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Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

By   /  June 30, 2015  /  18 Comments

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There are six policy reforms which, if carried out, would go a long way to reversing the ingrained poverty caused by forty years of a failed free-market experiment;

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260,000 kiwi kids live in poverty

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When the so-called “reforms” of Roger Douglas – lovingly referred to as  “rogernomics” – swept the country; privatising publicly owned assets; cutting state services; introducing user-pays; down-sizing the state sector; closing post offices in small towns and large cities; and witnessing the wide-spread  creation of Food Banks for the first time since The Great Depression, we were told that the restructuring of our economy would pay off with a higher standard of living.

Instead, we ended up with this;

It is not only the government’s figures that reveal alarming levels of poverty. On top of the surge in demand for Income  Support grants is an explosion in food bank usage. Food banks have been described as the most visible face  of poverty in New Zealand. They are the only banks we now own. Only a few food banks existed before National’s election in 1990 on the hollow promise of a ‘Decent Society’. The first food bank in Auckland appeared in 1980, although researcher Adrian Whale noted in a 1993 thesis that throughout the 1980s, food banks were ‘predominantly small scale appendages to welfare services offered by city missions and other voluntary organisations’. But in the early 1990s, food banks established a ‘significant presence among the range of welfare providers in the community’. At least 70 percent of food requests to the Salvation Army  in 1992 were to support families with children. Figures from Presbyterian Support Services show that the number of food banks in the Auckland metropolitan area grew from 16 in 1980 to 130 in 1994.” – Mike Moore, “Children of the Poor”, 1996

Ten years ago, the Child Poverty Action Group reported;

Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999).” – “Hard to swallow – Foodbank Usage in NZ”, Child Poverty Action Group, 2005

In December, last year, the Waikato Times published a story on the growing need for foodbanks in their community. One particular comment stood out;

Humphry has worked with the Christian Combined foodbank for “so many years I can’t remember when I started”, but remembers when it opened in 1998.

“I can’t remember who the prime minister was at the time, but someone [from the prime minister’s office] came and opened the foodbank [in Hamilton] and I remember he said, ‘This will only be a short-term thing, people will only need the foodbank for a few months’.”

If the free market “reforms” of the 1980s and 1990s were such a success, one has to ask the obvious question; why do food banks still exist?

Mike Moore was correct when he pointed out nearly twenty years ago; “Food banks have been described as the most visible face  of poverty in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s poverty – like our domestic violence and child abuse – is best done privately, behind closed doors, and out of sight. The middle classes get queasy at the sight of poverty.

Little wonder that when Bryan Bruce’s sobering documentary, Inside NZ: Child Poverty was broadcast in November 2011, it raised a howl of furious indignation (mostly from the Right) that the election had been “politicised”.

Bryan Bruce reminded us just how far we had come, in the last few decades;

I’m a baby boomer. I went to primary school in the late 50’s when they gave us free milk, free health care and a free education. In those days, Kiwi’s were able to boast that New Zealand was a great place to bring up kids. So when I learned that we’d dropped to number 28 on the list of 30 OECD countries for child well being, with just Mexico and Turkey behind us, I decided to find out what’s gone wrong and what we have to do to fix it.”

Someone in history (the actual utterer remains uncertain) once said of the poor who could not afford to buy bread;

“Let them eat cake.”

Today, in 21st Century New Zealand, it is more like;

“Let them drink coke.”

It certainly is cheaper, as my trip to a local supermarket on 29 June demonstrated;

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Pak n Save (1)

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One of the most common moralistic exhortations by the Right is that the poor should be able to feed themselves and their families. They just need to “budget more prudently”.

Well, at 95 cents per 1.5L bottle of soft-drink, the poor have a much cheaper alternative than the more pricey (and healthier) option of milk.

It’s just a shame it will probably kill them through obesity-related diseases.

Is this what Roger Douglas really intended for his country, back in 1984?

There are six policy reforms which, if carried out, would go a long way to reversing the ingrained poverty caused by forty years of a failed free-market experiment;

1. Reverse the 1991 benefit cuts. This would allow the poorest families in New Zealand to at the very least buy milk instead of teeth-rotting soft-drinks, and turn the heaters on in winter.

2. Take GST of basic foods – fruit, vegetables, bread, milk, meat, fish, et al.

3. Raise the minimum wage to the Living Wage ($19.25/hr). The increase in take-home pay would be a boon to low-income families, as well as benefitting businesses throughout the country, as expenditure increased. As business turn-over increased; they would hire more people; leading to less paid in welfare, and more paid to the State in PAYE tax (helping Bill English finally balance those pesky fiscal books).

4. Implement Hone Harawira’s ‘Food in Schools’ Bill immediatly. Well-fed children learn better; succeed better; and contribute to society much better. If our Scandinavian cuzzies can do it, so can we.

5. Build more State houses, and stop flogging them off to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who comes knocking on Bill English’s door.

6. Free healthcare for all children 13 and under.

Can we do it?

