Inequality matters

By   /   January 7, 2014  /   15 Comments

TDB recommends Voyager - Unlimited internet @home as fast as you can get

This is not about politics of envy – this is about politics of priority.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 7.50.26 AM

Encouraging people to spend money and offering rewards for doing so is a major part of the operation of our banks, credit card companies, supermarkets, department stores, pharmacies, booksellers, clothing stores as well as alcohol outlets and gambling establishments. It seems the more you spend the greater the reward. Some supermarkets offer vouchers once you have achieved a certain spend and the size of the voucher depends on the spend. Others offer rewards by swiping a card to build up reward points and all offer discounts on petrol – the greater the spend, the greater the discount.

What this all means is that if you have money and spend it you personally will receive benefits – be it a 20c discount on each litre of petrol, grocery vouchers, electricity, water and gas discounts or your choice of products from a catalogue.

If you do not have money and you struggle to meet your basic needs on a weekly basis, there are no rewards. There are no incentives.

This type of reward system has formed the basis of many of this Government’s policies. From its first moments in government we have seen the indecent haste in which tax cuts for those who least needed them were implemented through to legislative, regulatory and fiscal respite for multi national and million dollar companies and financial assistance to specific companies that were in trouble like Mediaworks and South Canterbury Finance.

These actions are about rewards targeted at a select few – those that the Government sees as its most likely supporters in a general election – those with disposable income and company managers and directors. Those who benefit from reward schemes. The Government has made a choice to use taxpayer money as if it were its own. To reward its own loyal customers.

And what of those people struggling to make ends meet? Surely it is the role of government to provide the basics to people not able to do so because of circumstances. To me, a responsible government needs to prioritise actions that will address societal inequality and intergenerational poverty that is becoming entrenched. But instead those struggling faced GST increases, ACC cuts, state housing restrictions, benefit changes and unemployment rises.

This is not about politics of envy – this is about politics of priority. Governments should not facilitate opportunities for people not in need to consolidate and benefit from systems be they tax assessments, trust provisions or ACC levy rebates. The recent proposal to give substantial rebates through car registration fees to new car owners, particularly to those with the safest (and usually European) cars does nothing to help a single parent with dependents to be able to safely travel in an older car that has to be maintained on what remains from a lessening benefit.

The time to reward those who can afford a new car, a beach property or investment properties is when we can say that all people receive decent wages and they experience decent living conditions. Until then there is no excuse for tax schemes that mean less tax is paid or that we do not have a capital gains tax for investment properties.

2013 saw two records broken – the NBR Rich List published in July was bigger and richer than ever before. The total minimum net worth of members saw an increase from 2012 of $3.5 billion.

The second record was the number of people attending the Auckland City Mission Christmas lunch along with a record number of food parcels being handed out that were 10% more than were handed out in 2012. A perusal of the 2013 City Mission Annual Report shows that the increase in requests for help from 2009 to 2013 rose by almost 24,000 – an increase of 188%. Every facet of their services experienced increased demand.

And we are all acutely aware of the number of children living in poverty and that 1 in 6 children is going without basic necessities such as a bed, meal or a doctor’s visit.

Until that inequality is addressed and the Government is actively addressing housing provision and conditions, a decent living wage, health conditions that disproportionately affect certain people and a fair education system that results in greater numbers moving through to tertiary education or training from lower decile schools, there is no basis for higher earner tax cuts, company or sector tax exemptions, regulatory exemptions, changes to employment laws and social welfare changes that make an already difficult existence even more difficult.

The time has come to cut the reward programme for those already benefitting and to identify those most in need of Government support to just live a life that tries to provide those people with their most basic needs.

***
Want to support this work? Donate today
***
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook
***

15 Comments

  1. raegun says:

    There may need to be some different methods employed to get this message across to many. Far too many people now know nothing of a more or less equal society, and have been brainwashed with buzz words and slogans.

    I think we must start looking at some things differently, as you, Louisa said there “The time to reward those who can afford a new car, a beach property or investment properties is when we can say that all people receive decent wages and they experience decent living conditions.”

    I think it is time to consider who exactly it is that is benefiting from things like WFF and accommodation top ups. If an employer is profiting but the government is having to top up the wages with WFF, then I think it is fair enough to consider that this welfare is actually supporting the employer (I am prepared to say we can split that, but it is not just to the guy not receiving enough to live on).

