The holiday season is upon us, and, not surprisingly with an election coming up next year, the government, the Treasury, and many MSM cheerleaders are joining in a re-vitalised chorus of a brighter future right around the corner.
Yet, the foodbanks around the country have queues of people in need; struggling in the face of the brighter future of tomorrow that never comes. More people than ever are queuing outside Auckland City Mission’s foodbank. The need is especially great in South Auckland, and a new foodbank has been opened in the last couple of weeks: a partnership between Auckland City Mission and Manukau Urban Maori Authority (MUMA), of which Willie Jackson is a part. It has the Whanau Ora aim of cutting down on the amount of agencies that struggling families have to deal with in order to get some help.
In the last week even an editorial in The Listener is expressing concern. It quotes the following telling facts from Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, who commissioned the recently published first annual Child Poverty Monitor report:
A paediatrician, Wills brings an unusual fervour to his role, perhaps because he sees daily evidence of child illnesses in which poverty – reflected in poor-quality housing, lack of good nutrition and inadequate access to medical services – is a contributor.
According to Wills, the poorest 10% of infants are 10 times more likely to be hospitalised with bronchiolitis than the richest 10%. Such illnesses often occur when children’s brains are developing, raising the prospect that they will be held back for life – a tragedy that should never occur.
Unfortunately, the editorial then goes down hill into the slippery slope of neoliberal apologetics:
The goal is to help people into work. It is simply not true, as many claim, that inequality is increasing in New Zealand. The Ministry of Social Development’s latest Household Incomes Report shows the widest gap actually occurred in the mid-2000s and peaked in 2004. There is no evidence of any general rise or fall in income inequality since 2007. Top earners are paying more tax, whereas single-earner two-child families with an income less than about $60,000 from wages pay no net income tax.
Max Rushbrooke provides a different perspective. He contests NewstalkZB’s equivocations on the statistics relevant to measuring the inequality gap and the poverty line:
That leaves just one final point: why is the measurement 60% of the median? Well, it’s one of the internationally accepted definitions of poverty, and for good reason, because work from focus groups (including those in New Zealand) shows that it is below that level of income that families typically struggle to afford everything they need for a minimally decent life.
It’s worth remembering that in the real world (not our fictional example) the median income for a single person household (albeit this is a bit of a statistical construct) is only about $30,000. Which means that the poverty line for single person households is about $20,000 – and it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to say that, if you’re living alone and earning less than $20,000, in New Zealand, you really are in poverty.
But what is the reality for New Zealanders? How have you experienced this divided nation in your daily living this year?
For me it is seeing supermarket, petrol prices and public transport fairs continue to increase. Meanwhile the nice-to-have consumer goods like electronics seem to become ever cheaper. When I walk around West Auckland main street, people in well worn clothes are begging to survive. At work, some are feeling insecure about their jobs – it’s not just having a job, but the pay and status of them that seem to be on the decline. Meanwhile, the people in my wider middle class whanau, the generation that has recently graduated seem to be getting well paid, professional jobs with excellent potential for the future.
So, how has 2013 been for you and those near to you? Are you part of the brighter future, or is your view of NZ far more bleak?