In the last three years I have been truly outraged and sickened only twice when watching a current affairs/documentary programme. The first was Bryan Bruce’s “Inside Child Poverty“, broadcast back on 22 November 2011.
Bryan presented the viewer with a country of increasing child poverty, disease, low-quality housing; and growing inequality that few of us (except hardcore ACT and National supporters) would have believed possible in a wealthy country like New Zealand. Especially a country which once prided itself on egalitarianism, fairness, and looking after those less fortunate than the privileged Middle Classes.
The second time was just recent – watching TV3’s current affairs programme, The Nation, on 24 May. The one word that came to mind as I watched the episode was: revulsion. Not revulsion at the fact that our once proud egalitarian nation is now one of the most unequal on the face of this planet – but revulsion at the injection of humour in interviews; panel discussion, and levity between the hosts, Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower.
I am not even referring to Patrick Gower “interviewing” Ben Uffindell, editor of the satirical blogsite, The Citizen. Though one certainly has to question why this segment was deemed worthy of insertion? What was the point of suggesting that children living in poverty – many of whom go to school without food (or are given “food” that is of dubious nutritional value); no shoes; no rain coats; or lacking other items which Middle Class families take for granted – would find it funny to be given ice cream or a South American animal?
I recall a legend of someone else trying to “make light” of the plight of the poor. That person suggested cake, in lieu of ice cream.
The highly talented Mr Uffindell has never been invited to comment on other pressing issues and problems confronting our country. So why start with inequality and associated problems with child poverty? A question I posed to The Nation, via Twitter;
So why is levity suddenly the order-of-the-day when poverty and inequality is under the media microscope?
Because we are “just laughing at ourselves” some might say?
No. We are not “laughing at ourselves”. We are laughing at the thought of children, living in poverty, being given free ice cream and llamas.
We are not “laughing at ourselves”. We are laughing at children and families living in poverty – at their expense.
That is the difference.
Funnily enough, there was certainly no humour on The Nation (10 may) when ACT’s Jamie Whyte proposed a flat tax policy. Where was the mirth? The satirical hilarity? Where was the wink-wink-nudge-nudge repartee between The Nation’s hosts?
Any humour must have been lost amongst the rustling sound of $100 bills been eagerly counted…
On top of which, was Torben Akel’s piece on “fact checking” looking at whether or not inequality in New Zealand has increased;
“But first, a bit of good old fashioned fact-checking“, said Patrick Gower, as he introduced Torben Akel’s piece. A pity, then, that no one at The Nation bothered to “fact check” Akel’s reporting.
Bill English stated in the above video,
“Income inequality has not got worse. In fact we’re one of two developed countries where the OECD has recently as yesterday have said it’s stable since 1994. And in fact in the last few years there’s some indications it’s fallen slightly.”
Torben Akel asked for evidence to back up English’s claims;
“What we got was a page lifted from a new OECD report with a graph showing income inequality here in 2010 was less than it was in the mid nineties.”
So the “new” OECD report was based on data, taken in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis and resulting Recession?! Data that was four years old?!
Akel continued with this – and here is the relevant bit;
“As for what had happened in the last few years, we were directed to the Ministry of Social Development’s household incomes report, released last July. And specifically, this graph, which shows why the Beehive [is] so sure our income gap isn’t growing.”
A cover of the Report flashed on our television screens;
The document above is Bryan Perry’s Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2011. It used data from Treasury to assess child poverty in this country;
“To calculate disposable income Statistics New Zealand uses the Treasury’s tax-benefit microsimulation model (Taxwell1) to estimate tax liabilities for individuals and benefit units. The resulting personal disposable incomes are summed to give disposable household income. Disposable household income is sometimes referred to as net income or after-tax cash income.”
