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Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination? Labour Leadership Q&A #4

Posted by on September 11th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 4

Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting yesterday (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The three candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : Gender pay discrimination in NZ is a reality. The recent ruling in the Kristine Bartlett/SFWU case gives some hope. How would your leadership promote progress on achieving equal pay for work of equal value?

Submitted by : Lesley Soper, Invercargill



Answer from Shane Jones

The previous Labour Government made progress in this area.

It increased the wages of nurses.

I will use my position of leadership to ensure that the States resources are spent to give concrete improvement towards pay equity.

This is a core feature of Labour Party strategy and will not be neglected if I am leader.


Answer from Grant Robertson

I am really proud of the work of SFWU, Kristine and her lawyer Peter Cranney in getting that ruling.

It offers the prospect that equal pay will now become a matter of common law, and we will not need legislation to ensure it.

But we must be vigilant. National has no commitment to equal pay, and if legislation is needed, just as previous Labour governments have done we will pass it.

An immediate increase to the minimum wage, scrapping the Youth Rates, support for the Living Wage campaign and re-establishment of the Pay and Employment Equity Unit within government are also important parts of ensuring that we achieve equal pay for work of equal value


Answer from David Cunliffe

I believe we need to lead by example. National has not been ambitious for women. When National took office, there were 1153 women in boardroom positions. Today, there are only 1059, and falling. Government has a role to play in setting a leadership example, that is why I am committed to no less 50 % of the Labour caucus being women by no later than 2017.

Labour has a strong record of working to address gender pay inequality.

I am committed to investigating legislative and policy changes to close the gap based on the work of the Human Rights Commission and the Pay and Employment Equity Unit. This includes, recognising the right to equal pay, a positive duty to advance equality, and a mechanism to determine work of equal value.

I am also supportive of ensuring information about pay rates are made available so that comparisons can be made and unfair inequalities in pay rates between men and women are revealed.


Poverty : How would you ensure no one needs to live in poverty? Labour Leadership Q&A #2

Posted by on September 10th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 2

Poverty : How would you ensure no one needs to live in poverty?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over the past 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting today (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : What strategies would you wish to put in place to ensure no one needed to live in poverty? What steps would you advocate to significantly reduce the gap between the rich and the poor?

Submitted by : Ken Hutchison, Hastings and Bob Kirk, Auckland


Answer From David Cunliffe

Inequality is one of the biggest issues we face and we must strive to build a fairer, more inclusive New Zealand.

I am committed to a top tax rate of 39 per cent, the introduction of a capital gains tax, and making sure the wealthiest New Zealanders pay their share of tax. I will repeal National’s changes to the Employment Relations Act and I’ll ensure that we have fair employment laws, starting with industry standard agreements. I’ll raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the first 100 days of a Labour Government and I’ll also invest in a living wage for all Kiwis – our government will set the standard.

We will need to create decent well-paid jobs. My aim is full employment, with every New Zealander who is ready, willing and able to work in a job or training for one. Creating these jobs will require an economic development package that gets Government off the side-lines and into new partnerships with the community, the regions, and local government to create economic and social value.


Answer from Shane Jones

The minimum wage should be lifted to $15per hour. However as our housing policy, power policy, early childhood education, primary health care improvements roll out, household budgets will improve.

A review of supermarket behaviour is vital because the cost of food in NZ is absurdly high. The cost of rental property must come down.

I understand the need for a living wage. I would start by implementing such a policy in the aged care sector as per the report by Judy McGregor.

I do not have the fiscal data to offer an open ended commitment beyond that point. I am concerned that this policy could be seen as good for State employees but will not apply to those in the private sector. We must remember it will be paid for by tax payers not employed by the Government.


Answer from Grant Robertson

Growing inequality is the most urgent issue facing our country.

We must have the courage to be bold and tackle it head on. This includes giving all children a good start in life in a warm, dry safe home. And it means lifting wages.

We can directly influence this by lifting the minimum wage immediately to $15 per hour, and supporting the Living Wage Campaign.

