It is great to see the Herald launch a six part series highlighting the impact of inequality and poverty in New Zealand. They started yesterday with a front page piece talking about inequality in New Zealand. The piece highlights the plight of families not considered poor:
Auckland couple Craig and Carla Bradley often have only $150 a week left for food. “We have gone two days without food just so the kids can eat. That’s when I was pregnant, too,” says Mrs Bradley, 29.
Monday’s Herald piece focuses on Auckland and looks at the census data. Good reporting has highlighted that median incomes for areas across the city have departed from their historical tie to the regional average income. Basically this provides evidence that the earnings gap between rich and poor parts of Auckland has increased. We must remember this data is from the 2006 census before the financial crisis and so we can expect the current situation to be somewhat worse given that the number of people unemployment has risen from 80,792 people when the census was taken to 171,225 part way through last year.
The National Government has no clear economic plan to address poverty. Its 15 post-election economic priorities do not address the issue of poverty. Mums and dads who go without food so that their children can eat will not have spare change to invest in SOEs. National and Labour’s tax policy have left NZ with lower tax rates in the OECD for those in the highest income bracket.
On the other hand, we have the world’s most comprehensive GST, one of the most regressive taxes that impacts those on lowest incomes disproportionately. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is busy consulting on her Green Paper on vulnerable children, but until we address the root causes of inequality and child poverty we will simply be papering over the cracks.
The most chilling part of the Herald series so far has been a quote from today’s article on tax from a mother described as “comfortable”:
“During the election was when it really hit me,” says Anita. “I had been to have a facial. Then I went to a supermarket and did the weekly shop. “I drove past one of the Labour billboards about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That’s $600 a week. I thought, ‘I’ve just spent that this morning having a facial, buying products from the beauty therapist and doing the shopping. How can a family live on that?”
Compare that to the plight of Lisa, a mother Metiria spoke to last year as part of our plan to bring 100,000 children out of poverty by 2014:
“How do you budget when your necessities cost more than you earn? An extra $60 a week would mean I could provide healthier food, my daughter could participate in more out of school activities, I’d get my bills paid faster so I could benefit from prompt payment discounts, and I wouldn’t have to panic if one or both of us needed the doctor unexpectedly.”
The Green Party takes an holistic view of inequality and poverty. New Zealand’s appalling rates of violence are partly a result of growing inequality. In its Green Paper, the Government seeks merely to address the results of poverty. By contrast, the Green Party has a plan to address the causes. Until we start to do this I anticipate more sobering stories like those in the Herald this week.