Sometimes I feel as if I live in two worlds. The world created by the National Government where everything is great and they’re doing a great job and the world as seen through the eyes of child advocates, community workers, unions, teachers, and health workers, where they are deeply worried that things are unravelling, more people are struggling and the hurdles are getting higher.
This morning I went to the Child Poverty Action Group Budget day breakfast to hear commentary from academics, and community people on the budget. I then come back and see the front page of the Dominion Post. The analysis of what the budget delivered according to these two groups is worlds apart. The paper is focussed on surpluses, more money for health, savings, and a bonanza for business. The CPAG breakfast spoke of growing inequality, $300m a year cuts in health, shifting of education resources to the private sector, and the biggest loser being our ability to act collectively to tackle social problems.
People have been talking for a while about two New Zealands; the haves and the have nots, those who own homes and those who don’t and may never. I’m worried that this seems to be becoming increasingly entrenched in our understanding of the world as well as our pay packets. The National Government obviously has a very slick PR machine and journalists are under ridiculous pressure to come up with a narrative and get the stories out. There needs to be a more conscious effort to speak between these worlds. Good decision making, good problem solving requires more than spin and more than one perspective.
The budget is supposed to represent our shared concerns but sadly this budget fails to represent our most pressing concerns as a country.
In the first Budget since the Coroner found that her cold damp state house contributed to Emma-Lita Bourne’s death, the Government made cuts to the Warm up NZ scheme for home insulation. While our media has been full of stories about increasing homelessness there is money in the budget to facilitate the sale of more state houses. Yes you got that right. The SALE of houses. I will admit there is also money for 750 social houses. 750 houses in the face of 34,000 people being homeless (figure from 2006 so a lot more today). There is also money for land but that is a medium to long term term option and seems to suggest the Government is still fixated on delivering fewer houses on more land rather than using the space we already have to accommodate more people.
This is the first Budget since the working group was set up start delivering equal pay for women. The working group starting meeting last year, and the expectation was set up that there would be money in this Budget for equal pay for caregivers, at the very least. Here we are though and nothing has changed. The National Government has been talking not delivering, and while there is a note in the contingency section it looks like women will continue to be underpaid for another year. The Government has made a commitment to pay caregivers for their in between travel time was partly funded in the Budget but this year there is no provision. It seems women and their families will continue to do life saving, highly skilled emotionally and physically demanding work for just over the minimum wage. The Government continuing to underpay and exploit women tells us women’s needs aren’t really considered important.
Two out of five children in poverty are in working families, and no-one even talks about the people without children who are in grinding poverty, the Budget projects wages will be 0.1% worse off after inflation; everyday people will find it harder to pay the bills. It also projects widening inequality as people doing the work get a smaller share of the profits compared to the shareholders and owners. So it rather looks like the Government is admitting their policies and priorities will make things worse for many people.
While more than one child a week dies of low income related diseases there is absolutely nothing to increase incomes for parents who are not in the paid workforce.
The Government tells us they are addressing any concerns we may have with the money going towards the social investment approach but increasingly concerns are being raised about this model. The infrastructure is expensive, and money that could be going towards ensuring all families have enough to support themselves is instead being spent on contracts and modelling and things we can’t quite see. This model will deliver increased targeting which means increased stigmatisation and more children falling between the cracks. These are significant problems but the biggest problem is that the entire model is being built with the goal of reducing government expenditure. The needs of children, families or disadvantaged people is of no concern to this model. As Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw of the Morgan Foundation points out, this can’t be fixed later. The whole model is fundamentally flawed.
It is especially concerning when you consider most of the community organisations who have the relationships with the people who are struggling, who are trying to support them to help themselves, haven’t had even a CPI increase in their funding for 8 or more years and many have had cuts. This is all while social stresses increase.
While Government sets aside money for their investment model to save themselves money in the long term they are starving our families and community organisations of the money and resources to hold our communities and families together. This is another Budget, following many, that effectively cuts funding to community organisations. Demand for community support is growing. Many refuges, as an example, are at the point of collapsing. The Government says addressing domestic violence is a priority yet they are depriving communities of the resources to actually support victim/survivors or perpetrators to get the help they need.
As more and more stories about cracks in the health system come out the Government delivers a budget that they say prioritises health but actually delivers $300m less a year than is needed to maintain services at the current levels of delivery.
The Government talks about money but it really seems they’ve forgotten the people.