There have been lots of reasons to feel proud to be a New Zealander lately. We have hosted what looks to me like a brilliant major sporting tournament (the debacle around the opening notwithstanding) where we have fulfiled the “stadium of 4 million” ideal. And what’s more on the field the All Blacks are poised to break the 24 year drought and make us world champions again.
But today I read two stories in the New Zealand Herald that made me ashamed as a New Zealander. The first is the news that the government has slashed the number of food parcels it hands out by 20% in a year at a time when foodbanks are dealing with more and more individuals and families who need support for the very basics of food. Food parcels are not about anything other than people getting the necessities of life.
Last night in Wellington there was a public meeting on poverty issues where Stephanie McIntyre from Downtown Community Ministry talked about the more than 400 clients they dealt with in the three months to June. They do a great job at DCM, making real and substantive differences in people’s lives, but the current government is making their job much harder by changing policies to make it harder to access food grants.
The government’s approach in my view is privatising dealing with poverty, it is an abdication of responsibility and it is morally wrong.
The second story is an acknowledgement from John Key that the “underclass” he talked so much about in the 2008 election campaign has grown under his watch. He can’t deny the evidence, it is all around from the massive increase in foodbank use, the rise in unemployment to health indicators like the 5,000 extra avoidable hospital admissions among children for respiratory illness and skin infections.
So the PM acknowledges it, great. But he is not a spectator here, he is actually running the government. More can and should be done to directly attack the growth in poverty. It is simply not good enough.
Labour has policies that are directly aimed at addressing this, from the increase in the minimum wage to $15, a fairer tax system including making the first $5000 tax free for everyone, increasing the top tax rate and introducing the CGT. We also will have a comprehensive children’s policy, which as Annette King has already announced will include legislating targets for the elimination of child poverty. And for me that must be the goal. Nothing less is acceptable.
At the forum on poverty last night Brian Easton spoke and he said while it was possible to argue on a technical basis about the best policy response to poverty, the real question to be asked is what are the ethical and moral principles that lie behind the policies. It seems to me to be hard to find an ethical principle that lies behind cutting the number of food parcels or letting inequality and poverty grow.
I think Brian’s question is a legitimate one to ask. So here is my answer. The ethical basis for Labour’s policy at this election is fairness, inter-generational responsibility, inclusion and respect and a belief that if we reduce ineqaulity we will harness all our potential, which common sense tells us will benefit us all. So what’s the ethical basis for National’s policy?