    The next one is accommodation, I believe it is also fair enough to consider that accommodation top ups are welfare for the landlord. At least that way we might get a bit more pro-active about this business of non-resident foreign landlords. Imagine someone in Russia trying to pick up the NZ dole – from Russia

    Perhaps if we looked at things from another angle, we might get more people on board to do something about it

    • Stuart Munro says:

      One of the fastest ways to deflate the housing bubble, and to reduce gouging of the poor would be to introduce rent control. This would also save the government a great deal of money on accomodation supplements.

  2. Some excellent points, Louisa.

    I sincerely hope that an incoming Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) government takes on board the points you’ve made. Because they are all valid.

    One easy, zero-cost step that an incoming Labour-led government can take is that your new leader, David Cunliffe, take on the role of Minister for Children. The raw symbolism of this will force home to all New Zealandfers that child poverty is our #1 problem (I refuse to hide behind the euphemism of calling it an “issue”), and we’re setting ourselves a mighty big time bomb if this is not addressed.

    Consider this: John Key is Minister of Tourism – and spends his time holidaying on a beach on Maui, Hawaii. And touring other countries. Not quite what one had in mind for that portfolio?

    So let Cunliffe take on the role of Minister for Children. That will send a clear message to the public where a new government will be headed: tackling the problems (now a crisis!) that have been stewing since 1984.

    Chief amongst those; child poverty – a toxic brew caused by lack of jobs, low pay, poor housing, inadequate funding for healthcare, early childhood education.

    And David’s first act?

    Return prescriptions to $3 – or free, for holders of Community Services cards.

    When the poorest of our fellow Kiwis cannot pick up prescriptions because of high cost of living, this is an indicator of something seriously wrong in our society.

    Your government will be busy.

    But we, citizens, will be there to help as we can.

  3. Matthew says:

    Given the failure of the manufactured manufacturing crisis it is little surprise that we are now onto the next manufactured crisis.

    By international standards New Zealand does not have one rich person, nor do we have a problem with extreme poverty by international standards.

    Child Poverty is an emotive euphemism for parents not living withing their means and not fulfilling their role as parents, then expecting others in society to pay for their decisions.

    Perhaps the most amusing thing about all this is that the man nominated by Frank to drive this policy lives in Herne Bay with his rich lawyer wife!!

    • William says:

      Next to some sub-Saharan African countries or USA/UK our rich people don’t rank and our poor seem wealthy.

      ‘Child Poverty is an emotive euphemism for parents not living withing their means and not fulfilling their role as parents, then expecting others in society to pay for their decisions.’ – Child poverty is a term used for children in poverty. Looking after the 25% kids in that deplorable situation has massive benefits for society at large, while side-stepping a series of societal ills (crime, perpetuation of said poverty and lack of social cohesion, health, drug abuse)

      ‘Perhaps the most amusing thing about all this is that the man nominated by Frank to drive this policy lives in Herne Bay with his rich lawyer wife!!’ – Who would you have do it? someone effected? maybe someone on the dole w a lack of education/support? You don’t have to be on fire to know being on fire would be a bad thing.

      • Matthew – as per usual, you’ve totally missed the point.

        Child poverty isn’t measured by the standards of other countries.

        It’s measured by our own incomes and outgoings.

        Quite simply, if your outgoings are greater than your income, then you have a problem.

        Parroting the “Greater Poverty in Africa” rhetoric simply shows a lack of understanding of simple household economics.

        If you’re earning $30,000 a year but your rent, phone, petrol, and power is 80% (or more!) of that – you’re not left with much are you?

        Poverty is defined by not being able to afford the basics.

        Even Bill English admitted on Q+A (6 November 2011) that the minimum wage is not livable for any period of time,

        “People can live on that for a short time, and that’s why it’s important that they have a sense of opportunity. It’s like being on a benefit…

        […]

        Well, a long time on the minimum wage is pretty damn tough, although our families get Working for Families and guaranteed family income, so families are in a reasonable position.”

        http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/transcript-bill-english-david-cunliffe-interview-4504396

        You can even see poverty existing in the US. And that is the wealthiest nation on this planet.

        Consider that, before mindlessly parroting stuff just because there’s no thought required.

