Sunday, February 10, 2013

Poverty in New Zealand

I have long believed that figures quoted for ‘poverty’ in New Zealand are way under the mark. There is a great deal of hidden poverty and some of that is masked by ‘credit card debt,’ with the owners of many cards in a position that will not see them paying off the debt for many years, if ever.
Figures quoting numbers between $18 and $20 as being the minimum wage needed for even a basic existence have been released. If you live in Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington, the issue is even more serious. Think back to the last election and $15 an hour failed to make it as an acceptable minimum wage.
If these figures for the new minimum wage are to be believed, then a vast number of New Zealanders are being left behind. God knows how they manage each week and if anything out of the ordinary hits them, then they slide further into debt. We are basically sitting on a time bomb, because the forces are building that lead to increased crime, suicide, child poverty, ill health and kids falling behind in their learning, simply because their households lack the means to provide a base in which to ‘thrive.’
I can hear the cries from those who say that ---‘hey we did it and look where we are now.’ Of course that can be true, but for many people, no amount of ‘cutting and scraping’ will mean that there is a surplus at the end of the week. For those living on various benefits, the problem is even worse, but the fact remains that for at least 750,000 ‘working NZers, poverty is a fact of life.
We will hear platitudes from the political parties, with National leading the way, to diffuse the situation by attacking beneficiaries and playing down the need for higher wages, all under the theory that NZ must be competitive on the international market; that is it must remain a low wage economy in order to be able to make profits. They don’t say however that much of that leaves our shores for foreign bank accounts.
Labour will play around the edges, but they can no longer make the claim that they are a ‘workers party.’ That label has long gone ‘south.’ The other parties will scramble for the crumbs of political clap trap; nothing in their policies making a real difference.
I have painted a nasty picture of the future for a large number of New Zealanders. For those who see the same factors or who live them and don’t think beyond how they feel, then there is always the ‘Australian scenario,’ but even that is now being increasingly seen as a dream that is often jaded for the players.
What can we do then in New Zealand, to restore some of those wonderful ‘halcyon days’ of that distant past, if it ever existed? I don’t want to be one of those individuals who just take swipes at the ‘system’ without suggesting answers, but sadly I suspect that I am. I watch Parliament when I can and that observation leads me to the conclusion that for the most part, it is a circus, albeit one that is supreme to the alternatives. I just wish that individuals could hold more sway with their ideas than party machines alone.
I get the feeling that the world to which NZ belongs has become one that is controlled by ‘big business, more so than Governments. One only has to look at how little large USA businesses pay way less taxes than they should, sending their profits to countries that allow them to hide their profits. If those companies paid their share, the USA could lead a recovery in the world economy and a ‘real trickle’ would flow down to those at the bottom of the pile. I suspect that the same issue affects large NZ companies.
Much could be done in NZ to close the gap if wealth was shared more evenly, but somehow, I know the battle is not happening re the poor, because their voices are not heard and they have little or no influence on policy making. The bottom line is that the rich fight far harder in a range of ways to keep their money than the poor, because they have the means. The poor simply do not have the power, but as their numbers grow, something will snap as it has in the past. Then the balance is partially restored until the next ‘tidal wave’ comes. We are approaching that time.
We are a small country and our ties are closer than those of larger nations, so perhaps that ‘connection’ can lead to meaningful policies and actions to prevent some sort of violent ‘shakedown,’ something that never works in the long run. I want to live in a country that ‘cares,’ as indeed many of us do, on both sides of the ‘wealth divide,’ and return to a more inclusive society.