7 Time for Jacinda to act on poverty

by Christie on October 25, 2018 at 10:00am

Photoshopped image credit: Technomage

If this government is good at anything, it is talking about what they are going to do. They are going to plant a billion trees. They are going to build 10,000 houses a year. None of these things are showing the slightest signs of happening, but they still talk as if they are in full control of everything.

One News has published an article where poverty advocates are calling on the government to stop talking about fixing poverty, and to actually start to do something. quote.

Auckland Action Against Poverty is calling on the Government to close the gap between rhetoric and reality, and to do something to address the worsening situation for society’s most financially vulnerable.

The group’s coordinator, Ricardo Menendez March, spoke to Breakfast this morning about the increasing number of people needing government assistance.

“Well, over the past few years, we’ve seen a steady increase of the number of people requiring hardship assistance, particularly food grants, but there’s been a really steep jump from last year to this year, and I think it’s showing that we’re reaching crisis levels, where far too many people are requiring food grants to get by,” Mr Menendez March said.

He said over 300,000 people required assistance. end quote.


So this is what ‘bringing kindness back’ looks like? quote.

“Things are getting worse.”

He says rising rent costs are “the biggest driver” in the “jump” in numbers.

“New Zealand reports show that people on the benefit have been the most disproportionately affected by the rising cost of rent, and nothing has been done to address that.

“There’s other stuff, such as petrol, food, etc, but it’s really the cost of rent and housing that’s affecting beneficiaries the most.” end quote.

I don’t think this is just about beneficiaries either. I think there are a lot of working people in the same situation, and that is the really hard part. There was a time when having a job meant you could pay the bills, within reason. There is no guarantee of that any more. quote.

Mr Menendez March says what can be done is for the Government to “raise benefit levels, at the very least”.

“Child Poverty Action Group released a study suggesting that they should at least be doubled, and that would only put them 60 per cent below the poverty line at this point, so it wouldn’t even put them over the poverty line. end quote.

Raising benefits is not the answer. Getting people into work is the answer, even if it means they will still be receiving a benefit in the form of Working for Families. Better to get them working than not working. They have better prospects for themselves and their families if they find work. quote.

“People are going for cash and low-paid work in the regions, and they don’t last for very long, and they go back onto the benefit, so the Government needs to be creating well-paid jobs if they want people to go into work.”

He says, however, that “so far, we’ve seen no clear indication or timelines on when they’re going to be removing benefit sanctions or raising benefit levels”.

“So far, it’s been really disappointing to see Jacinda Ardern at the UN talking about kindness and compassion. Well, we’ve got a really unkind welfare policy that is punishing our most vulnerable. end quote.

This is the problem when all you do is talk the talk. You create expectations that probably can never be met. Jacinda cannot double benefits, even if she wanted to. It would be political suicide. They cannot remove all sanctions on benefits either. That punishes taxpayers and means there is no incentive to go out to work. We might as well all just go on the dole.

There are no easy fixes to these problems and I have more sympathy for workers on low incomes than for beneficiaries because I can’t imagine anything worse than going out to work for 40 hours a week or more and still not being able to pay the bills. That is what is happening in a lot of low-income families, and it is tragic. Most of them vote Labour, and yet fail to see that Labour’s policies will keep them in poverty for their entire lives.

There are things that this government could do to help the situation, but such things are an anathema to their ideology. The first thing is to stop beating up landlords, which would make housing more available and, by default, more affordable. Secondly, they could get on with what they have promised and actually build some of those 10,000 houses a year. Then they could remove the fuel taxes. That would be a start.

Sadly none of these things will happen because all Labour is capable of doing is talking the talk.