The government should show leadership to lift the wages of those who work for us, and send the clear signal that anyone who contracts to government should pay the Living Wage.

We also need to build a productive, people centred economy that will deliver higher wages. This includes giving workers back some power in wage negotiations through collective bargaining and industry standard agreements.

I will introduce legislation in my first 100 days, developed with unions to make this happen. We must also use the tax system to ensure everyone pays their fair share. This includes a capital gains tax, cracking down on tax evasion and lifting the top rate for high income earners. If everyone pays their fair share, everyone can have a fair go.


Living below the line

Posted by on September 17th, 2012

MPs’ notoriously unhealthy eating habits will take a whole new turn next week when a bunch of us live from Monday to Friday on $2.25 a day.

We are living below the line – below the extreme poverty line that is – in a symbolic show of solidarity with the world’s poor. This is a new campaign from the international development agencies to give a glimpse into the lives of 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day – and who have to make $2.25 cover a lot more than food.

The Labour team corralled into action by Jacinda Ardern, also includes Grant Robertson, David Parker, Annette King and me.  You can sponsor our efforts by clicking on our names.

The NGOs backing this campaign are all worth supporting. Behind the promotional pizzazz of a campaign like this they are doing grassroots development work as well as campaigning against the policies and structures that keep people poor.

And who knows what surprises might come from five days on strict rations? You won’t find the Labour team producing recipe books with cheerful meals that the unemployed can live on after Paula Bennett has cut their benefits…that’s more of a Tory thing. But it might be worth keeping an eye on speeches in the House next week as the mind-altering effects of hunger kick in.

You can give here.


Youth NEETs change since 2008

Posted by on February 26th, 2012
Youth NEETs

Youth NEETs

Despite the foodhardy belief by some that all is well with New Zealand employment under National, if they would just pull their heads out of John Key’s armpits for a second and took seriously that our unemployment rate from Dec 2008 to Dec 2011 has doubled, and these are NOT just numbers but REAL people with families to support, then perhaps they might get a sense of the looming employment crisis that I’m talking about. Take note of the job losses so far announced with MFAT, Air NZ, and a host of other companies that have laid off workers in the last few months.

What should also compoud our collective concern is the increasing numbers of Youth Not in Employment, Education or Training. As of December 2011 they numbered 83,000 as highlighted in the graph above.

Some might be providing homecare to family members but I suspect the vast majority are drifting doing nothing. These are our future leaders – now mostly at risk. Without work, without skills and without the hope for a better future, what will be the chances of them slipping into drugs, alchoholism, crime and benefit dependency? If these trends continue to worsen, what is there to stop it from becoming a ticking time bomb making New Zealand susceptible to the kinds of riots we’ve witnessed on TV occuring in Europe and the likes.

The NZ Institute who released proposals last year of reducing youth disadvantage estimated that the cost of youth unemployment, youth incarceration, youth on the sole parent benefit and taxes forgone, is around $900 million per year. Youth Not in Employment, Education or Training is not only a tragic waste of talent and potential, but we also all carry the cost.

We should also be worried that Maori & Pasefika youth make up a large number of NEETS. While the 6.3% unemployment rate in NZ is worrying, its not at the crisis levels of the PIGS. But the 6.3% unemployment rate hides the fact that for some parts of New Zealand unemployment truly is at crisis levels. I’ve shown int the graph below the figures by HLFS showing 43.3% of Pasifika 15-19 year olds are unemployed. That’s a shocking figure, right up there with the worst youth unemployment rates of Europe.

Pasifika & Maori Youth Unemployment

Pasifika & Maori Youth Unemployment

Total Employment Change from 2008 Reveals Imminent Crisis

Posted by on February 21st, 2012

Increase in unemployment under National

Increase in unemployment under National

The Household Labour Force Survey Survey report of the December 2011 Quarter released last week revealed that our unemployment rate slipped slightly to 6.3% from 6.6%. While a rate of 6.3% in itself doesn’t necessarily mean we have reached crisis levels, the focus on the overall unemployment rate does conceal detail about our employment situation that if brought to the surface will shine light on what I believe is an immiment crisis looming in our economic horizon.