        Child Poverty is an emotive euphemism for parents not living withing their means and not fulfilling their role as parents, then expecting others in society to pay for their decisions.

        But Matthew… wasn’t the wealth created the neo-liberal “reforms” supposed to trickle down and reduce poverty; raise wages; create jobs; and raise our standard of living?!

        What’s gone wrong?

        And why has it gone wrong in such a manner that the wealth gap has widened – and apologists like you are driven to blame the poor for being poor?!

        How long before you realise that the neo-liberal experiment suits the top 10% or 1% – but not the rest of society?

        And really, Matthew, do you think that the top 1% give a toss about you?

      • ‘Child Poverty is an emotive euphemism for parents not living withing their means and not fulfilling their role as parents, then expecting others in society to pay for their decisions.’ – Child poverty is a term used for children in poverty. Looking after the 25% kids in that deplorable situation has massive benefits for society at large, while side-stepping a series of societal ills (crime, perpetuation of said poverty and lack of social cohesion, health, drug abuse)

        So Matthew; are you trying to tell us that every person living in poverty is the result of their own bad decisions? That they are all drug abusers?

        Please, let us know the percentages. And where you get your information from.

        And then tell us why a single income was sufficient to raise families in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s – but even a double income is insufficient these days.

        And tell us, Matthew, why you think 95,000 New Zealanders decided to chuck in their jobs after 2008, and go on the dole for $210 a week (net).

        Maybe we’re all missing something that only you are privy to?

    • Stuart Munro says:

      The poverty experts – mostly doctors who treats the illnesses of impoverished children – do not agree. You should read the statistics here: http://www.childpoverty.co.nz/

    • Ovicula says:

      As shown by Matthew here, we have poverty of spirit in Aotearoa which equals any in the world. Internal consistency seems a little lacking as well. If we have no rich people, how can someone live with their “rich lawyer wife”?

  4. fatty says:

    Hi Louise, can we really expect Labour to turn things around? To be honest the first policy Cunliffe released was a dud – a Kiwibank version of insurance is all well and good, but there has been no indication (other than words) that Labour is moving on from neoliberalism.

    What is happening about our landlord / rent prices disaster?
    Can Labour please stop using the words ‘affordable housing’ unless it plans on raising minimum wage to over $20.
    Is Labour going to give lip service to state housing, or introduce the state housing scheme we’ve needed for the past 20 years?
    Is Labour going to continue with neoliberal universities, or is it going to treat education as a social good and abolish fees?
    What about full employment?
    What about a return to higher taxes for the rich?
    Is Labour going to continue with middle class welfare such as WFF? (effectively subsidising employers who pay low wages)
    The introduction of CGT is 30 years too late – what are you going to do about people buying up excessive land and houses and putting them out of reach for all of us?
    What about benefit levels until we are all employed?
    Is the ERA going to get an overhaul? – its not much different from the ECA.
    Are you going to make healthcare free or keep it as an ‘industry’?

    Those are just a few questions I have off the top of my head. If Cunliffe claims neoliberalism is over, then the policies need to match the rhetoric, otherwise what’s the point?

  5. Marc says:

    Louisa Wall writes this – quote:

    “The second record was the number of people attending the Auckland City Mission Christmas lunch along with a record number of food parcels being handed out that were 10% more than were handed out in 2012. A perusal of the 2013 City Mission Annual Report shows that the increase in requests for help from 2009 to 2013 rose by almost 24,000 – an increase of 188%. Every facet of their services experienced increased demand.”

    Indeed, those are shocking figures! What troubles me though is, that the Auckland City Mission, possibly like other City Missions also, is working together with WINZ!!!

    They are on the one hand supposed to provide last resort support to people who cannot manage and who fall through the cracks, which includes an ever less reliable and more restricted welfare support that WINZ are supposed to offer. On the other hand they serve WINZ!

    I call the City Mission bosses and staff hypocrites, as working with WINZ is like working with the devil in my eyes. Ok, they had WINZ staff speed up the Christmas food parcel and present support processes, establishing swiftly, who had no more entitlement to special needs grants. But what is the point of working with the same organisation that often is responsible for refusing needed help to people, so that they then have to go to the Missions and the Sallies?

