Grow A Heart, New Zealand

Let’s have a heart and lend a helping hand for the less fortunate, pleads PAT PILCHER.

 

Few will be surprised to learn that data from the Stats NZ Household Net Worth report shows the distribution of wealth in NZ is firmly slanted towards those at the top of the heap.

This translates into the wealthiest 20 per cent of NZ households accounting for a whopping 70 per cent of our wealth, with the top 10 per cent accounting for a staggering half. At the other end of the scale are the 40 per cent of Kiwi households who account for just 3 per cent of NZ’s wealth. The egalitarian NZ of our childhoods is no more.

New Zealand doesn’t so much have a wealth gap but a chasm, one that is rapidly becoming an unclimbable canyon for many kiwis.

Bill English with his blinkers on

It isn’t so much a case of the rich getting richer, but of the number of poor growing at an alarming rate.

Now it’s election time. Misinformation and robust online debates are flying thick and fast. Politicians are pointing their fingers at the opposition and proclaiming they’ve got the answers.

I’m calling bullshit on this. The data from the report shows that inequality increased hugely during the late 1980s and 1990s, and successive governments haven’t solved this growing poverty problem. Both National and Labour had their time in the big seat but the numbers on the breadline have continued to grow. Funnily enough, a small number of people also became very wealthy indeed.

Clearly, something is very wrong in New Zealand.

The Nats even sloganised poverty. Bill English famously claimed that unemployed youths can’t pass drug tests. Labour’s answer involved throwing money at the issue and hoping it’ll go away. Sigh.

Wealth doesn’t happen by magic, but it does involve having the right knowledge, long term planning, patience and skills. This seems to be lacking. Principles such as saving, investing and long-term planning are not difficult to teach, nor are they hard to learn. Why are they not taught? It’s appalling to hear rational and decent people writing off the poor, saying they’re lazy and so on. The truth is not that simple. It’s also galling to see middle class families with dual incomes, a home and food in the cupboard getting a taxpayer funded hand-out while also bashing the poor for being lazy bludgers. Life shouldn’t be a lolly scramble. That money could be spent helping those that actually need it.

So, what’s the answer? Whatever it is, it isn’t simple and may not be palatable to many. What is certain is that there are many angles and moving parts making up New Zealand’s poverty situation.

That we still have unemployment is bonkers. According to the latest stats, 4.9 per cent of New Zealanders of working age are unemployed. The really crazy bit are the massive skills shortages New Zealand has. There are chronic shortages of builders, electricians, IT and health workers. Isn’t it time that we started asking why we still have both skills shortages and unemployment?

Something is clearly broken.

Then there’s the growing numbers of homeless people begging on New Zealand’s streets. This isn’t a third world country, it’s what used to be called ‘Godzown’! Why is this even happening?

The unsympathetic comments of many tend to go along the lines of ‘these homeless people are the authors of their own misfortune.’

Again, the reality is far more complicated. For a start, there’s been almost a decade of chronic mental health underfunding. We also have a welfare system that refuses to work with people who have no fixed abode. These and other equally stupid issues are a toxic combination that is seeing a growing number of people falling through the cracks while a small number of people are growing wealthier.

Then there’s the new underclass that has emerged over the last nine years – people who cannot buy a house or afford to rent. Living in cars and garages is becoming more commonplace. The wealth gap has already become unfixable for many of these people.

But here’s the thing: These people need our sympathy and help, not disdain.

When did we all decide that having a ‘them’ was okay?

The sad reality is that with the prevailing economic climate in this country – not to mention globally thanks to the orange ape elected in the United States of Dumbfuckistan – more Kiwis will fall through the cracks to become one of ‘them’.

Please think about this when you see the self-serving partial truths spouted by politicians. Our willingness to help and ability to value human dignity is what makes us human, not short-term greed.

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