Since JohnKey’s National took office in November 2008, 53,000 New Zealanders have joined the unemployment ranks. That’s a 54% increase in the number of people unemployed to a total of 150,000. For these people, National’s promise of a ‘brighter future’ has utterly failed to materialise, especially if you have a mortgage and teenage children you are supporting through school.

While the impact of the recession cannot be ignored, the number of people unemployed has actually increased since the recession officially ended in mid-2009. The official unemployment figures only tell part of the story. Many more people are without work but are not counted as being unemployed. Many are described by the Salvation Army as being “discouraged unemployed”. They would like to work and would accept a job offer if given, but they would not be deemed as actively seeking work because for instance looking for work through a newspaper does not meet the threshold of “actively seeking work”. The number of Kiwis jobless has increased by almost 100,000 under National’s watch to now 261,300 people as of December 2011. In the meantime 59,964 people are receiving the Unemployment Benefit as at December 2011 a fall of 7% from 67,084 as of the December 2010.
So is this it? Is this the brighter future promised to all New Zealanders?

Number of people jobless

A Big Ask

Posted by on February 12th, 2012

I knew it was a big ask.

Simon Collins’ provocative Herald series on inequality was closing with “Bridging the Wealth Gap“.  Would it rail against the changes to our tax and workplace laws that have driven the widening gap?  Would cry from the heart like “Ill Fares The Land”?

Would it call for a fundamental change of direction? Would it unpick the platitudes around “equality of opportunity”?

Ah, no.

Instead it levers off the new Auckland Council’s Spatial Plan, including targets to reduce inequality.  Worthy, sure.  Right track? Undoubtedly.   Sufficient condition for change?   No way.

Collins explains ” how we got there” by condensing modern economic history into one sentence:

“The driving forces have been both technological changes, which have strengthened the power of the skilled at the expense of the unskilled; and policy changes, which have weakened unions, opened markets to free trade, cut taxes on the rich and imposed new taxes on spending that bear most heavily on the poor.”

Although the outcome is “not immutable”, neoliberalism dodges the bullet.

The genial Michael Barnett and the earnest Allan Johnston represent the “competitiveness” vs “compassion” debate.

But has Collins not read The Spirit Level?  There is a strong case that more equal societies do better. Including economically.  If so, fairness ain’t just compassion, it’s common sense.

The bottom line is that rampant inequality is driven by the combination of unfettered capitalism and neoliberal government policy.

So if Kiwis want a change they will need to vote for it at national as well as council levels.

Yet voter turnout was the lowest in decades this last election, despite inequality being at its worst.

We have more to do to make a reasoned case for a clear alternative.

We have made a good start: capital gains tax, tax free zone at the bottom (which could be abated over a certain income level like Working for Families), raising the top tax rate, decile weighted education  investment, and public health and housing programmes to promote healthy families and kids.  There will be more to come.

We have to balance this with a clear narrative, based on sound strategy, for growing the pie for all.  That means encouraging Kiwi businesses.  Helping markets when they work well.  And sorting out the mess when they don’t.  I will be blogging more about economic growth, as it must partner efforts to reducing inequality by raising income levels for all.

And we need to expose the tricks this Government uses to lull hard working Kiwis into apathy or submission; the smile and wave routine; their dog whistles that turn Kiwis against their neighbours; their sly deals and cronyism to maintain control.

So reversing inequality will take more than a newspaper series, it will take winning the country for a new direction for us all.

Feeding our kids

Posted by on February 6th, 2012

$4.28 is less than I paid for the latte I just drank.

That is how much Craig and Carla Bradley can spend to feed each of their kids each day.

After rent, power, petrol and bugger all else.

Thank you to Simon Collins for his excellent reality check on inequality in Auckland in today’s Herald – see Trevor’s post below.

Equally sobering: a “comfortable” family – Anita and Nigel’s – on $150k (an MP’s salary) is close to the top 10% of NZ households. 

