Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pregnancy, Punishment and Poverty.



Simplistic thinking, demonisation and sledgehammers appear to dominate this government's approach to dealing with poverty and National is doing everything it can to address the symptoms of poverty while desperately avoiding the cause.

25% of our children live in relative poverty, unemployment is growing, fewer of those who are employed are in full-time work and the minimum wage is so low that we now have large numbers of working poor who cannot survive on their incomes without support. As Metiria Turei pointed out today, rather than focus on job creation, lifting the minimum wage and and addressing the growing disparity between the rich and poor, the opposite is occurring.

Over 3,000 jobs have been cut from our state services and a sinking lid approach to government spending has also limited job growth in the private sector (building more state houses, for example, would reverse the decline of jobs in the construction sector and increase capacity for when it is needed in Christchurch). The minimum wage has been maintained at a level that is unlivable and our median income is only $28,000. Most sole parents are female and yet there is obvious pay discrimination against jobs that are dominated by women. Few employers and successful businesses pass on the benefits of improved productivity to their workers and the flow of money has increasingly gone to those who already have the most. While our wealthiest have seen a 20% increase in income, the majority of working New Zealanders have experienced a drop in the real value of their wages.    

The increasing casualisation of the workforce has removed job security and certainty of income for many families. It only takes an illness or an unexpected car bill and a family can quickly shift from basic survival to financial collapse and a dependence on charity and welfare. There is a lack of financial resilience in at least a third of New Zealand families that is beyond good budgeting. For these families all of their wages are committed to basic needs and the constant prioritizing of things like buying shoes for their children, putting petrol in the car or paying an increase in the rent.

Despite the fact we continue to see support for unnecessary privileges and entitlements for the already wealthy it is the poor who suffer and are blamed for their situation. While the Government is careful to explain their initiatives in seemingly reasonable terms the intentions are clear to their supporters and letters to the editor and comments on talkback radio are full of condemnation of those who dare to be poor.

By providing free contraception to beneficiaries appears benevolent and sensible and the Stuff opinion poll question "What do you think of the plan to subsidise contraception for beneficiaries and their daughters?" demonstrated overwhelming support for the idea but it also revealed some worrying attitudes. Even emails to National Radio expressed the view that we had to stop the poor from "breeding" and that for many young girls having babies is a career choice and a lifetime of dependency is the result. The implication is that if you are poor you shouldn't have the same choices available as the rich and that we have a crisis in the number of young women living on the DPB. The Government doesn't discourage the ill-informed bile that comes from many of their supporters. The Child Poverty Action Group has made a good attempt at providing the information that many commentators lack.

Few women use the DPB for anything other than how it was intended and around 90% shift of the benefit within 5 years, we also have one of the highest level of working mothers in the OECD (61% of mothers with children under 12 months are in employment). There is no crisis, in fact we should be celebrating and supporting those who put motherhood as a priority. As a teacher I can say from experience that many of children who have behavioral and emotional difficulties come from homes where the need to earn a living compromises the ability to provide basic care for children. There is also the potential that a "one size fits all" approach to providing support to single parents will cause unintended consequences and those deserving of support will have it denied.

We should be trying to eradicate poverty not punish and condemn those who find themselves poor!


  




6 comments:

Shunda barunda said...

Sprout, we won't eliminate poverty without a clearer understanding of sustainability.

Sustainability is not just limited to natural ecosystems, it is an eternal principle that effects all aspects of life on this planet, including human relationships.

We do have a crisis in NZ, a crisis brought about by unsustainable living, a crisis that both the political left and the right have presided over.

Politicians won't fix this, they will periodically flail at the branches but they will never get to the root of the issue.

The only way forward is for true community based solutions to emerge, politicians won't and can't fix inequality.

bsprout said...

I'm afraid I disagree, Shunda, a large amount of the inequities we are suffering from are the direct result of this Government's (and previous ones) actions.

The economic downturn in New Zealand was only partially caused by the collapse of financial institutions overseas. We had our own collapse of finance companies due to unsecured investments and poor regulation.

Under Labour we had no government debt but huge private debt. The private debt was due to the explosion of property values that was not controlled by a capital gains tax. The dairy farmers in Southland are operating in a booming industry but many are struggling because the cost of land and level of borrowing necessary to get into the industry means minimal equity.

The fact that our governments allowed land prices to rise may have fed profits for their rich mates but it has resulted in the fact that New Zealanders couldn't afford to buy the Crafar farms. We now have the ludicrous situation in our under populated country (in comparison to others) that a growing percentage of us cannot afford to buy our own homes and overseas buyers will push the price of farms beyond most New Zealand farmers.

Our rising government debt is also not because of a struggling economy, the wealthiest New Zealanders have seen a 20% rise in incomes over the past year and most of our largest companies have seen similar profits. Westpac alone saw a 65% increase in profits and Australian banks have taken $2 billion in dividends across the ditch.

The tax cuts to the already rich was obscene and unnecessary when 40% of their income (on average) is derived from untaxed capital gains. These tax cuts cost the government around $1 billion a year in lost revenue that we are borrowing to make up.

Bill English claimed that the cuts would be fiscally neutral because of income generated from an increase in GST, however he didn't factor in the fact that those who didn't receive tax cuts (the great majority) were mainly struggling on low incomes and reduced their spending.

Yes, we did have a large private debt but the factors that caused it still have not been properly addressed and the growing government debt is due to poor management. What is even more appalling is that the National Government intend to fix the debt that they created themselves by selling off some of our most valuable assets and reduce future revenue even more. This doesn't sound, or look like sustainable economics to me!

Shunda barunda said...

Sprout, I am not sure why you think I would see National as having sustainable economics.

In fact, I can't find a single point I would disagree with in your summary of our past two governments.

But where I disagree is when it comes to the ability of a political solution to work, I believe this to be quite impossible.

There will be more flailing at the branches, but they can't fix the issues facing our economy (or the global economy).
It's all about values and what people seek to achieve with their lives, as long as their is a lust for 'things' that are unsustainable (both material and ideological) there will be no real chance of positive change.

bsprout said...

You've lost me, Shunda, it is all about politics. Political decisions change legislation and regulation, which then provides incentives or disincentives to businesses, industry and private citizens.

The over investment in property and not into productive sectors can be changed through introducing a capital gains tax. Limiting our dependence on cars and fossil fuels can be changed with improved public transport and limiting motorway developments (which will save huge amounts of money. To change attitudes and values around what is sustainable and improve our sense of community then we need to properly fund and support enviroschools. And politicians can have an impact on inequality if they increase the minimum wage, put a cap of the huge salaries of local government CEOs and state service heads and tax the rich at similar levels as Australia. And the list of political solutions could go on.....

owlinalarkworld said...

I am uncomfortable with singling out beneficiaries for free contraception. Making it available to all those with a Community Services card might be a fairer option.

bsprout said...

Totally agree, Owlinalarkworld.