by Phil Duncan
“This situation is urgent. As the new Government, you can release the growing constraints on individuals, families and children.” A letter from over 40 organisations, from the Salvation Army to the Child Poverty Action Group to the Citizens Advice Bureau, has just called on the government to increase social welfare. They point out that years of low wages and high rent have left many parents unable to provide their children with things they need.
At the start of this year Statistics NZ published data that showed that after several years of what we were told by the Labour Party leaders would be a “transformational” government there had been “no significant change” in material hardship rates since 2017. One in every eight children were still living in families suffering material hardship. Among Maori children it was one in four and among Pacific Islands children it was even higher, at almost 29%. (Material hardship is officially defined as the situation when households are not able to do things such as eating fruit and vegetables, doing doctors’ visits and paying electricity bills.)
Child poverty rates are likely to have risen in 2020 with the Covid-19 lockdown and increased unemployment and wage losses, in the context of continuing vastly inadequate welfare payments and a low-wage economy in terms of comparable First World countries.
Along with the misery of the poor has been the objectification of them.
Two items on the early evening TV news last night pointed this up. One involved volunteers in an Auckland warehouse packing Christmas hampers for the poor. Newshub’s report noted this is the 20th year of these particular Christmas Boxes and that volunteers say they’ll be back next year; “Yeah, it’s great fun”, they cite a packer saying. The news item is phrased entirely in how good it feels for the volunteers. There is no consideration in how those receiving the packages might feel better if they actually had the funds to buy their own food and Christmas goodies. Maybe after 20 years of this kind of activity the volunteers should be angry at the existence of this level of poverty in a First World country. Maybe they should be helping organise a movement, with the poor, to end poverty.
The other news item was about a company that announced it was giving away $100,000 in $5 bills in downtown Auckland. People who turned out then had to scramble for the bills, many of which turned out not to be actual money but gift vouchers – in other words it was part of an advertising campaign and people had to lower themselves to grabbing these vouchers and a few five dollar notes.
That we now live in a society in which a layer of people think it is OK to demean people in this way, desperate people in the run-up to Christmas, is absolutely revolting. One person interviewed on the TV news had driven all the way from Palmerston North to Auckland in the hope of being able to get enough $5 notes to cover the cost of their petrol and get some money to help towards the costs of their son’s operation ended up flat on the road under several bigger people.
The people who showed up would have been better off rioting, frankly. Rioting would have showed they are not going to be demeaned, but will hang onto and fight for their own dignity.
This is the real world of capitalism in New Zealand in the 21st century.