Fact is, we live in a poor and divided country.

So our constituency is not just the so-called ‘underclass’; it is most New Zealanders.

No-one wants to be poor. 

Every Kiwi kid deserves good fresh food, a few treats and trips to the beach.

Being poor is grinding and demoralising. 

It takes all your time; and your gut turns when your kids go without.

Most parents strive to do their utmost. 

There is unbelievable sacrifice and heroism all around us.

But most people don’t see the point in politics – they are too busy just living.

Despite this, a  gap this big between the 1% and the rest cannot stand.  It never has…

The change we want is that of Mickey Savage and the New Deal.

Not extremism, or racism; or God forbid, another ‘Great’ War.

So we must be relevant to New Zealanders’ daily struggles:

Feeding our kids; caring for our sick and old;

Making sure there are good schools and jobs for our young;

Looking after our living earth;

Seeking out those doing good stuff in our communities and working with them.

Humble enough to know we don’t have all the answers, because no-one does…

…and going on anyway.

Herald on Auckland’s income disparity

Posted by on February 6th, 2012

Simon Collins has a useful article in today’s Herald. I look forward to the rest of the series and especially whether Key has the guts to try and make the solution to New Zealand’s poverty multipartisan in an attempt to get buy-in that lasts beyond this government. We all know that there isn’t a short term fix. :-

Auckland has changed from an equal city to an unequal one in less than a generation with the income gap between rich and poor widening dramatically over the past 25 years.

Whereas most people’s incomes were bunched tightly around the average in 1986, the spread has become increasingly vast, according to data prepared for the Herald by Statistics New Zealand.

Not only is the gap steadily increasing, but so too is the number of people who do not have enough money to eat.

The super-rich – such as the Chrisco hamper company owners who rented their $30 million Coatesville mansion to Kim Dotcom – have built sprawling homes on a scale the city had never dreamed of in the 1980s.

At the other extreme, food charity was unheard of in New Zealand, outside a tiny minority served by inner-city soup kitchens, until welfare benefits were cut in 1991.

Filed under: poverty

Give a Good Book this Christmas

Posted by on December 5th, 2011

During the campaign I worked with some wonderful people who in their “spare” time have set up an organisation that will help change the world. Have a look. Here is what they say :-

The GoodBooks model is simple: Every time anyone buys a book through the GoodBooks online bookstore, 100% of the retail profit from the sale goes to support communities in need through Oxfam projects.

So when you choose from our selection of over 2 million books, you know that you are contributing to improving the quality of life of those living in extreme poverty.

GoodBooks now has the option of gift vouchers and even gift wrapping – as well as free shipping anywhere in the world.

Visit to find out more about the GoodBooks philosophy and help turn the page on poverty this Christmas


Filed under: poverty

Foodbanks and the Underclass

Posted by on October 18th, 2011

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?

Morality tale #1

Posted by on August 14th, 2011

Have come across some interesting pieces in the last couple of days on the issues arising from the UK riots.

The first was written by Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator.

He writes:

Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain. If we are ever to confront the problems which have been exposed in the past week, it is essential to bear in mind that they do not only exist in inner-city housing estates.

The culture of greed and impunity we are witnessing on our TV screens stretches right up into corporate boardrooms and the Cabinet. It embraces the police and large parts of our media. It is not just its damaged youth, but Britain itself that needs a moral reformation.

Read the rest here. He’s not very complimentary about politicians from both sides of the political spectrum.

Fair enough. We are all accountable. And politicians need to try to practice what they preach, while remembering that they too are human and subject to frailty.

But as Oborne writes, the double standards are extraordinary:

The Prime Minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate. He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor: “We will restore a stronger sense of morality and responsibility – in every town, in every street and in every estate.” He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.