“The Treasury has also developed a set of weights for use with its HES-based tax-benefit microsimulation model, Taxwell. The Taxwell weights include the number of beneficiaries as one of the key benchmarks, in accordance with Treasury’s primary use for the HES in the Taxwell model. Treasury’s Taxwell weights therefore provide a better estimate, for example, of the number of children in beneficiary families, although to achieve this there has been a trade-off with achieving other benchmarks…”
“We know that the estimates using Statistics New Zealand’s weights consistently under-estimate the number of beneficiaries compared with the administrative data. Generally, the estimates using the Treasury’s Taxwell weights are closer to the administrative data, but the sampling error from the HES can still lead to either or both weighting regimes under- or over-estimating the population numbers. “
The relevance of all this?
As reported back in February, Treasury had under-estimated the level of children living in poverty, as Bernard Hickey wrote on the 28th,
“Treasury and Statistics said in a joint statement they had double counted accommodation supplements in estimates of household disposable income between 2009 and 2012, which meant incomes were over-estimated by NZ$1.2 billion and the number of children in families earning less than 50% of the median income was under-estimated by 25,000.”
For those who want to read the actual Media Statement from Treasury, can be found here: Media Statement: Data error prompts process improvements. Refer to the table headed “Miscalculation – Scale – Key statistics affected”.
Bryan Perry’s revised report can be found here: Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2012 Revised Tables and Figures
27 February 2014. In it, he states,
“The revised trend-line figure is 32.9 compared with 32.7 [Gini Co-efficient] before the corrections. The trend line is still flat.”
(The Gini Co-efficient measures inequality, with the higher the value, the lower the equality in income.)
The”trend line” may still be “flat”, but I submit to the reader that for a family on low income; paying exorbitant rent; in a cold, damp house, with very little food in the pantry and fridge – it matters very little.
What does matter is that since 1984, before the Neo-Liberal “revolution”, the Gini Coefficient was only 28.
It is now 37.7.
We are going in the wrong direction.
So not only are National’s claims not backed up by evidence; not only has data been found to be incorrect; but also Torben Akel and The Nation’s research team missed the obvious; inequality has worsened since 1984.
Falling home ownership rates are another indicator which confirm increasing inequality in this country (and throughout the rest of the world).
The Nation’s comedic episode continued with this exchange between hosts Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower, and panellists, author Max Rashbrooke, and right-wing commentator and National Party cadre, Matthew Hooton;
Lisa Owen: “Let’s change to a lighter note. The Civilian Party. Let’s be clear. That was a bit of fun. It was tongue in cheek, if anyone’s confused about that out there. Do we need this in an election year. Do we need some humour?”
Max Rashbrooke: “Oh I think, absolutely. I mean it’s great to see Ben do his thing with the Civilian [Party].
If there’s a problem though, it’s that some of his policies which he puts out as satire, are actually quite close to reality. I mean he talks about we should tax the poor, more. Well actually, if you add up income tax and gst, people on low incomes are paying pretty much the same proportion of their income in tax as people at the top half. If you added capital gains into that story, the poor are probably paying a bigger chunk of their income than the rich are.”
Patrick Gower: “And, and, I, I agree with you there. Because llamas, in my opinion have been dodging tax for years and years, and until someone moves on that loophole, um…”
[general hilarity ensues]
Then Matthew Hooton had to go spoil it all by getting All Serious again, and witter on about Paradise in Scandinavia with more of his skewed ‘spin’ on those country’s taxation system.
Yup. Poverty and rising inequality. A laugh a minute.
What next on The Nation – point and laugh at people with disabilities?
“Jolly good fun”!
TVNZ’s Q+A on 25 May also had Ben Uffindell as a guest. As usual, his wit was on form. The big, big difference between Q+A and The Nation? On the former, he satirised and poked fun at politicians. On the latter, the targets for laughter were children in poverty.
Draw your own conclusions.
TV3: Inside Child Poverty
Twitter: Frank Macskasy/The Nation
Ministry of Social Development: Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2011
Hive News: Inequality data error revealed
Wikipedia: Gini Coefficient
Statistics NZ: 2013 Census – Trend of lower home ownership continues
The Standard: Snapshot of a nation: inequality
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
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