The timing of our ANZAC Day commemorations coincided with another annual April event the Global Days of Action on Military Spending.
April 2020, will be remembered for the Covid-19 crisis with its echoes of the 1918 flu pandemic. This ongoing calamity throws into sharp relief the prioritising of military spending over the well-being of people and our planet.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) annual figures onworld military expenditures show that 2019 global military expenditure increased for the fifth year in a row. World military expenditure totalled an estimated $1,917 billion (US) in 2019 – an increase of 3.6% from 2018 and the largest since 2010. United States, China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia accounted for 62% of expenditure and for the first time that two Asian states featured among the top three military spenders.
How does Aotearoa-NZ compare ?
The first ‘Wellbeing Budget’ revealed an astonishing 24.73%*, increase in spending compared with 2018. However, only a month later, the government announced it would spend $20 billion over the next decade on increased combat capability, frigates and military aircraft. In the meantime, the pressing needs of whanau and children living in poverty as well as housing, health, education, disability and other public services were largely overlooked.
Earlier in 2019, the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG)’s report ‘Whakamana Tāngata’ urged an increase in main benefits and improved Working for Families tax credits for all families. The Families package in 2018 had done very little for the 174,000 worst-off children under the lowest poverty line (40% after housing costs). Few seemed to notice that the 2019 ‘Wellbeing’ budget boosted military spending along with contributions of $2 bn/year to the New Zealand Super Fund (NZSF).
The Covid crisis has exposed the fragility and flaws in the social security safety net. Who could ignore the extraordinary numbers queuing at foodbanks for basic needs? Yet, these military and NZSF contributions took priority over the struggles faced by many low income families and their children.
The Child Poverty Action Group challenges the wisdom of continuing contributions to the New Zealand Super Fund (NZSF) especially in Covid-19 times. Families and other taxpayers must pay tax to fund not only current pensions, but also help fund their own state pension when the fund starts to be drawn down after 2050.
The numerous crises facing Aotearoa-NZ and the planet make it imperative that our resources are diverted first to our most vulnerable citizens. Expenditure on destructive weaponry and saving for a distant future makes little sense when unemployment and poverty are set to rise inexorably in the coming months.
Clearly the precarious nature of paid work for many whanau is both distressing and debilitating with long-term effects on parents, caregivers and children. Every means
possible is needed now to mitigate the harm that ensues when income support is unavailable, inadequate and hard to access.
Internationally over 60% of those losing jobs are women. This gender imbalance will get worse as unemployment rises. The sectors hit hardestare those generallyconsidered “feminine,” such as healthcare. The impact will be felt not only by those involved in the COVID crisis but also on other healthcare services, education, caregiving, and leisure and hospitality. Even at a time when the relevance and necessity of these community-building services are more evident than ever, those employed in these sectors are most vulnerable to being laid off.
CPAG supports the WEAG recommendations for a secure safety net for all people, when their circumstances change as Covid-19 virus highlights so painfully. CPAG urges an immediate policy extension to allow all low-income families to have the full Working for Families support to deliver at least another $72.50 /week as this will help the worst-off families keep their children safe and well. The cost is around $450m, a very small fraction of military expenditure.
By suspending the extra $20bn (NZ) allocated to military speeding in last year’sbudget as well as annual contributions of $2bn to the NZSF, the government will demonstrate its declared commitment to the wellbeing of low income families and their children.
Janfrie Wakim is a member of WILPF, a trustee of the ANZPCSCT and founding member of CPAG.
The NCPACS was made possible by a $1.25m donation from the Aotearoa New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Trust (ANZPCSCT).
* https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1905/S00497/wellbeing-budget-shocking-rise-in- military-spending.htm