Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Poverty, Absolute Poverty and Skiing Holidays


My wife is a GP and I am currently working part time as a teacher and our combined income makes us well above New Zealand's median household income of about $35,000. We do have a disposable income that we can use to buy more than the necessities of life and even the odd skiing holiday, like the one I have just returned from.

Our Summer holidays are generally based around camping, tramping and playing around in water and tend to be relatively cheap. Our skiing holidays tend to be not so cheap once we have paid for a rented cottage or motel, our ski passes and the odd meal out, yet there are many who obviously find few problems in affording this expensive recreational activity.

While we drag our aging, 12 year old, two wheel drive up the mountains we are often left in the dust created by large and relatively new 4WDs that dominate the car parks. My 10 year old skis and 22 year old ski boots do look a little different from those most others appear to use and I am surprised at the number of families who appear to be kitted out in the lasted equipment and clothing. While we bring packed lunches it is obviously a non issue for many families to always buy the expensive food in the field cafeterias. When all costs are accounted for many families must easily spend in one day of their skiing holiday what most families earn in a week.

This morning I happened to catch the end of a TV item on "Breakfast" where a primary school principal was explaining how 10% of the children in his school regularly arrive having had no breakfast and aren't likely to have anything for lunch either. It was with this thought in my mind that I found myself an hour later on a ski field and surrounded by the physical manifestations of affluence. I enjoy skiing and have no issue with those who are able to afford the full trappings of a skiing lifestyle, but I do have difficulty understanding how we have become a society where 20% of our children live in poverty.

I have heard it said by many on the "right" that poverty does not exist in New Zealand and that real poverty is what we see portrayed on the evening news around the African famines. This sort of view seems to justify the neglect and relative suffering many of our children experience, as long as we don't have distended bellies and deaths through malnutrition we have no cause for concern. In a developed, educated and resource rich country like New Zealand poverty at any level should not exist. To encourage and accept a situation where extremes of wealth can occur and allow an increasingly visible "underclass" to develop is unacceptable and immoral.

This election the Green Party intends to promote policies that will lift 100,000 children out of poverty. The policies may not enable all these children to experience the privilege of a week's skiing but will provide the essentials for a life where breakfast is provided every day, real choices exist and a prosperous and secure future can be a reasonable expectation.

Sue Bradford makes some useful comments on the "Green Paper" that includes some interesting links.

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