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

17 December 2017 1 comment

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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 Leave a 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 2 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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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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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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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 =