It is not that we did not know overturning thirty years of neo-liberalism would be a huge job. But last week’s budget began to bring into focus how big the gap is between a decent society and the rampant inequalities, shortcomings, failures to provide and so on that we currently have.
The amount extra to be spent is good, but it is many billions of dollars short of what is needed. How big is the gap? Well, it is hard to estimate, but must be in the region of $20 billion a year in additional government operating expenditure needed at least, rather than the $4 billion provided.
The budget reminds me of the Starlings that nest in our roof each year, with the parents desperately working to feed the chicks until they stop squawking (i.e. have had enough). It is a thankless task for the birds, and for the parents. The government is facing many, many unfed chicks who want, at last, their share of the worms.
If I could spare a word for the teachers. Teachers only ever get decent pay increases under Labour-led governments, so they are forced into a strongly militant position against the only party that supports them. This is a fine line, of course. It is also a bit sickening, when you have the National party making a big thing of paying teachers more. Are teachers the saviour of the waged classes, aiming to ratchet up pay (and God knows this is needed), or in a time of too few resources, wanting more then their fair share? I don’t know, but do get this mess settled (and it is good to have the teachers’ unions working together on this – I have long been an advocate for one teachers union for everyone, as it was until the secondary breakaway in the 1960s).
The budget does not unpick neo-liberalism but it does make a start in transferring more state resources into vulnerable areas. Unpicking will require tax increases for the well-off and income transfers to those in need. The ‘social contract’ of provision of universal health care, education, housing for low income people, support for children and universal old age pensions is still a very long way off. Really only pensions have survived unscathed and that has been at a cost to end-of-life health services.
The indexation of benefits to wages is a great initiative, except that where is the extra $200 per week needed to bring benefits back up to 1991 levels? And the rise needed to provide a fair wage for all?
Now the chicks are getting restive, because after 30 years of the wealthy sucking up all the resources in New Zealand, there is hope for the rest of us. Remember that Max Rashbrooke’s work demonstrates that 90% of us are worse off than pre-neo-liberalism. In order to imbue us with wellbeing there is such a lot to be done. In ruling out tax increases in this term (and we can see why Labour did this and it probably got them over the line) the government has shackled itself tremendously, meaning that many needs will remain unmet.
Many families have vulnerable people who will be helped by this budget, in particular in the mental health field. One in five of us, and all that. But I do feel this is not a budget that will re-elect a Labour-led government. Too many chicks are still hungry. While not entirely Labour’s fault (partially, though, because of the actions, or inactions, of the Clark and Lange/Palmer governments), the buck stops with them.
All eyes will now be on having a better year, and having a great budget in 2020 that reaches in to the bleeding heart of neo-liberalism and kills that movement stone dead.
I like this government. I have vaguely contemplated voting for it next year. It would be my first vote for Labour since 1987 – 33 years. The Greens seem to have lost direction, whereas Labour is just finding itself. But at some point down the line there needs to be bold action to match the bold words. I look forward to it.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.