Sunday, 10 August 2014

Poverty in New Zealand: The New Haves and the Have Nots.

On Tuesday July 29th, Nigel Latta's new series, simply titled Nigel Latta, began.  The first episode focused on poverty, subtitled The New Haves and Have Nots.  The show focused on poverty, inequality, how easy it is to land in the poverty trap, the working poor, trickle down economics, food banks and the despair of being trapped by debt.

The statistics on poverty in New Zealand have escalated over the last six years.  It is estimated that 270,000 children are in poverty in New Zealand.  The meme to the right says that 40% of children living in poverty are from the working poor, meaning that someone in their household is in work but it is not enough to lift their household out of the poverty trap.

We have kids coming to school from damp cold homes, malnourished and poorly dressed.  Often they are left in the care of older siblings or adults who are not their parents as their parents work long hours to put food on the table and pay for the basics in life.  Every now and again a curve ball is thrown at the family, for example a large mechanic's bill when the car fails the warrant or a family member dies in a distant town, so the family borrows from a loan shark at exorbitant interest rates, and the family is sucked further down into the poverty vortex trapped by owing money they can't afford to pay back.

And that makes me angry too.  Because if we are not doing right by these children today, what sort of adults will they grow up to be?  How will they teach their kids about money?  How will they treat us when they are running this country and we are old and dottery and can't look after ourselves?  To me there is a clear opportunity for karma, for what goes around comes around.  So we have to pay attention to this situation.  Now.

And one thing that stood out, while watching this programme, is how poverty becomes inter-generational, how we are handing down poverty from parent to child to grandchild.

During the airing of this show I live tweeted and below is a Storify collection of my tweets and the responses I got, as well as the tweets of others which spoke to me on the night as well.

As I watched this documentary with my parents, it caused a great deal of discussion.  My Mum and I are openly supportive of the left, but my Dad likes to play devil's advocate and claims to be on the right.  But that night, and on many other occasions of late, he said some decidedly left wing statements. 

My Dad is a truck driver.  He starts early in the morning.  He's also driven late into the night at other jobs.  He sees, at times, where the homeless are.  It is a growing problem.

My Mum is a trauma nurse, so she meets people of all socio-economic levels who live in all sorts of situations.  There are times when she has a patient who is homeless, and sometimes their condition means they can not be released from hospital unless they have a safe, warm place to live.  It is a bit hard if your home is under a bridge, in a cardboard box or a car parked up in a different place each night.

As a teacher I see a variety of students who come from different home situations.  I've taught kids who live in wonderfully warm homes with their own room, hot water, no mould issues and with all the mod cons.  These kids come to school having had a good breakfast, have a variety of great food for lunch, and then go home to a flash as dinner at night.  They wear the latest clothes, although I often find they are not always dressed as warmly as they should be. 

Then I've taught children who's family are bunking in with grandparents or at an aunty's house.  I've taught children from families who have too many people for the bedrooms available in the house.  I've taught children who have come from homes with damp and cold issues, black mould, a lack of heating and insulation.  I've taught children who didn't get a proper breakfast that morning, who may have bought a pie on the way to school instead and will eat another (cold) for lunch.  I've taught children who think eating raw noodle from the packet is a nutritious lunch, or who pick a lemon off the tree as they run to bus for lunch.  And I've taught children who have gone home to no nutritious evening meal.  I've taught kids who come to school in ill fitting clothes, clothes with major holes that are worn out.  I've taught kids who come to school with no shoes, no warm clothes on bitterly cold days.  I've taught kids with chronic health problems such as asthma, glue ear, repeated chest or throat infections, school sores.... because of their living conditions and/or lack of access to healthcare.

Most of those kids came from homes where at least one parent was working. 

What does that say about the ability of people to be able to provide the basics for their children?

To me that tells me the following:
  • the cost of housing is too high.
  • the state of that housing is too low.
  • expenses like food, electricity and healthcare are too high.
  • people are not earning enough money to house, feed and clothe their kids.
I have taught in a variety of schools, from decile one to ten, and these kids are at all of them.  At the lower end it is the majority of kids in all classes.  At the upper end there are one or two families at least in every class who face these issues.

And I have to say it has gotten worse in the 19 years I have been a teacher, and even more so in the last six years.

National came into government with the catch cry of a Brighter Future.  Well I think they failed the standard on that one.  The only futures which have gotten brighter in my opinion are those who already had a financial advantage and have taken further advantage with National's policies.

Paula Bennett, the Social Development Minister, seems to have some large blinkers on when it comes to poverty.  Being blinded to an issue that is a key part of your portfolio seems somewhat arrogant to me. 

Paula Bennett is the woman who was a solo mother at a young age; took advantage of the housing loan scheme provided by the government of the day to purchase her own home; when being a working mum was too tough went on the DPB; used the training incentive allowance to get her tertiary education (at which time she slagged off that National government for putting her in debt with a student loan); and who then became a National Party MP and the Minister who pulled up the ladder behind her so others could not have the same success as her and then tells us that children slide in and out of poverty on a daily, if not hourly, basis and that she has no statistics on poverty.

