“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;
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;
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;
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;
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;
Banners flew from the various groups involved with the day’s event, including UNICEF, one of the organisers;
Labour’s Grant Robertson was present;
The first speaker, Dr Nikki Turner, from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), addressed the crowd;
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;
- To stop the sale of all state and council houses,
- A one billion dollar provision to build more public and social housing,
- Minimum standards for all rental houses,
- Greater tenure protection for all tenants,
- A rent freeze for five years,
- A statutory right to be housed, as a human right,
- 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;
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”;
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;
‘Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘ was followed by Ariana, from the State Housing Action Network;
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);
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;
Following ‘The Two Ruths‘, Paul Barton, from the Christian Council of Social Services addressed the crowd;
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;
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!”
As the event concluded, a reporter from Radio NZ interviewed one of the participants;
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;
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.
Fairfax media: Damp state house played part in toddler’s death
Fairfax media: Social housing rollout opens doors for the disabled
The Standard: Hikoi for Homes
Previous related blogposts
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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 November 2015.
= fs =
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?
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;
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)?
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.
“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
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
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 August 2015.
= fs =
Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)
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;
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.
Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand
Waikato Times: Big demand puts pressure on foodbank
J R McKenzie Trust: Child Poverty Monitor
NZ Council of Christian Social Services: Facts about poverty in New Zealand
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 June 2015.
= fs =
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;
Weeds have become the dominant plants in the garden;
“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.
J R McKenzie Trust: Child Poverty Monitor
NZ Council of Christian Social Services: Facts about poverty in New Zealand
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 June 2015.
= fs =
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;
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?”
@ 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!
- 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;
“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;
“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;
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.
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 June 2015.
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: Bennett slammed over child poverty claim
Previous related blogposts
= fs =
from: Frank Macskasy <email@example.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <firstname.lastname@example.org>
date: Tue, Jun 23, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor
Sunday Star Times
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?
[Address & phone number supplied]
Housing NZ: 2013/14 Annual Report
= fs =
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 –
– 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.
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;
Then it was the turn of Rape Crisis;
To medical clinics serving our most vulnerable, in-need youth;
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;
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;
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;
Or like a flag referendum – $26 – $27 million;
And even spending $6 million of taxpayer’s money to build a sheep farm for a Saudi millionaire;
Key will always find money for things that matter to his government.
Child poverty just doesn’t happen to be one of them.
NZCity News: PM lowering expectations on child poverty
NZCity News: Child poverty targeted in budget
NZ Herald: Recession confirmed – GDP falls
NZ Herald: Key – $30b deficit won’t stop Nats tax cuts
Jo Goodhew MP for Rangitata: Newsletter #41
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
Fairfax media: Government may let Relationships Aotearoa fold
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
Local Bodies: Government Kills Relationships Aotearoa
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 May 2015.
= fs =
For a better New Zealand…
~ Cleaner rivers
~ No deep-sea oil drilling
~ Less on Roads - more on Rail
~ A Living wage at $19.25/hr
~ Marriage equality - Yay! Got that one!
~ Strong, effective Unions
~ No secret free-trade deals
~ Breakfast/lunches in our schools
~ Introducing Civics into our school curriculum
~ Cut back on the liquor industry
~ A fairer, progressive tax system
~ Fully funded, free healthcare
~ Ditto for education, including Tertiary
~ Fund Pharmac for Pompe's Disease medication & other 'orphan' drugs
~ No state asset sales!
~ Rebuild public TV broadcasting!
~ Keeping farms in local ownership
~ Reduce poverty, like we reduced the toll for road-fatalities
~ Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
~ Being nice to each other
- Wellingtonians say; “Everyone deserves a home – no more homelessness!”
- The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?
- Citizens march against TPPA in Wellington: Did Police hide tasers at TPPA march?
- Citizens march against TPPA in Wellington, send message to National govt: “Yeah, nah!”
- Andrew Little: if you want to send a really strong message to New Zealanders…
- Big Bro’ is Watching You!
- A picture sheds a thousand tears…
- A Tale of Two Head Coverings – a personal-essay
- Unemployment, Christchurch, dairy prices – Bill English confirms blogger’s analysis
- 2015 – Ongoing jobless tally
- State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?
- Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics
- Weekend Revelations #2 – Michelle Boag has a whinge
- Weekend Revelations #1 – Dr Jonathan Coleman
- The consequences of tax-cuts – worker exploitation?
- Anne Tolley’s psycopathy – public for all to see
- Key’s TPPA Falsehoods – “We’ve never, ever been sued” ***up-date ***
- Letter to the editor – John Key; “We’ve never been sued” (up till now)
- The Mendacities of Mr Key # 14: The TPPA – “We’ve never, ever been sued”
- A Message to Radio NZ – English continues fiscal irresponsibility with tax-cut hints
- TPPA – media reports and blogposts
- Letter to the editor – Joyce, TPPA, and wine exports
- Letter to the editor – Even Tim Groser was in the dark?!
- The Mendacity of Ms Una Jagose, Spymaster
- Letter to the editor – Annette King on the TPPA
- On ‘The Nation’ – Anne Tolley Revealed
- The bloated ego of a vain man – When John Key refused to listen
- Polls and pundits – A facepalm moment
- NZ Herald changes – For Real?
- Four Ways to Madness, Kiwi-style – a day in our media
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