The tragic truth is that Mr Cameron is himself guilty of failing this test. It is scarcely six weeks since he jauntily turned up at the News International summer party, even though the media group was at the time subject to not one but two police investigations. Even more notoriously, he awarded a senior Downing Street job to the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, even though he knew at the time that Coulson had resigned after criminal acts were committed under his editorship. The Prime Minister excused his wretched judgment by proclaiming that “everybody deserves a second chance”. It was very telling yesterday that he did not talk of second chances as he pledged exemplary punishment for the rioters and looters.

These double standards from Downing Street are symptomatic of widespread double standards at the very top of our society.

Someone tweeted this piece last night saying that what Peter Oborne has written is the moral compass for our time. I reckon there’s something in that.

Hat tip: LM

The poverty trap

Posted by on August 7th, 2011

Last week a woman came into my office in tears. Not that unusual. She works. Doesn’t earn a lot. Her husband had been laid off. He was receiving a benefit, but it wasn’t much because of her work. He had scored a few hours work in a job where they couldn’t offer full time work, though they valued him.

He had to scale back those work hours because he couldn’t get the benefit and work many hours and the hours didn’t pay enough to enable him to come off the benefit. He’d had to make a choice. He wanted to work. He was donating some hours to the workplace as a result. In order to keep in the game.

They have bills to pay. She was in tears because they’d had to make a decision that week whether to pay the electricity bill or the bank, which was pressuring them to pay some mortgage payments they had been unable to.

It was hard to know what to advise. They simply didn’t have the money. WINZ couldn’t give them any more assistance. I could only see more hardship down the line for these people who were in this position through no fault of their own.

What’s next for them? Having to sell the house, at a price less than they bought it for. Slipping backwards as they head for retirement. Rented accomodation, nothing to hand on to the next generation.

This is the plight of many New Zealanders right now. People struggling. Not much to hope for.

I sometimes despair. According to John Key and Bill English things are looking up. But they’re clearly not for these people and many others like them.

The SST did a good piece today on poverty. If you haven’t; do read it, because it says the new face of poverty isn’t people on benefits, but people on low wages. Every foodbank around the country will nod their head to this. Prices are going up. Wages aren’t. People can’t cope.

People want and need a plan.

This graph says it all really

Col graph 3

The Poor List

Posted by on July 29th, 2011

The wealth of New Zealand’s 150 richest people have grown by almost 20% in one year with the combined wealth of New Zealand’s richest burgeoning from $38.2 billion to $45.2 billion – the highest total ever.

But it seems enough is never enough. Having made their fortune, some of the Rich Listers are still demanding the  “freedom” to make even more money.  They want reduction in costs for business and excessive regulation addressed. I take that to mean the usual : cut workers’ rights, privatise ACC, reduce taxes. This is despite New Zealand consistently ranking as having the highest levels of business “freedoms” in the world.

They talk about “wealth creation” as if they have done it all on their own, without the help of governments, taxpayers, workers and the generations gone before.

The NBR editor-in-chief Nevil Gibson even called the Rich Listers “national treasures” in the headline of his editorial about the Rich List.

For goodness sake. What have we come to?

I want to know where the poor list is.

Yes, we talk about the poor, (occasionally) but they are faceless individuals.  If their stories are told, they are often blamed by the likes of John Key for having a “poor attitude”.

Being poor is nothing to celebrate, but we have to talk about it and face facts.

The question is how we better share wealth in New Zealand today.

Could the Rich Listers tell us their ideas for that – just for a change, rather than the continuing demand for more of the same that has led us to being one of the most unequal societies in the world.


The inequality of news

Posted by on June 18th, 2011

Came across this just now on Twitter. From the UK’s Financial Times. It seems relevant.

Two extracts below and you can read the whole piece here

Now the rich are always with us …

By Simon Kuper

Published: June 17 2011 22:14 |

Forty years ago, the typical person in the western world read the local newspaper. It told you which local butcher was retiring, who had celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and it covered the local politicians, athletes and business owners. Twenty years ago, the typical person read the national paper. It covered the national elite. Today that person gets news or Twitter feeds from websites that cover the global elite: everyone from Lady Gaga to Barack Obama.