Of course we can. If we can implement radical policies that changed New Zealand from a Fortress Economy (ex Muldoon) to one of the planet’s most open economies (ex Douglas) – then we can implement social policies that will make us a better, fairer, safer country.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

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References

Amazon: Children of the poor – How poverty could destroy New Zealand’s future

Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand

Waikato Times: Big demand puts pressure on foodbank

TV3: Inside Child Poverty – A Special Report

Additional

J R McKenzie Trust:  Child Poverty Monitor

NZ Council of Christian Social Services: Facts about poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

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18 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Why are these failed policies still being forced on our society and pulling us all apart into a have & have not void that breeds crime and hate?

    To promote a strong stable economy we must promote an even redistribution of our collective wealth not rob a pillage like carpetbaggers and “fast Eddies”.

    Why didn’t they look at the most successful countries that have a similar small economies as ours like Norway, Finland, Denmark & Sweden to name a few, the dumb plunderers.

    They will cause widespread pain and harm to us all for generations.

    • Why indeed, Cleangreen. It’s as if this country has a pathological obsession to implement harsh policies that fail the most vulnerable, whilst benefitting only a few…

      I’d like to think we, as a people, are better than that.

    • GettingOn says:

      Because the people with their hands on the tiller focus on short term gain. They don’t care about the long term consequences. I was listening to a TED talk last night on Netflix where the guy (an academic) said that one of the precursors of a collapse of society, e.g ancient Rome, Greenland Vikings and Easter Island given as examples, is when the elite gain short-term benefits from using up all the resources without considering long term risks.

      Also, the elite can afford to shield themselves in their gated communities from future risks like social upheaval. Maybe they believe they can shield themselves from environmental risk as well, although they may find it harder to hire a cleaner.

      Unfortunately this same elite control the media, so they carefully manipulate the population to believe that the system benefits them too, until it doesn’t. Then all bets are off.

      • Jack says:

        “Also, the elite can afford to shield themselves in their gated communities from future risks like social upheaval.”

        I agree that mega-rich are well protected from any type of social revolution… But no one has any balls to do anything anyway.

        • The other day I thought of a great protest action which would bring home to politicians (literally) the implications of signing the TPP. It would involve having a group of people turn up outside the homes of every politician whose party intends to sign the TPP and loudly auction off their house. If this was done across the country, as a coordinated Day of Action, with appropriately theatrical auctioneers, and on-message signage for photos and video, it could make an impact. Also, it would be fun.

  2. Rod says:

    “I’d like to think we, as a people, are better than that.”

    Frank, Im not so sure of this. The mentality of I’m alright jack is still well and truely entrenched in middle NZ as far as I can see. As long as they (the middle NZ’rs) don’t have to come across child poverty in their day to day lives, and can rationalize that the poor are the problem and not the victims, then I feel things will just carry on the same.
    What a depressing thought!

    • If the figures represented in this Pencilsword comic can be relied upon…
      http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-inequality-tower

      …then we have a large middle class, the 40% below the top 10%, who actually have a reasonable proportion of wealth; 43%. If they assume that everyone is roughly in the same position as they are, then I can understand why they think we’re whining. Whether it’s that, or they are afraid that lifting up the 50% with 5.2% will require pulling them down, I can understand why they keep voting neo-liberal (whether that’s National, or Labour as represented by the likes of Shane Jones, Clayton Cosgrove, or Kelvin Davis). If the top 50% vote neo-liberal, and a million of the bottom 50% don’t vote at all, it’s no surprise neo-liberal governments keep being elected.

      What we need to communicate is that we are not targeting that 40% who are only just doing alright, in fact we need their solidarity to change the manifestly unfair and unsustainable system which allows the top 10% to hoard about 52% of the wealth (so far), while infrastructure crumbles and people go hungry.

  3. Mike the Lefty says:

    Regarding the photo of the prices of milk and budget cola. I suspect that this is actually a Countdown special because their price until very recently has been higher than this. If so the comparison makes the price of milk seem even worse. Where I live, you can actually buy milk slightly cheaper at many local dairies than the supermarkets, providing you can afford to buy two at a time.
    I was also interested in the discussion on Jim Moira’s panel yesterday afternoon. He was talking to the Nat Herald’s Business Editor Lian Dann about whether milk was too expensive.
    Dann was little more than a National government and Fonterra apologist. He basically said it was unreasonable for us to expect milk to come down in the shops. When asked why, he admitted that Fonterra keep domestic milk prices high to help offset falling international prices. In other words, we New Zealanders pay more when everyone else is getting less. Does that make sense?
    The end conclusion from Jim Moira was that the high price of milk is the price we pay for free enterprise.
    “The price we pay for free enterprise”. That’s good. Aren’t we constantly told by the political right that free enterprise means more competition, which is supposed to mean lower prices and better value?
    Blows that theory out of the water doesn’t it?
    The price we pay for domestic milk is a wicked rip-off and it is conducted by a cartel which involves Fonterra, Federated Farmers, the government, Progressive and Foodstuffs. We shouldn’t expect this situation to change any time soon or later, everyone in this cosy little rort has been lining their pockets at our expense for a long time now and they won’t want to be giving that one up any time soon.