    The Auckland City Mission even enforces the madcap and inhumane, bizarre and extreme medical “expert” advice of Dr David Bratt, the Principal Health Advisor for MSD and WINZ. They come down hard on people coming to their medical centre, needing medical certificates, or ‘Work Capacity Medical Certificates’ (as they now are called), to get benefit support from WINZ. They basically tell the poor and homeless the same Dr Bratt tells beneficiaries that are sick or disabled. “Work will set you free”, is the message, in blunt words.

    See the extracts below from an information leaflet the City Mission hands out to sick and disabled coming to their medical centre:

    “If the benefit was a drug, it would not pass the Medsafe… In the past quarter almost 60,000 people received the sickness benefit, compared with 46,000 in 2008. The evidence shows being out of work is not only bad as chain smoking, but can also increase the risk of suicide, especially in young men. Research into the impact of parental unemployment on children has found higher incidence of chronic illness, psychosomatic symptoms, psychological distress such as depression, substance abuse and delinquent behaviour, as well as increased risk of being out of work when they are adults.” / Dr. David Bratt, NZ Doctor Magazine, 01/08/2012/”

    http://www.aucklandcitymission.org.nz/uploads/file/Calder%20Centre/Sickness%20Benefit%20explanation.pdf

    “At the first appointment for assessing a patient for a certificate, we will discuss a plan for recovery and return to work, with an expected time-frame. This will be recorded in your medical records, and referred to by any doctor who may see you for further certificates.”

    And:

    “The sickness benefit is not designed to cover illnesses that have a recognised treatment if the patient declines to engage in the treatment of these conditions. This includes also all diagnoses related to alcohol and other drugs addiction problems. If addiction problems are the basis on which you are receiving a sickness benefit, you will be required to show evidence of engagement with a
    treatment provider (e.g. on-going counselling at CADS or TRANX, having a treatment plan in place with confirmed admission dates for detox (Pitman House or Social Detox) and follow-up treatment programmes (e.g. the Bridge Programme, Higher Ground, Odyssey House, WINGS Trust, AA, NA, Raukura Hauora). Our practice is that the maximum duration for a sickness benefit certificate based on
    addiction problems is 4 weeks.”

    And see this about Dr David Bratt, the radical “expert”, who has in many presentations to GPs and medical educators and others likened “benefit dependence” to “drug dependence”:

    http://www.gpcme.co.nz/pdf/GP%20CME/Friday/C1%201515%20Bratt-Hawker.pdf

    (see pages 13, 20, 21 and 35)

  6. Marc says:

    Louisa is right with the demands and expectations she summarises like this:

    “Until that inequality is addressed and the Government is actively addressing housing provision and conditions, a decent living wage, health conditions that disproportionately affect certain people and a fair education system that results in greater numbers moving through to tertiary education or training from lower decile schools, there is no basis for higher earner tax cuts, company or sector tax exemptions, regulatory exemptions, changes to employment laws and social welfare changes that make an already difficult existence even more difficult.”

    As for Labour and their policies on poverty and welfare, I am concerned about the way sick and disabled are now being treated, facing yet more harassment from February this year, where thousands will have to undergo 3 hour long intensive “work capacity assessments” conducted by outsourced providers.

    It sounds very much like what happened in the UK, and with their Department for Work and Pensions using ATOS to assess sick and disabled, and where thousands lost their lives, not being able to cope with the stresses of having to try and work while sick and impaired, or even took their lives.

    This is stuff that Labour welfare spokespersons like Louise should read, I suggest:

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15463-designated-doctors-%E2%80%93-used-by-work-and-income-some-also-used-by-acc/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15264-welfare-reform-the-health-and-disability-panel-msd-the-truth-behind-the-agenda/

    http://accforum.org/forums/index.php?/topic/15188-medical-and-work-capability-assessments-based-on-the-bps-model-aimed-at-disentiteling-affected-from-welfare-benefits-and-acc-compo/

    Once Labour turns away from the ideologies followed by a Principal Health Advisor Dr David Bratt, who is the top health “expert” for WINZ, and who was hired during the last Labour government in 2007, I will regain trust in Labour’s welfare approach.

    People affected want fair help and support, not draconian reforms, with yet more mistrust, harassment, pressures and inhumane sanctions!

    Of course welfare is just one area, where inequality is experienced at the coal face, so better wages, decent incomes, good working conditions and worker’s rights, that will also be expected by those suffering so much under this rotten government.

