Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Days like these

The government has recently released an important report: New Zealand Living Standards 2004. Katherine Ryan did an excellent job this morning, not letting up on the minister for social welfare on the fact beneficiaries were getting poorer (and he really didn't want to talk about it), I recommend you listen to it (Sue Bradford gets minus points for mentioning an individual family who have already been used by far too many politicians). National's welfare spokesperson blamed the welfare system for hardship among beneficiaries. Taking away money from people is a well known way to lessen hardship.

The jist of the report was that more people are living in extreme hardship and that there is more hardship among Maori, Pacific Islanders, solo parents and those on income tested benefits. I'm not surprised by this, but I am angry.

I struggle with things to say that won't be banal - poverty sucks. I've thought about writing about some of the people they know, and how the grinding poverty of low-income families wore them down, but those are not my stories to tell.

But 1 in 25 New Zealanders don't have warm bedding. Forget insulated houses, forget heated rooms, forget a draft free house, forget curtains, there are people who can't afford enough blankets to keep them warm at night. There are far more people who can't afford a warm jacket, or shoes that keep out the rain. It's cold, wet and windy, and people are dying. This is supposed to be as good as it gets for the poor, a third-term labour government, there's no way the parliamentary system is going to deliver much more than this - increasing hardship and gaps betweeen the rich and the poor. Wearing badges is not enough - we need to organise and fight back.


  1. I haven't read the report yet and don't know if I read it right & I hope I'm wrong but Sue Bradford's press release seemed to say 26% of NZ children are living in severe poverty.

    That is 1/4 of NZ children...I just don't even have the words to say how angry that makes me.

    And the thing that makes me most angry about Labour is the way they just don't ever seem to acknowledge how bad things are. It's all just relentless cheerleading. I realise that politics but I'd like for once to see some honesty.

  2. What dismays me is that as far as I've been able to find out, there's no legal standard for dwellings being made habitable in cold weather. Having lived in several foreign countries, I have to say that winter is a totally different experience in other places. Insulation and heating are beautiful, beautiful things. I realize that for various economic and environmental reasons, NZ is not in a position to have universal central heating, but there should be a law requiring houses to meet certain basic standards such as not being goddamn colder in the living room than it is inside the refrigerator. (I have thermometers in my house, and on cold days, they inform me that it's more than twice as warm inside the refrigerator than outside it!) New Zealand houses are just hideous in winter. Why does cold weather have to be an indoors as well as an outdoors experience for poor people in this country?

    You can moan about paying tax all you like, Mike, but I seem to remember that when the hack-and-slash National Party was in government, they did... hmmm, let's see, NOTHING to improve the temperature inside housing for the poor during the cold months.

  3. recently NZ has grown its economy via capital gains (i.e. house value growth) and taxed income more and more heavily (via income bracket creep which isn’t the worst way to do it) - that is a recipe for poverty.

  4. that and its harder to afford a house and easier to get burried in debt.

  5. MTNW: You read it right. And both that number and the proportion living in severe hardship have increased significantly since 2000.

    It's hideous. This is what the Labour party exists to prevent. But instead of doing anything about it, they're talking about corporate tax cuts to benefit rich tax-evaders and foreign shareholders. Thanks a bundle.

  6. For once I find myself in agreement with Mr Anderson.

  7. Of course one option is for people who give a damn to actually spend their own money and time helping those in poverty - which is likely to be more effective that lobbying government or campaigning for a change to a Green-led government. It also puts your money and time where your mouth is. Some do that already I know, but plenty make noise but do nothing themselves.

  8. LS - I find it interesting that you think that people acting as individuals, or small groups, could actually make much of a dent in poverty, as opposed to the power of Govt to effect some change. Yes I think a lot of charities do good work, and do make a difference, but if we want to improve the lives of the vast majority of those living in poverty then it is going to have to happen on a larger scale, i.e. at the Govt level. Besides which I feel we have a responsibility as a society to deal with the issue collectively, not abandon it to the fringes.

  9. Span - I find it interesting that you think that you just made a coherent argument.

    "I feel we have a responsibility as a society to deal with the issue collectively, not abandon it to the fringes."
    That is what LibertyScott was saying. We have the responsibility as individuals to do something about it. Not try and rely on the Government to force somebody else to pay for someone to do it.

  10. iiq374 - So what individual actions could people take, without compulsion and without cooperating with a broader group, that would help?

    And try to be less condescending in your reply please.

  11. The government has a number of advantages over private charity
    1) There is a free rider effect to private donations. The equilibrium level of donation that involves a government system will be higher and closer to the level people desire (if done properly).
    2) Efficiency - private charities will tend to have many different aims and may not have economies of scale.
    3) Effectiveness - a charity system will always let people slip through cracks when applied to the social system. (I assume the goal is to provide a safety net)
    4) Corruption - pretty obvious.
    Anyway, people who donate hardly ever have in-depth knowledge of how that money is spent so the system has an information deficit.

  12. Span - I never said anything about not co-operating in a larger group.
    But there is a huge difference between privately choosing and contributing to a group, and just relying on a portion of taxation to relieve your obligations.

    If you want to see what can be done by individuals go to your local Roundtable organisation and find out about the hospitals etc they have built for the poor.

  13. The private charity system has a number of advantages over Government foreign aid

    1) There is an abdication of responsibility inherent in foreign aid. People do not see aid as their responsibilty "because the Government does it".

    The equilibrium level of donation that involves a private system is indeterminate with respect to foreign aid when comparing "free rider" vs subsidization effects vs responsibility abdication vs taxation distortion.

    2) Efficiency - private charities will tend to have way less beaurocracy than a Government organisation. They are also created generally with a fairly specific ideal / process as opposed to a Government with a plethora of concerns.

    3) Effectiveness - a charity system will always let people slip through cracks when applied to the social system. (I assume the goal is to provide a safety net).

    4) Corruption - pretty obvious.
    Government foreign aid tends to directly via foreign Governments. Which is exactly where the majority of foreign corruption resides.