4 November 2013 Book ‘The Future is Now’: Chapt 15 of “Inequality in NZ” edited and collated by Max Rashbrooke

The chapter author, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, suggests that we are creating the future now in the values and attitudes of today’s children/tomorrow’s citizens.  Evidence and facts (in this case about inequality) are interpreted by those in power as they ‘can determine what is truth and what is nonsense’ and therefore what can be ignored.  We all believe what we want to.  This can only change with compelling stories, vision, courage and persistence.  Ultimately should we harness people’s ‘outage’ to effect change?  What form might effective ‘outrage’ take?

We noted that there are different kinds of poverty – not just money but also time, skills, influence, ability to make choices, education, literacy.  Addressing only one aspect will not address the others!  The author suggests that a common perception is ‘It is the fault of poor people that they are poor’, but when poverty exists across most elements of modern living, the odds are heavily stacked against them.  Often the circumstances are not of their own making, many kinds of poverty have been inherent aspects of their whole lives to date.

The author argues that education is a key factor in addressing poverty.  The group noted that this is only the case if there are jobs available which match the range of skills that the society can offer from semi-skilled upwards and that all jobs provide a level of net remuneration which allow a sufficient standard of living to participate in society ie a living wage.  The NZ economy has removed many low paid/skilled jobs as businesses close; in some cases such jobs have been replaced with higher skilled roles – effectively locking out the lower skilled.  Many roles eg looking after the young and the old and prisoners are not greatly valued by society, so are low paid and additionally have not been well served by the ‘business for profit’ motive. The great proportion of those employed in the tourist industry eg hospitality, are not skilled or well paid, but the Government is placing great emphasis on increasing tourism.  It was suggested therefore that tourism is not a route which will lead a great number out of poverty.

It is our impression that most Government agencies regard beneficiaries as trying to rip-off the system; there is a basic lack of trust which results in unnecessary hardship and high levels of bureaucracy re-applying for benefits and challenging decisions.  (Note these also put the ‘poor’ at a disadvantage.) Surveys suggest fraud is quite low; it would be more fiscally significant if more rigour was applied to simplifying tax law, closing loop holes and chasing down tax evaders.

Ian Harris

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