prime Minister who is promising to “revitalise the economy” to “entice overseas Kiwis to come back” – then cuts another  1,000 workers from the State Sector and sells the last remaining profitable State Owned Enterprise.

The economy in Australia may be slowing – but it still offers job prospects, housing opportunities, and social services that we here in New Zealand seem to be losing on a daily basis.

Especially when our housing crisis is worsening; child poverty continues to be a blight on our society; wages and wealth disparity continues to widen; social services are being pared back; and government is planning to introduce so-called “labour market reforms” that will further drive down wages, conditions, safety, etc.

This is what voters chose on 20 September.

However, be that as it may, there is one thing that every student of Quantum Theory understands – the future is never set in concrete.

The future can be changed.

Because it must.

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References

Fairfax media:  Aroha of McGehan Close flees NZ

NZ Herald: A Day Out with Friends In High Places

NZ Herald: Family still on struggle street after Key leaves

Scoop Media: Employment Relations Amendment Bill

Additional

NZ Herald: ‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

Acknowledgements

Election Commission: Orange Guy

Previous related blogposts

John Key: When propaganda photo-ops go wrong

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

What will be her future?

Other Blogs

The Daily Blog: Chocolate milk shortage and creepy Santa? Let’s talk about real news

The Daily Blog: Ideological Blitzkrieg – Privatization of state housing, more charter schools & more union crushing employment law

The Standard: Poverty and the need to belong

The Standard: No point in state houses

 

 


 

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 October 2014

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Deep thought vs Deep prejudice

2 October 2014 3 comments

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Unemployment

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This letter to the editor appeared in The Listener, on 27 September, and caught my attention;

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letter to editor - the listener - Peter Dawson - child poverty - 27 september 2014

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Mr Dawson wrote in response to one of those typically unthinking comments which  condemned the poor for their “unbridled, reckless breeding“. The previous letter writer, a Mr Smith,  parrotted the usual prejudice,

For too long, family numbers have blown out of control, because the state, funded by people who took a responsible attitude towards family numbers, has been there to pick up the tab, and this has bred a culture of entitlement

The problem with people like Mr Smith is that no thinking is required when making such puerile statements. He just repeats what he’s heard from elsewhere.

It’s worthwhile recalling that before the Global Financial Crisis – caused by well-educated, white old men (and predominantly, they are usually always White Old Men) – unemployment in New Zealand in  the September 2007 Quarter stood at 3.5% – or around  79,000 people.

By 2012, that had rocketed to 7.3% – or 173,000 of our fellow New Zealanders.

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That’s 95,000 men and women who went from wage and salary earners – to the “lifestyle choice of luxury living on unemployment” .

Even with unemployment currently at 5.6%, there are still 137,000 people unemployed – 58,000 more than seven years ago. Factor in a growing problem of under-employment, and it becomes apparent very quickly why we have growing child poverty in this country. Especially when the definition of being ’employed’ is working only one hour  a week (or more), whether paid or un-paid.

When public or media attention is focused on high unemployment and poverty and government policies – the causation of   these problems is slated home to the GFC.

But taken in isolation, when the focus is on families suffering the effects of unemployment and poverty – the problem is slated home to “individual responsibility”.

The ignorance of people like Mr Smith is a kind of self-inflicted, Orwellian, double-think. No brain-power required.

By blaming individuals, and pointing to a so-called lack of ‘personal responsibility for indulging in irresponsible sexual activity’, Mr Smith is saved from the task of having to think through the issues. (Or else he’s just jealous he’s not ‘gettin’ some action‘, as our American cuzzies phrase it so eloquently in ghetto/under-class idiom?)

The next time Mr Smith or one of his clones parrots the same preconceived prejudice, they should be posed the question; what do we do with the children of workers who were in work, but now aren’t?

Do we;

Option A: Adopt the Eastern European gangster method and sell them into sexual slavery?

Option B: Adopt the Asian method, and chain them to sewing machines in sweat-shops, churning out Nikes and trendy t-shirts bearing witty  social-justice slogans for Western consumers?

Option C: Or just go with the ISIS technique of mass extermination?

Once we sort out that little “issue” (because actually calling these things problems then demands solutions – an ‘issue’ only requires a cuppa tea and a chat), we can turn our attention to more pressing matters, according to our esteemed Dear Leader;

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flags

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Damn. Which one?

Maybe we should ask Mr Smith. Perhaps it’s something he has thought deeply about?