  4. adam says:

    My god Frank you’re such a fluffy middle of the road democrat sometimes!

    How can any of what you propose happen without changing the reserve bank act and ending monetarist policy? Well it could, but the reality is – all we need is a change to a Tory government, one economic crisis (probably manufactured) and the Tory scum will roll back everything in your list of 6.

    Don’t believe me – where you been the last 6 years? Third way – middle of the road reforms won’t work, why? Because of underlying economic dogma, and fact that the Tory scum in this country are deeply committed to a rigid ideology.

    But, OK keep trying to reform what can’t be reformed. Sure our grandchildren will be slaves or dead. But, hey what the hell ah – I know you don’t have your head buried in the sand – but a 6 point platform – piffle, hand wringing, whilst we all burn.

    • “fluffy middle of the road democrat”?! Hmmmm, I’ve been called worse, so that one I’ll take on the chin.

      One has to start somewhere, Adam. Bearing in mind the innately conservative nature of many/most New Zealanders, those six reform points are probably the best that can be achieved – for a while. So let’s take a leaf out of National, which implements ACT policies by stealth, on a gradual basis.

      Creating a democratic socialist state, one step at a time, may seem like glacial reform – but it’s better than spooking the natives. Remember, these are the one million-or-so punters who keep voting for Key, despite knowing he’s a dishonest car-salesperson/politician. (With a strange hair fetish to boot.)

  5. High Tory says:

    Actually the major effect rogernomics was to cause a virtual ‘civil war’ in the countryside as farmers on marginal land or smallholdings and debt written farmers were brought out and as the jobs for the professional class in the provincial cities vanished, so they departed for Auckland, Wellington and Australia. Within a few years in the mid 1980s almost all the families in many of the best suburbs of say Invercargill, simply left for elsewhere.
    Some of the effects of the Douglas, Palmer and Richardson years induced a great vitality and choice into the cities and many of the mentally ill were better having obtained freedom and confidence from the new Serotonin drugs. I seem to remember that Bill English was responsible for actually delaying the release of the new drugs and certainly National was elected in 2008 on a policy of giving power back to the specialists and doctors rather than the patient or client. It was actually Helen Clark who doubled the price of milk about 2002 on the basis the $1 pint, was too unprofitable for Fonterra. It was Clark too who listened to Roger Kerr the ’roundtabler’ and widened the gap between welfare and work and denied them family support on the basis of Stephen Mahareys provicial advise. Clark also purchased a 105 Lav Canadian GM light tanks, which have sat in sheds in storage since. Clarks investment in heavy and light rail in Auckland was also truly mininal in terms of her period in office, many other nations would have completed the project ten years ago. She also eliminated provincial passenger trains.

  6. Samwise says:

    Nice suggestions at the end, Frank. I can imagine Right Wingers spraying their gin and tonics over their keyboards as they read it! LOL!!

    I like the point you made abut expectations for frugality when the reality is that incomes simply don’t match outgings, especially once rents are factored in.

    Is there a Part 3?

  7. Draco T Bastard says:

    If the free market “reforms” of the 1980s and 1990s were such a success, one has to ask the obvious question; why do food banks still exist?

    Because our present socio-economic system has been designed to make a few people very, very rich and the only way to do that is by taking wealth off of the many. The increasing poverty that we’ve seen over the last 30 years is a direct result of the system that Rogernomics ushered in.

    • Lara says:

      And yet the right wing would argue that food banks exist now only because the “job wasn’t finished” and we didn’t go “far enough”.

      As if what we have not = worse than what we had before is because of some middle ground…

      which makes zero sense….

  8. Grant of Wellington says:

    Thanks Frank, a bit more substance to this blog post to that posted a couple of days ago. Mucking around with taking GST off food only means it needs to be recovered elsewhere.

    As an accountant, the problem I have with this blog relates to the way numbers are thrown about. It is all very well to, introduce Hone Harawera’s meals in school bills, move to the living wage of $19.25 per hour, build more state houses, reverse the 1991 benefit cuts and so on.

    For those who are not familiar with doing a home budget – income needs to match expenditure.

  9. jane says:

    The price of milk is laughable…austerity in the land of plenty….shame.

  10. Hard Graft says:

    Grant you should introduce that idea to Bill English as he has not run a surplus yet and he has clocked up 40 billion + in debt

  11. wild katipo says:

    Bread and circuses…and cake to boot…

    Next they will be throwing poor people to the lions in the Colosseum …and the rich people get to eat the cake…

    So both the lions and the rich people get to do well out of the poor….problem is…its not that sustainable…what will they do when they run out of poor people?

    I guess that’s what it means by the unsustainiblity of neo liberalism….when its used up the resources…it starts to cannibalise itself…

    LOOK OUT , MIDDLE CLASS !!!!

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