Yet another report was released this month, by the Children’s Commissioner, showing the dire state of children’s poverty in NZ. Along with various commentary across the MSM on the situation and what should be done, was the idea of a child ‘pension’.
Unfortunately, economist Shamubeel Eaqub was quoted in a Stuff business article with this,
But Eaqub said politicians had to convince the voting public, who were reluctant to make sacrifices.
“If I had my way you’d take it away from the decrepit old folk and give it to the young ones. Make super means-tested and a benefit for children unconditional. Older people don’t need it, they have money.”
Decrepit? Elderly people are all well off?
One hopes this was taken out of context, but even so it’s an extraordinary statement from an influential economist apparently advocating for the wellbeing of a vulnerable group of NZ citizens but taking such an ageist and ableist approach.
New Zealand’s child poverty rates are a disgrace – 26% of children live in low income households. Our elder poverty rate isn’t flash either, at 14%. There are 93,000 permanent or long term disabled people whose income is a benefit set below what is livable (more disabled live on an even lower rate). None of these groups should be having to vie with each other for the voting public’s beneficence.
Even allowing for Eaqub’s probable point that wealthy people shouldn’t be getting Super when children are going hungry, it’s highly irresponsible to drop such quotes into the MSM in a country that routinely practices beneficiary bashing, elder ageism, and often simply ignores the plight of disabled people living in poverty.
I’m also concerned at the casual mentioning of means testing Super (rather than say income testing), when we already have another high profile economist, Gareth Morgan, promoting an annual housing tax that would require low income home owners to either take out a mortgage to pay the tax each year, or sell up and move into a cheaper house, with all the social disruption to community that causes.
We should be mindful that Work and Income have an appalling culture of making non-Super beneficiaries hoop jump in unconscionable ways and denying them entitlements, I hate to think how elderly people would fare in such a system.
Which isn’t to say a discussion about universal Super is an inherently bad idea, but that pitting one group against another to do it is a really bad frame to have the conversation.
Squabbling over the welfare pie is part of ‘deserving poor’ narrative. A familiar narrative in right wing positions, it has been more deeply entrenched in the past decade by the left’s focus on child poverty. Hence we talk about families living in poverty but rarely hear about those not living in a family structure, and we have a Prime Minister who wants to end child poverty but can’t bring herself to talk about the poverty of the disabled. We should of course have policies designed to address the urgent needs of children and parents living in poverty. Likewise, disabled people need their own set of policies, and so do the elderly.
Worse is the mix here of deserving poor with ageism. When we hear supposedly progressive economists talking about elderly people as decrepit, or rendering the elderly poor invisible, it’s time to revisit our moral compass. Needless to say, all the Ok Boomer shit needs to stop, because whatever people think they are doing with that, ‘Boomer’ is fast being turned into a stick to beat old people with, and every time someone says it’s about attitude not age they’re doing the same disappearing of the elderly poor as Eaqub.
We now have a degree of support from progressives for policies that are a dangerous mix of this selective compassion and neoliberalism. Not surprisingly Eaqub wants The Opportunities Party in parliament. TOP’s history of policy development around welfare is dodgy (see Morgan’s pre-TOP attitudes towards welfare recipients).
In the 2017 election one of TOP’s showcased policies was a UBI for 18 – 23 year olds. Sounds good right? Until we understand that it’s not universal and the people that would be excluded included disabled youth on welfare. If you were earning income (eg a teacher’s salary) you would get an extra $200/wk, untaxed and unabated, but if you were on a benefit and unable to work you would get nothing.
Policy development with inbuilt collateral damage isn’t fair and the left should be highly critical where that is happening. If all this raises the issue of universality vs fair targeting, and how NZ might afford it, I don’t know if we are at a point of having to accept we can’t afford to be just, or if we are simply acquiescing to the resistance of NZ to give a shit and distribute wealth more fairly.
If we are to have a conversation about removing the universality of Superannuation, then we must first centre the realities and voices of the people already most badly affected. Not the people tossing around bigoted rhetoric or proposing discriminatory policy.