This shift – from local news to global – is well-known. Less well-known is one of its consequences: news has become news about rich people. Today’s economic inequality is reflected and driven by inequality of news.

and this:

The daily focus on the rich has two consequences. First, these people become part of our own imagined peer group, and so we grow dissatisfied with our own income. It was more soothing to read about the local butcher than about the commodity trader Ivan Glasenberg and his £5.8bn.

Second, we forget the poor. They may always be with us, but not in the media. The perhaps 2.5 billion people with less than $2 a day get ignored, due to the triple whammy of being poor, non-white and non-Anglophone.

For instance, there’s a new treatment that stops the spread of Aids, but rich countries are reluctant to fund it. This has generated a few worthy editorials in highbrow publications, but otherwise is considered too boring to tweet.

In this country we know there’s need and that the cost of living is way too high for vast numbers of us. Not just the people who are described as the traditional poor. But the new poor; the people who have lost incomes, houses and quality of life and are struggling for their very existence. They are growing in number.

Let’s not hide the increasing desperation and hardship many people are feeling. And when considered ideas and solutions get put up, let’s not brush them aside and hide them behind a slogan put up by the other side.

The Day

Posted by on May 26th, 2011

A few weeks ago Moby joined with by starring in and lending his new single “The Day”  to a video that protests attacks on America’s most needy. Moby was protesting against budget cuts that could disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable in America.

For those of you who know who Moby is, this is pretty strong. If you don’t already follow then you should

Is this what we face?

Annette = substance, Bennett = useless spin, play of the day

Posted by on May 6th, 2011

And from what I read she is struggling in Waitakere too.

For those without broadband, the Hansard is below: (more…)

My night at the shelter

Posted by on April 21st, 2011

Earlier in the year Mike Leon who runs the Wellington Mens Night Shelter asked if I would come and spend a night staying at the shelter. I have worked with Mike and his team over the last couple of years, and have great respect for what they do, so I said yes. On the condition that I was not taking a bed that someone else needed. That night was last night.

Mike, of course, had an ulterior motive. The Shelter has never been busier, and its resources are stretched beyond breaking point. They would love to do more for those that stay there, but they just dont have the resources to do it. An MP staying was bound to draw attention- and you can see the end result of that on Campbell Live here.

For those that dont know the Shelter caters for homeless men with around 20 dormitory style beds, and another 20 or so hostel rooms upstairs. For the dorm beds you pay $10 a night. There is no food (many of the residents eat at the soup kitchen). It is not luxury. A single bed, with a cabinet. There are partitions that provide some privacy, but certainly do not block out the noise! By all accounts last night was a pretty calm night. It was uncomfortable, noisey, and there was a fairly tense atmosphere. But its a bed and a roof over the head.

I had really good chats with a number of those there. They range in age from early 20s to early 70s. Everyone has a different story. There is Tom (name changed) who’s life took a turn for the worse when he got a brain injury in a car accident a few years back, has chronic alcohol problems and is desperate to get in a rehabilitation facility (more that another day). There is Ian (name changed) who got evicted from his last flat and just can’t get the money together to find another one as he does not have a job. He has a list of places he has applied to, from here to the Kapiti Coast, but nothing is coming his way. There’s Nathan (name changed) recently out of Rimutaka Prison, with nowhere to go. He has a set of health problems that make the mind boggle, and at least at the Shelter the wonderful doctors and nurses from the Te Aro Health Centre come in each week and he can see them.

Mike and his team are a magnificent ambulance at the bottom of the cliff that is homelessness. But we must build the fences at the top. What was clear from almost every conversation I had last night was that the people there have ambitions and dreams. They might be modest in some eyes, but they are about dignity. They want a job, a secure place to live that is theirs and many talked of wanting someone to share it with.