    • Marc says:

      Further to my earlier comment, and regarding that planned work capability testing that is going to start soon in February, read this:

      http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/278489/tests-disabled-flawed-model

      “New work assessments for the disabled and people with health conditions will impose ”unnecessary angst” and wrongly put the onus on clients rather than employers, CCS Disability Action Otago patron Donna-Rose McKay says.”

      And:
      “”The process focuses on the person as having to overcome the barriers, but in reality for many people with impairment or many people who have an illness, the barriers are not with themselves; the barriers are with employment and other people’s attitudes.””

      “Work and Income expects up to 1000 clients to be referred for a ”work ability assessment” between February and June next year, about 2000 in 2014-15, and about 3000 the next year, the proposal document said.

      The provider would receive $650 (GST exclusive) for each completed assessment.

      The process would take about three hours, which included a one-hour face-to-face assessment.”

      Also see this link to a stuff.co arrticle:

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/9356043/Contractors-to-assess-sick-and-disabled-for-work

      And this is what the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) has to say about it – in a submission, addressed to Dr David Bratt (the “Work will set you free” propagandist):

      “Our first major concern relates to the inclusion of ‘vocational practitioners’ among the range of practitioners identified by MSD as being suitable to provide the assessments. Our understanding is that ‘vocational practitioners’ may have no healthcare background at all and are not registered medical practitioners. Rather, their primary qualifications are in Career Development. Given that the target population for these assessments includes patients with mental health conditions (40%), musculoskeletal system disorders (15%) and people with a range of other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, cancer and nervous system disorders, the NZMA believes there are significant risks in engaging the services of non-healthcare workers to review medical information and discuss recommendations on condition management or treatment.”

      See the link to the PDF type submission:
      http://www.nzma.org.nz/sites/all/files/sub-WorkAbilityAssessments-Providers.pdf

      There has been NO public discussion on all this, there is little transparency, only the submission by the NZMA has been made public, as it was also made available via the web. There is NO discussion or anything written about the details in the mainstream or other media! Why all this secretiveness, and what is Labour’s stand on this, if they could please enlighten us?! I will not vote for Labour and continue to vote another opposition party, as so far I have not been given any reason to trust what Labour stands for in welfare policies, which should be an important part of addressing inequalities and injustices.

      Bennett seems to be laughing at Labour, and this is NOT good!

  7. Marc says:

    Re my above comments, particularly the one from 12:19 pm on 08 Jan. 2014, it is of utmost concern that the “Chief Executive” of MSD, and therefore any authorised WINZ staff member, now has an unreasonable degree of discretion, as to how to assess and treat individual beneficiaries, and as to what to expect from sick and disabled when it comes to work capabilities.

    This was made very clear in the submission by the Legislation Advisory Committee on the ‘Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill’ dated 01 Nov. 2012:

    http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/sc/documents/evidence/50SCSS_EVI_00DBHOH_BILL11634_1_A298367/legislation-advisory-committee

    http://www.parliament.nz/resource/0000239651

    (see especially points/sections 9 to 12, and particularly points/sections 13 and 14! Also take note of points/sections 15 to 17!!!)

    That high calibre Committee with some top legal experts expressed serious concerns about the benefit reforms rammed through until early last year, and we now have a messy law, that will allow WINZ to abuse their powers and put unreasonable pressures on many.

    The Select Committee, dominated by government MPs, wiped such concerns aside.

    Sadly the media did not pay any attention, could not be bothered reading this and other submissions, and hardly reported anything at all on the disgusting welfare reforms, as the brain-washed and dumbed down wider public were already so conditioned, they would not be interested anyway.

    That is how far things have gone, and it is time for the opposition to raise all this, and expose the legally extremely questionable new law we have, if they would care to bother!

  8. cassie blake says:

    The real problem today is the fading sense of decency/morality in society, which is being replaced with selfishness and profound ignorance (as illustrated by Matthew’s comment earlier).
    This can be blamed on
    1) deficient parenting (parents are generally too preoccupied these days to give their offspring proper guidance )
    2) The Media, whose original function once was to represent the voice of the general public and in particular the underdog, but has now been corrupted.



Authorised by Martyn Bradbury, The Editor, TheDailyBlog, 5 Victoria St East/Queen St, CBD, Auckland, New Zealand.