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References

The Listener: Letters to Editor 20 September 2014

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey: September 2007 quarter

MoBIE/Dept of Labour: Labour Market Reports – Employment and Unemployment – March 2008 Quarter

NZ Herald: Unemployment up to 7.3pc – a 13 year high

Reserve Bank NZ: Employment

Statistics NZ: Labour market statistics for the June 2014 quarter  –  Media Release

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey – Definitions

Statistics NZ: Introducing new measures of underemployment

Irregular Times:  Celebrate Labor Day Without Outsourced Sweatshop T-Shirts – wear a sweatshop-free shirt instead

Fairfax media: Key moves for poll on change to flag


 

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if you work one hour a week

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 September 2014

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Teflon Man No More

19 September 2014 3 comments

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teflon man

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On 26 August, as Nicky Hager’s expose on New Zealand’s right wing politics hit public consciousness and confirmed our worst fears, I wrote,

“Dirty Politics” has achieved more than simply revealing  unwholesome machinations between National party apparatchiks, ministers, and halfway-insane right-wing bloggers. The book has explained the nature of Key’s seemingly “Teflon” nature. The secret is revealed; the mystery is stripped away; and now, when Key is confronted by a media pack, the brown smelly stuff is sticking to him.

Two days later, I repeated my belief that Key’s seemingly air-of-invulnerability had been swept away;

The Teflon Man is no more. He has been terminally weakened by his own ‘kryptonite’ – truth.

My perception of Key’s new status as just another garden-variety politician has been born out by this extraordinary exchange between TV3’s Lisa Owen, and our soon-to-be replaced Prime Minister;

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Lisa owen - john key - TV3 - The Nation - election 2014

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Until 7.05, the rather routine discussion between Owen and Key centers around National’s options to govern, post election. Coalition options and minority government are discussed, and Key confidently handles each scenario thrown at him by the host.

At 7.05, however, matters take a turn for the worst for Key when Lisa Owen raised the subject of child poverty and asked Key,

“One of the big issues this election has been child poverty. And you have said, just last year, you said ‘we are proud of the government’s record  tackling child poverty. Do you stand by that?”

Key replied,

“I absolutely I do.”

At Owen’s further questioning, Key responded by saying that he was proud of his government’s track record in dealing with child poverty.

Owen then lobbed this “grenade” at him, namely a quote from John Key himself, reported  in the Sydney Morning Herald on 6 September.

  “Our opponents say more children are living in poverty than when we came into office. And that’s probably right.”

This frank admission runs counter to every line uttered by Key, Paula Bennett, other National ministers, right wing commentators and bloggers, et al. In fact, with four simple words, Key has effectively demolished his own government’s insistence that child poverty has been reducing over the last six years. Crosby Textor’s spin doctors must have collectively moaned in despair when they read that comment.
From this point on, Key squirmed uncomfortably as he tried to wriggle out from this admission to the Sydney Morning Herald – including at one point revealing his frustration by  blurting out (@ 9.15),
“Lisa, don’t be silly!”
Owen persisted challenging Key as he tried to wiggle out of his SMH comments – but she would have none of it.
For possibly the first time since Stephen Sackur interviewed Key on Hard Talk in May, 2011, this was a moment when our Prime Minister faced serious hard questioning and was not allowed to wriggle his way out with nonsensical, glib answers.

Since Nicky Hager’s revelations and the sacking of Judith Collins, Key’s preternatural teflon-shield has been stripped away. He is now just another politician, and if by some miracle he successfully leads the next government post 20 September, he will find  his interactions with journalists becoming harder and harder.

It may not be what he says that lowers his esteem in the public eye. It will be the way he says it.

Lisa Owen was simply the first.

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References

TV3:  John Key – Minority government possible

Sydney Morning Herald: The Key factor

Youtube-BBC:  John Key on Hardtalk (Part 2)

Previous related blogposts

The Rise and Fall of John Key – who will be the next Leader of the National Party?

“Dirty Politics” – the fall-out continues


 

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Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 September 2014

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Letter to the Editor – fiscal irresponsibility by National

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from:     Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:          “The Wellingtonian” <editor@thewellingtonian.co.nz>
date:      Wed, Aug 27, 2014
subject: Letter to the editor

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The Editor
“The Wellingtonian”
At a time when the Capital Coast DHB is so strapped for cash that it is cutting back on services for the mentally unwell (see: Fears for mentally ill forced to streets), our esteemed Prime Minister – or the “Prime Minister’s office – there is evidently a distinction – is once again attempting to bribe New Zealanders with tax cuts.
Never mind that, collectively, as a nation, we have a $69 billion dollar debt that accrues millions in interest payment, and must be paid back.

Never mind that we have 250,000-plus children living in poverty as the jobless and working poor cannot afford the high cost of living.
Never mind that people in Christchurch  face a housing shortage and massive rent hikes. Evidently, according to earthquake-minister Gerry Brownlee, the free market will sort that out.

It beggars belief that we have a major political party so irresponsible with finances that it is willing to spray money around to win votes, rather than address our multi-billion dollar debt and critical social problems confronting our nation.
They do not deserve to be re-elected government.

-Frank Macskasy

 

[address and phone number supplied]

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References

Fairfax media: Fears for mentally ill forced to streets

Fairfax media: Christchurch rent crisis ‘best left to market’

 


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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