Metiria Turei

Inequality in Aotearoa: an idea whose time has come

by Metiria Turei

A major feature of the UK election campaign whose results we’ve all been hanging off (and by the way why would we even contemplate a return to FPP given the grossly disproportionate result it’s produced over there?) was the importance of inequality.

One of the Liberal Democrats’ key campaign planks was a tax-free threshold of ₤10,000, a measure widely acknowledged as one of the most effective ways to use the tax system to address inequality: everyone gets a tax cut, but those on the lowest incomes benefit most.

Instead of cutting the top tax rate for the highest income earners – particularly reckless in light of an OECD tax report out today – John Key’s Government should be looking at tax changes that promote more equality, not less.

Among other strange things about the UK election campaign was the irony of the Conservatives producing this billboard:

Clearly, inequality, and the need to reduce it, has become a major political issue in the UK. People there are beginning to recognise that reducing inequality is in everyone’s best interests, not just the worst off.

I think there are promising signs that the same sea change is happening here.

A couple of week’s ago, The Listener’s cover story was about inequality (a preview is available here, but the full content won’t be online until 22 May).

It’s great to see the issue of inequality getting such high-profile attention.

The story itself is interesting. It argues based on updated research by Massey University Department of Marketing’s International Social Survey Programme that New Zealanders don’t care as much about inequality as we used to, even though the gaps have widened. (Sample result: Are income differences in New Zealand too large? In 1992, 72 percent said yes; in 2009, 62 percent).

Though I’m sure the research is accurate (and the results are very interesting) I’m not sure that it’s right to conclude from this that inequality is a dead issue for Kiwis. I suspect that inequality drops off the radar for many people during economic boom times, but becomes starker and more pronounced in recessionary times like those we are currently experiencing.

Also, research like that of The Equality Trust shows plainly why inequality is an issue we all need to care about: it affects every one of us. The implications of this research are catching on in the UK and I think they will catch on here too.

New Zealanders have always thought of ourselves as an egalitarian nation where everyone gets a fair go. If we want this to be a reality going forward, it’s decision time.

I choose a better, fairer, more equal society. What about you?

Meyt says