As soon as we hear the word ‘review’ lately, we wonder what is in stall for a segment of the community. Unfortunately these fears are often true, because that segment more likely than not under this Government is probably going mean ‘those on benefits or lower incomes.’ We have all watched the Government battling with the Education sector, but that battle is a more equal one; that the unions/parents alliance is stronger, without doubt, hence some of the back downs we have seen.
For beneficiaries it is not so clear cut. The Government actually has a good deal of support to go down the ‘benefit cutting road.’ The latest group in the government’s sights are those renting homes from the State. We call them State Houses in New Zealand, so for my USA friends---I’m not talking about Sate Legislative buildings. For those in England I am talking about those Estate housing or Council housing, in the USA, maybe the ‘Projects, and I’m not sure what you call them in Australia.
The aim of these various housing schemes is to make housing affordable for lower income groups. New Zealand has had a proud history of providing affordable, State owned (and some Council housing) housing, right back to the 1930’s under a benevolent Labour Government. Since that time, various governments have played around at the edges of ‘costing’ these homes. Even Labour put the rents up in the 1980’ but the main instances of increasing rental prices has come under National Governments. They probably cynically assume that the tenants do not usually vote National, so there is nothing to be lost, politically.
Today we hear that the National Government is about to ‘review’ rental costs again, bringing them to a ‘level playing field.’ As it were. This at a time when many low income people and beneficiaries are really suffering, mostly through no fault of their own, then such a move is somewhat problematic, if not damn mean from my point of view.
I see on a daily basis how families are in a bad way, financially. Many cannot afford to send their kids to school with food or money for lunch; that may be after they have had little to eat for breakfast. Try teaching hungry kids! I can hear the cry that, ‘these families are choosing to spend their money on smoking, drinking and gambling. I am sick of hearing the vast majority of our citizens who try to make ends meet in a responsible manner, being slagged with this label. Sure a small group of people are ripping off the system, spend money they ‘don’t have, on things we all know just add to their problems,’ They really are a minority. Those making those claims only pass through South Auckland on the Southern Motorway--- they no nothing!
If the Government goes through with this ‘review’ and comes to the conclusion that many tenants are going to pay more--- what are they going to do to alleviate the problems that this will inflict on so many families? Will they end up having to rep-invent or boost an existing benefit to make up for the loss of spending power for the group they are aiming their review at? What a stupid move, economically, because that will be the effect. If they don’t make up the difference, I would not like to be a worker at WINZ (Work and Income NZ) offices, because they will need one hell of a lot more security guards to handle unhappy citizens.
For those of us in wealthier suburbs--- we will not be immune. When people need to ‘put food on the table,’ and they don’t have the means, then they seek out other solutions, mostly against the law. This latest proposals from the Government will force people over the edge. The answer is not in continually cutting, and then telling people to get a job--- those jobs don’t exist and those that do, are often at the bottom edge of the scale, paying a paltry $13.50 an hour. What family can live on this, even with topping-up benefits? Sure, we can up-skill through retraining, but even then at the best of economic times we have always had a group at the bottom, which cannot make ends meet.
It says a great deal about us as a society, as to how we help those who no fault of their own, find themselves at the ‘bottom of the economic pile.’ For those insensitive enough to say, that ‘it is their choice,’ you nothing of life. Yes, there are those amongst us who say---‘but I did it.’ Good on you, but the system does not allow everyone to lift themselves from the canyon of economic despair.
I am not advocating a ‘give and give more society, but I am asking for a humane and caring one—we almost had it at times in our history, but in these ---‘I must have it at all costs,’ society, those qualities are in real danger of being lost.