There are now so many voices talking about the issue of child poverty in New Zealand that it is now accepted by most people that it really exists and is a real problem. Just a few months ago John Key was denying that there was any child poverty in New Zealand, just as he was denying that there was a housing crisis. But it is a measure of how much public perceptions have changed that these issues have become much more intense in most people’s minds. And of course it doesn’t take much to make the connection between the lack of affordable housing and the inability to feed one’s kids.
House prices, in real terms, are twice what they should be. (13 times the average yearly income, as opposed to 7 times the average yearly income nearly a generation ago. In fact this statistic is from a year or so ago, it’s probably got much worse in the months since.) Power too costs about twice as much in real terms as it did before it was privatised by Max Bradford in the 1980s, which he said would make it cheaper. Of course many people at the time predicted that basing it on the pursuit of profit would make it more expensive not cheaper, and so it has turned out to be, twice as expensive, with many of the most vulnerable people unable to afford to turn on their heaters in the middle of winter.
An affordable home, food, and warmth, are the three most basic human needs, and this government has shown it doesn’t care about providing any of them to society’s most vulnerable. Key showed that when he voted against feeding the kids in schools.
The OECD report of a few weeks ago was one of the latest voices to again highlight the issue of child poverty, and again pinpointed all the usual causes, including the ongoing effects of National’s vicious benefit cuts in the 1990s, all summed up in that issue of inequality.
John Key can claim that his government was the one that raised the benefits in the budget a few months ago, but this was essentially an astute and reluctant move to take the wind out of the sails of the opposition, the kind of move Key is good at. Having no principles himself, it is easy for Key to make moves like this that are more commonly associated with the opposition.But this raise is clearly inadequate to meet the huge costs that most people are facing. The government’s ‘answer’ is the ‘compassionate business model’, where the government works with charities and businesses to help provide the basic needs of living, but you don’t have to think very far to see that this is a result of the government’s right-wing ideology, and something that gives an appearance about doing something about the problem, rather than something that will work in a practical way. People at the coal-face of child poverty, talking in the Sunday Star-Times
business section a few weeks ago, simply stated that the ‘compassionate business model’ is not enough, and isn’t working.
All this raises a basic question: should the needs of a society be delivered by ‘compassionate business’ and charity, or by a properly organised government that meets the needs of all its citizens? It is often said in defense of capitalism that people who make fantastic amounts of money often go on to give huge amounts to charity. This shows a good side of human nature coming out, but it is far too haphazard a system to be upheld as a model for a close-to-ideal society. ‘Compassionate business’, though well-intentioned, is too uncertain to guarantee providing the necessities of life consistently. That is the role of government, to distribute the proceeds of society in a way that provides for the basic needs of all its citizens.
The money is there, it’s all in the way it’s distributed. We need to vote in a government that cares about feeding the kids, providing affordable housing, and controlling the price of power, reigning in inequality – which many people may not realise are all central Mana policies.