Most New Zealanders have become numbed to successive governments hacking away at our welfare state by undermining access and cutting entitlements.
It’s a process that’s been going on since the infamous Labour-led “Rogernomics” reforms of the 1980s and the National-led “Ruthanasia” restructurings which slashed benefit levels from 1991.
Even National’s $25 per week benefit increase last year pales into insignificance with the news that reductions in the real value of Working for Families payments since National took office have taken a cumulative $2 billion from the homes of families on low incomes.
This has been accompanied by a not so subtle constant stream of nasty sideswipes at families on low incomes. Just last week Prime Minister Bill English told us – when the facts tell us the opposite – that one of the significant reasons for high immigration is due to drug use by useless young New Zealanders.
These constant negative messages take their toll and have set the scene for the biggest attack on the welfare state to date with the largest privatisation of state assets ever undertaken in New Zealand – our $18 billion of state houses.
This sale programme failed in Invercargill and Horowhenua and the sale of state houses in Tauranga faces ongoing legal action.
Should the government succeed in Christchurch the wholesale privatisation of state houses will begin in earnest.
The process of undermining public support for state housing began in earnest some years back when National dramatically slashed state house waiting lists forcing families to continue paying escalating rents in the private sector. They told us many of these houses were either in the wrong place, the wrong size, an earthquake danger or other such nonsense. So we have thousands of state houses empty around the country while families sleep in cars, under bridges or two or three families together in one house.
The government seems quite content to thumb its nose at the more than 40,000 homeless across the country of which Christchurch has its fair share. Our city has people living in cars, garages, under bridges or in hopelessly overcrowded homes.
To put it bluntly the sale of state houses in the middle of a housing crisis is social vandalism.
The government says there is no need to worry because the houses being sold will remain available to families on low-incomes. Soothing words for National’s middle-class supporters but devastating for so many of those already marginalised, demonised and effectively excluded from meaningful participation in society.
The simple truth is the government is walking away from one of its key responsibilities – ensuring every citizen has access to a warm, dry, affordable home.
The government was forced to admit last week that it doesn’t know the true scale of the housing crisis. After delaying for six months it was forced to release a report under the Official Information Act which showed it lacked any coherent plan to increase the number of houses for families on low incomes. It doesn’t even know the size of the problem. It doesn’t care.
Instead of embarking on a large state house building programme to address the housing crisis it is working in reverse to sell thousands of state houses.
It’s an attractive offer for buyers. For example, a developer could demolish four state houses in a row, replacing them with 12 units of which only four need to be retained for “social housing” with the others sold privately. A very profitable exercise which is why large corporates are putting in bids for these homes.
This type of redevelopment should be done by Housing New Zealand to build up our state housing stock for so many desperately needy tenants and families.
This is a far cry from the origins of state housing in the late 1930s when old movie reels show cabinet ministers turning up to carry furniture into the first state house for the first kiwi family living in substandard accommodation.
Only the government has the resources and capacity to build the homes needed by New Zealand families. We faced a housing crisis in the 1930s and we face a housing crisis today.
To succeed in selling state houses they are relying on the rest of us to see our fellow citizens in need of housing as a burden rather than as people struggling in an impossible housing market.
At some stage in the future any of our children or grandchildren may need access to a state house and I’m sure we all want them to have one.
I feel confident Christchurch will not stand idly by while National asset stripes the city of state houses.
I feel confident we will defeat this policy by challenging it head on with a spirited community campaign on behalf of those in need now and those who will be in the future.
Watch this space.