We need to take homelessness seriously. The government would not even have an inquiry when it was proposed by Moana Mackey. That would be just the first step for me. To really tackle homelessness we need to find stable accomodation for these guys, and put in place the support and the programmes that will allow them to live independent lives. That will be easier for some than others. Some will need extensive support to deal with their addictions (did someone say a Wet House), others will need support to get basic life skills and other work skills. But it is worth the investment. Not just for them, but for all of us. It is a social and economic scandal that in a relatively wealthy country people are caught in this cycle. The social cost is huge, the pure economic cost (and loss) is huge.

In the meantime what Mike and his people do is a great service to the community. If you want to support them they need money, blankets and sheets. If you want to donate food, and you live in Wellington the Downtown Community Ministry is desperate for more food for its foodbank. If you want to solve the underlying issues, well, that would politicise this story, but I think you get my drift.

Remember when Key wanted to close the wage gap with Aussie – now English is proud of it

Posted by on April 9th, 2011

John Key’s promise to close the wage gap with Australia was an important policy plank.

Yesterday Bill English formally abandoned that policy and used the fact that our wages are 30% lower to try and sell New Zealand as a long term investment option.

The fundamental competition is for capital, including Australian capital, he said, and over the next few years New Zealand’s advantages would become more apparent.

“One is the wage differential. We have a workforce that is better educated, just as productive and 30 per cent cheaper,” he said.

I suppose it should be refreshing to see honesty from the government but I do feel sad the the first appearance of a plan openly involves keeping wages low.

The car washer dudes are back

Posted by on March 29th, 2011

Don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a lot more car window washers on intersections lately. My local one is back after not seeing him for years, because they mostly disappeared during the nine years of almost full employment under a Labour-led government.

But they’re back. They’re part of New Zealand’s informal economy, where in hard times, people are forced to make a living in whatever way they can because they cannot find jobs or are unable to start businesses in the formal economy.  These are part of the working poor who are working very hard but who are not recognised, recorded, protected or regulated by the government.

There’s no question that New Zealand does have an informal (or underground) economy.  The question is how big is it and is it growing?

Unfortunately, we have no idea about the size of the underground economy in New Zealand because people working in the informal economy are not registered as businesses or employees and they do not pay taxes.

But think about the workers that you see around the place.  There’s the flower and strawberry sellers on the side of the road.  There’s those who do jobs “under the table” to top up their meagre income or unemployment benefit.  There’s those who work from home and even in garages as sub-sub-sub contractors making things, sewing or putting things together, there’s those who mow the lawns, do a bit of catering on the side and there’s the street vendors selling jewellery, fake watches and sunglasses in the streets.

Increasing poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor is one of the underlying reasons for the growth of the informal economy – even in first world countries.

It is is poverty that forces people to take up unattractive jobs in the informal economy and the low incomes that such jobs yield create a vicious cycle of poverty.

It’s not good for our economy or society either.  No taxes paid, no ACC levies funded, no health and safety, no minimum wage, no other protections. 

It’s almost like the car washers are a barometer of the state of our ecconomy and the well-being of New Zealanders.  If it is, then we’re in big trouble.

Sadly, with a government with no plan for jobs, I fear I’m going to see a lot more of my local car window washer.

Sunday papers

Posted by on February 20th, 2011

Politicians, me included, have been known to be pretty negative about the media in New Zealand, so today I wanted to offer a bouquet to the new look Sunday Star Times.  The focus section in particular has been beefed up, starting off with a great feature by Kim Knight on poverty in New Zealand. As the Christchurch City Missioner says

?It is not a matter of the poor making poor choices, but of the poor having few options from which to choose.

The article should be required reading for the government. Also a very interesting interview with Paul Callaghan, and in the business section, as ever a good column from Rod Oram.

The only black mark for the paper is another ridiculous Jonathan Marshall story that states that Kanwaljit Bakshi is a “senior National MP”. Ah, not sure that even Bakshi himself would make that claim!

While the Herald on Sunday seems to be attracting more readers, it is good to see a Sunday paper with some detailed features. On the subject of the HOS, their editorial today is a cracker. As they say

We’ve all come across beneficiaries whose spending was questionable but the vast majority are trapped in a poverty cycle not of their making and the PM’s dismissive comment was that of a man seriously out of touch