Sunday, 31 May 2015

How the generations ahead of me have screwed my generation and those after me.

I think everyone would agree that New Zealand is a different place to the country that faced a snap election in 1984.  For starters, shops are open on Sundays, it is easy for people to nip over to Sydney for a weekend, and the range of food choices in food courts and restaurants is beyond what we had in 1984.  Did we have food courts in 1984?
What happened?
Neoliberalism entered our political sphere with a force in 1984.  I was 10, in Standard 4, and becoming politically aware of what a government was and how its decisions affected me and those around me.  When David Lange's Labour won that election it changed the New Zealand I knew, that my parents knew.  Everything was turned on its head, and my generation and those after have reaped the consequences of neoliberalism.
Andrew Dean (picture from TVNZ via Google).
Several weeks ago, Jessica Mutch from One News interviewed Rhodes Scholar Andrew Dean for Q&A as he released his book Ruth, Rodger and Me.  This book covered Dean's reflections on how the policies of former Finance Ministers Ruth Richardson and Rodger Douglas have influenced his life, the lives of his contemporaries and society as a whole. 
This article Speaking for the generation born after Rogernomics (The Press, 1/5/15) also sheds more light on how Dean came to form his views and write his book.

Some have hailed Andrew Dean as the voice of this generation.  "His generation feels disconnected from society, and told that the discomfort of their stressful, competitive lives is necessary to have a competitive economy, though Dean doubts some of the assertions the young are asked to swallow."  (Stuff Business Day, 26/4/15)
Andrew Dean, at 26 years old, has written this book as a young man who has grown up knowing nothing but neoliberal politics.  I approach this as a member of the generation before him, whose lives were the guinea pigs of neoliberalism and even worse to come.

During the interview, Jessica Mutch pointed out that Ruth Richardson and her contemporaries had a different environment as they set up their lives - free tertiary education, cheap housing, standard employment conditions - all the things that Rogernomics and Ruth Richardson and the like worked to deconstruct in the early neoliberal years in New Zealand.  All the things that those of my generation, Andrew's generation and onwards have not been able to access.

Andrew Deans was able to interview Ruth Richardson at her home.  In the Stuff article, Speaking for the generation born after Rogernomics, it was written:  "As for Richardson, who Dean visited at her home near Christchurch, he says there could have been a temptation to do "a Conradian Heart of Darkness thing. You begin by going up river and then you arrive at Kurtz."
"Nice image, yet she too was generous, welcoming, thoughtful, kind and funny, while remaining "very forceful and certain of herself and what she believed". Dean talked about losses and Richardson talked about benefits. There was no sense that her thinking had changed over time."

During the Q&A interview, Jessica Mutch asked Andrew Dean, "Cause some of the ways you describe it in the book is that... young New Zealanders at the moment, are experiencing discomfort and disconnection, like a social phenomenon, in a way.  Can you explain what you mean by that?"

Andrew Dean replied, "A set of beliefs that suggest that being uncomfortable makes our lives better, that we'll be more productive, that we'll strive further, that we'll be better citizens if we are less comfortable.  So that means cutting welfare, that means implementing student loans.  And I suggest that the result is that for some people, some people, will be resilient, will be able to work through that, and the large number will be negatively affected by that and will live diminished lives.  Disconnection is the way that many people become alienated, especially young people from their communities which they might have belonged.  There is strong evidence for that, but no where stronger than in voting I think, where young people in the last election, I think it was 63 or 64% turn out for 18-30 year olds, it was above 85% for people over 65.  And when the New Zealand General Social survey asked people why they weren't voting, 46% of non voters said they did not feel like they belong to New Zealand.  If I am right the disconnection has been the result of the reforms, that it is not accidental.  It is built into the ideologies, very deeply."

This statement from Andrew Deans is very applicable to the last two elections where voter turn out has continued to fall, the level of apathy voters have towards their vote making a difference.  The recent UK election has all these hallmarks as well.  What is happening in both countries at the moment?  Huge neoliberal social policies such as the downgrading and abdication of responsibility of government in public health and education as well as various social services like housing and work readiness, and yesterday's TVNZ announcement that Dr Jonathon Coleman, Minister of Health, is looking to Social Bonds to pay for mental health services has already been implemented in the UK and US with no actual outcomes or dividends documented yet.  This is a link to the Social Bonds Pilot by the Ministry of Health.

