So a few days ago I got caught in the rain. Not a usual shower, it bloody bucketed down. My raincoat which normally does okay in the rain was soaked through. I was sodden to the skin, and required a complete change of clothes.
I, however, am fortunate. I had fresh, warm, dry clothes to change into. I had better wet weather gear at home. I had several pairs of dry shoes to wear instead of the saturated, squelching lumps my favourite shoes had become. A quick change, a few swearwords, and my day was largely back on track.
Lack of household income is the reason that 8% of New Zealand kids don’t have two pairs of shoes in good condition. This isn’t a “poverty rate” or even a material hardship rate by any academic measure. When people refer to tens of thousands of kids in poverty, that might not include many kids who would have sodden feet or be barefoot for the next couple of days because it rained and $30 for a pair of shoes was too much for their parents to spring for.
These kids might not even be regarded as experiencing “material hardship”. Sure, they lack dry footwear, but maybe they only have a few enforced lacks rather than reaching a score people bother using as a benchmark.
And sure, compared to kids in developing nations, some of these kids without a pair of dry shoes (because it rained yesterday) might look pretty well-off. The difference is that we face no practical or geopolitical barriers to addressing poverty in NZ.
But bureaucrats, academics, and international comparisons aside, most normal people would regard having a sock full of water (because you can’t afford better shoes) as a pretty clear sign you’re “poor” and experiencing some level of “material hardship”. And in this land of plenty, that’s inexcusable, child or adult.
How do we fix this?
On the plus side, we seem to have a government that actually cares about poverty. Yes, especially child poverty, but I think that “child poverty reduction” will be a gateway drug into “total poverty reduction”. The main classes of proposed solutions to poverty (with a relatively new-to-me idea at the end) seem to be:
– Economic growth
– Employment growth
– Benefit growth
– Universal Basic Income (UBI)
– Universal Basic Services (UBS)
Economic and employment growth are favourites of tories – an increase in the crude gauge of GDP results in more people getting jobs and leaving poverty this way. It might have worked once, but these days between what counts as a “job” (1hr/wk – pfft) and the conflicting factor of rapid automation make it yesterday’s magic wand. And the Non-Accerelating Inflation Rate of Unemployment ideology ensures unemployment will always exist because every time GDP takes off and people start to get jobs, the Reserve bank raises its lending rate to throttle the economy. And then the government ends up paying companies to employ the structurally unemployed at sub-living wages. Like a doctor bleeding a patient for “hysteria”, we should know better now.
Increasing benefit amounts and access would certainly solve the problem. Poverty is, after all, almost the only problem that can literally be solved by throwing money at it. Downsides are that the tories are pretty good at chopping it back every time they get into government. But there might be other arguments for and against…
UBI. Ah, UBI. Ever since I first heard about it, it’s had me for it, then agin it and back again. On the one hand it could be inevitable when almost all work is done by robots. We have already partially implemented it: the old age pension. The massive cost will be offset by procedural savings and sustained economic activity. On the flipside, the actual math inevitably falls into hand-waving territory and assurances it will work. It is very expensive to pay 4 million people a basic income at living wage level, and what about differences between people that might make some need more than the basics? Any discussion on this will likely have me thinking one way then t’other again…
Bill got me thinking on Universal basic services with his post about a vending machine network for the homeless in the UK. The concept was a good idea, but it was twisted with the grasping nature of current thinking: if it’s free to everyone, people will just abuse it, and only the deserving poor should get something for free. So access was restricted to people who had dutifully seen their social services weekly. But we’re only talking about the basics, and with no marketing attached to make people want the products. So why not just have vending machines with life’s little essentials on street corners, in case people need pads or water or even light anoraks or a blanket? How will that get abused – people wanting to stockpile 50 blankets because they’re cool? Who are you going to sell them to, if everyone can get them for free? And people will still buy their own stuff – not everybody goes to opshops for their clothing. But if it’s the middle of the night, or cold, or wet, everyone has access to the basics. We already have it for some healthcare, where we get the service or product with zero cash down (albeit after a waiting list, these days). Housing is another area where this was already partially implemented, then rolled back. But if the government can supply the basics, why bother giving people money to buy them? Cutting out the profiteer in the middle is a very tempting idea. What do people think about free vanding machines, and what would they put in them?
So let’s put aside for a moment the technical definitions of “poverty” and discuss in general how to resolve it – and it can be resolved, so no fatalism, please, unless you can back it up with something more than a youtube vid you agree with (and summarise any links in your own words, just to be a dear).