And it really doesn't look like National's attitude is changing either.  This is how a growing number of people see John Key and his National led government.  They don't see National as having their best interests at heart or that of the country.

So is New Zealand really ready to do something about it?  What are the alternatives?

This link will take you to the policies which Labour has announced so far.  They have policies addressing housing, health, education, food in schools, employment and more that aim to improve the life of families, children and the wider community.  There are many links to choose from on the page the link above connects to, and all these policies interlink as there is no one solution to poverty.  Each major policy area has its own comprehensive manifesto.  Links to the full manifesto for that area can usually be found at the bottom of the page of the issue you click on.

This link will take you to the policies which the Green party has announced so far.  Their key pivot for addressing child poverty is their Schools as Community Hubs policy, which I have written about in a previous post, Kids at the Heart of Education Nationwide Tour - Hamilton Public Library.

This link will take you to the policies for New Zealand First and what they have announced so far and to their 2014 manifesto which is 101 pages long!  The first of their fifteen principals is to put New Zealanders first and Winston is always adamant that his policies are for all New Zealanders and that those New Zealanders who find themselves in genuine and deserving need are looked after.

FYI: Georgina Beyer, former Labour MP, is standing for Mana in Te Tai Tonga in 2014.
This link will take you to the separate policies of the Mana and Internet parties that have been announced so far.  One of the key kaupapa stated on the Mana website is it "will promote policies that allow all New Zealanders to lead a good life".   And since the Internet Party is such a new entity I believe it is still developing it's core vision, but it seems to be attracting a lot of disaffected voters.  Sadly I missed the Mana Internet roadshow as it travelled through the Waikato.  I would have been interested to go along and hear all the hub hub.

This link will take you to the policies the Maori Party have announced so far.  Essentially their policy hinges on Whanau Ora, which they have enacted through their support for the National led government.  Some may argue that Whanau Ora has been in play and despite it poverty in New Zealand has increased.  I am going to put this argument out there: how much worse would poverty have been if it wasn't for Whanau Ora being put into practice?  I think we can say, without a doubt, that Whanau Ora is not in the full form that Tariana Turia would truly have wanted it to be implemented in; that National and ACT and United Future, as the other partners in government, have all watered it down somewhat.

This link will take you to the policies of United Future which have been announced so far.  Peter Dunne will, in my opinion, be lucky to still be in parliament after 20 September, but I've included his party anyway.  United Future is the party that has almost consistently been in government, having been a coalition partner to both National and Labour since soon after its formation.  Even though it seems less likely that he'd jump into bed with Labour after the 2014 election, Peter Dunn could work with them if it meant he got a ministerial portfolio.

I'm not going to bother putting up links to the other parties.  It's not just that I'm philosophically opposed to the other parties, but I have some clear reasons:
  • National - despite it being just under six weeks until election day, National still hasn't released any policy, and Lindsay Tisch (MP for Waikato) told a meeting I was at last Monday that the policies for 2014 were yet to be released.  So I'm not putting in a link to the 2011 policies.  I think National will put most policy out in the last 3-4 weeks before the election, after it has seen everyone else's policy, but then do a whole pile of stuff they did not tell you if they get into government again - just like they did in 2009 (e.g. National Standards and putting up GST) and 2011 (e.g. Charter Schools).
  • ACT - they really don't see that there is a poverty issue in New Zealand.  Their philosophy is so orbiting another planet it isn't funny.  I am hoping that Epsom voters do not allow themselves to be led by the nose to vote for David Seymour because he comes across as arrogant and entitled and their leader, Jamie Whyte, has no bloody idea what he's talking about.  Whyte's comments earlier this year in regards to incest as well as his having no idea what Whanau Ora was on Maori TV's  Native Affairs last Monday makes him a laughing stock of politics.  Combined with seeing their Hamilton East candidate, Dr Ron Smith, in action last week, I have come to the conclusion they are all a bunch of loonies.
  • Conservatives - I can't take Colin Craig seriously.  Here is a guy that is sinking all his money into his dream of getting into politics, but who has self-sabotaged with his theories of the moon landing and chem trails, not to mention threatening everyone with a law suit/tantrum if he doesn't get his way!!  Yep, another bunch of loonies circling a distant moon.

So that is what you can do election wise.  But what practical measures could you take?
  • buy an extra can or dried goods from the supermarket and pop it in those food bank collectors they have at the check outs.
  • or deliver some extra goods or a money donation directly to your local food bank.
  • volunteer at the homeless shelter to cook for the homeless.
  • if you know a family who would struggle to buy clothes, have a clear out of the kids clothes that no longer fit them and drop them off to that family.
  • there are some people in various towns that are running their own initiatives to help the homeless or struggling.  Campbell Live has covered some of these groups.
  • make a donation to your local school towards the kids whose families can't pay for the extras like camps or visiting performers or to be in a sports team.
And I would recommend that if you haven't watched Nigel Latta's programme on poverty, you really should.  The link is at the top of this post.