Of course New Zealand is quite advanced down the neoliberal pathway.  We have already seen so much in the last 30 years.  When my brother and I were born in the 1970s, my parents had no concept of us having to pay for our education or that jobs would be as rare as hen's teeth as we left school in the early 90s.  The world had changed dramatically from when they left school in the 60s to when we did in the 90s.  The world has changed so much again in the twenty odd years since I left school.  It was hard then, it's that little bit harder now.
Student loans and fees were put in place just a year or two before I left high school.  I'd already seen my parent's agricultural contracting business crumble under deregulation and my Dad try to forge a new career path and my Mum return to nursing, to a lower qualification as hers had been disestablished.  I watched as rural NZ lost their post offices, councils were merged and hospitals summarily closed.  I saw a thriving town like Te Aroha lose the big employers like IRD and the power board, as well as their Farmers store, to become a place where you now almost expect tumbleweed to blow down the main street on a week day.

As I left school I had to cope with the lack of jobs and the almost impossible task to get welfare because I lived at home.  I had a gap year before starting university because I didn't get my first choice placement and decided my second choice wasn't for me in the end.  The gap year was a good move for me personally.  It gave me an opportunity to grow up a bit before going into the heady world of university.  I learned about working - short term jobs, but working none the less.  I did do some study in office management and hospitality, which has helped me in my following study and work life.

University was a struggle financially.  I avoided a student loan in my first year - it was the only year my parents were able to help with half my fees.  I paid the rest with an overdraft from the bank, which I never was able to clear until I had been working a few years after graduation.  My last year of university was paid for with a loan from my grandmother and my first Visa card.  The three years in between were student loan years.  I had a student allowance (thank goodness for my parent's accountant and a loss making business my parents owned) and I worked part time and during the summer holidays every year, at one stage holding down three separate jobs part time.  I also worked for my father for free at times (see why below) as well as the odd bit of baby sitting for neighbours.

Today, the fees are bigger.  I'd be surprised if a student today could pay half a year's fees on a student overdraft or save the money in a summer break with the casualised nature of today's workforce.

The only way my parents were able to support me during my university years was to have me at home.  I had looked at going to Massey or Auckland Universities, but my parents balked at the costs that would bring.  As we lived a quick fifteen minute drive to Waikato University, it was deemed the best choice for my study.  My mother also went back to study while I was at university.  She worked four days a week while upgrading her nursing qualification at Wintec.  My parents expected board payment from me was an HP I paid for them, and Dad did most of my mechanical work until I got a car that bamboozled him. 

It was hard enough in the 90s with the constrictions National had placed on young people and study.  Benefits were drastically slashed in the Mother of all Budgets.  The Employment Contracts Act had gutted conditions, restricted pay and changed the face of employment forever.  Unions were demoralized.  Nurses had their pay slashed by the dissolution of a nationwide collective agreement into individual DHB agreements.  I watched my Mum fight as a member of her union for 10 years to bring back a nationwide collective for nurses.  I saw our power companies privatised and sold off for "better competition", but the price of power continued to increase year on year and the increase of blackouts too, during the 90s, as the power grid couldn't keep up due to the national strategy for electricity having the rug pulled out from under it by privatisation.  I watched as more hospitals, schools and businesses closed.  Manufacturing fled New Zealand for foreign lands.  I watched the social fabric of New Zealand rot away.

My one hope was to get rid of National.  Labour had a lot of ground to make up for after letting Roger Douglas and Richard Pebble loose in the 80s, but Helen Clark was trying to redeem herself and her colleagues.  It was a huge relief when they did win the 1999 election. 
Helen Clark's Labour government of the 2000s was very good for me personally.  If it wasn't for this Labour government, my student loan would not have been paid off fully in 2009.  I would not be in the two superannuation schemes I am in.  I had job satisfaction in that teaching felt secure and there was wonderful professional development opportunities and exciting options as a teacher afoot.
If it wasn't for Clark's Labour government, NZ would not have survived the GFC as well as we did.  New Zealand survived because Michael Cullen was a fiscally responsible Minister of Finance, who despite increasing the spending government did, ran nine surpluses in a row and reduced New Zealand's overseas debt to the lowest in several decades.  Many people in New Zealand improved their standard of living under Labour in the 2000s.
But then John Key's National won the November 2008 election and I knew that it was over.  For starters, those opportunities that were there for teachers under Labour were slashed quickly by National.  Public sector jobs were capped and backroom workers were actively seeked out and eliminated, never mind the impact on the frontline.  This government was out to reduce the "bloated" government spending in the public sector and social spending. 

