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 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.