We've now seen seven deficits in a row from National and the overseas debt is four times greater and growing than when National was elected.  It currently stands at approximately $88 billion and we tax payers are forking out $10 million in interest a day as a result.  National prides itself on being financially prudent, but the last seven years in comparison to the previous nine years speak for themselves.  National, you fail the standard on financial competency.

But I despair more for NZ under Key's government than I ever did under Bolger/Shipley's government.  The contempt shown by this government to many citizens is of great concern to me.  The way they treat beneficiaries is with contempt and pulled away many of the hand ups to get out of the poverty trap while piling punitive strategies in for not toeing the line (see my post When Life Gives You Lemons, Dealing With WINZ Sucks Even More).  They do not treat the public sector (government workers such as teachers, nurses, DOC staff, customs, police, corrections, etc) with much respect if any either.  Backroom staff have been slashed to the detriment of what happens on the front line, and woe be told if you speak out, because, as Paula Bennett and Hekia Parata have shown, all your private details can be in the public eye as quick as lightning.
We saw last year thanks to Nicky Hagar's book Dirty Politics just how corrupted this current government is and how they will use right wing bloggers to muddy the waters and ruin a person's reputation.  Even ordinary people like you and I can be easily smeared by the Oily one and his mates - I know, because I was.  I have discussed this in a previous post, Beware the bullies who don't want you to exercises your democratic rights.
I really worry for how this country will be in 25-30 years time when I come to retire. 

I make this point about the future often: that if the government won't protect children, how can we expect it to protect its elderly?  I've been making it for nearly seven years now.
This government and those who voted for it (or didn't vote at all) have screwed over the youth of today by the lack of jobs and job stability.  They have introduced dodgy GERM ideology into our education system (without the will of educationalists and against best practice and research) that will not benefit children, increased child poverty and made no constructive moves to address it, locked their parents into a life of no job or home security, backtracked on free doctors visits, underfunded and denied access to so education for special needs kids and those who need that little bit extra....
I could go on... and on... and...
We are creating in today's society a larger and larger group of have nots.  I despair as I walk down the Victoria Street, Hamilton's main street, and see the homeless people who congregate there.  They weren't there twenty years ago!  They weren't there ten years ago!  I hear stories of more and more people struggling to find a house to live in in Hamilton and small Waikato towns.  People are living in their cars or in friend's garages.  I see which child is a have and which child is a have not when I walk into a classroom at the beginning of the day.  They stand out.  I discuss this in this post from prior to the election last year, Poverty in New Zealand: The New Haves and the Have Nots.
As hard as it was for my generation, as the guinea pigs, I feel gutted for those who come after me.  I have a young friend in her final year of Law at the University of Waikato.  She holds down a part time job, is actively involved in her student community and the wider community as well as studying, and currently her student loan sits at above $80,000.  That is what we are saddling the emerging graduates with.  Imagine how long that will take her to pay off, how that will prevent her from getting a mortgage to buy a home, stop her from having children.  Imagine that.

In 2009 I met a new grad, with a degree in communications and marketing.  To this day, she has not had a position in the field of her qualification - because I am sure working retail at JB Hi-Fi really does not count.

I look at my nephew who turned 5 and started school at the beginning of term two in April.  He loves learning.  But I know the damage done to the education system of this country in the last seven years, and I have a fair idea of what is to come.  His mum and dad work very hard to provide for him and his two year old sister.  But their work lives are at the mercy of the market and how business is done.  What will it be like for them when they leave school?  What choices will they have for work or study?  What financial burdens will be placed upon them before they have begun to be real contributing citizens of this country?

But my point here is that when I'm old and dottery, today's kids and youth will decide my fate as an old person.  The generations before me have screwed me over (I still don't own a house either thanks to high house prices) for the last 30 years, and those generations before me will screw me over for the next 50 years because of their selfishness and the legacy they leave the generations after me.
And what have they taught today's generations of youth?  It's ok to screw everyone over because we are screwing you over.
How do we change this?
Well you had an opportunity to change this last year.  All you had to do was get out and vote to change the government to put a little bit of hope back into the lives of so many.  But New Zealanders last year failed the standard on being a voter.  You failed to think about how government not only impacts on yourself, but also your neighbours, the children we have now, and the children yet to come. 

You next get that opportunity for change in 2017.  Please use it.

That's why I fight, that's why I tweet, that's why I blog.  But shit,  I'm really tired.