Is the National-led government being swayed by the increasing debate and concern about poverty and inequality?
An illustration that this might indeed be the case can be seen in what appears to be a major U-turn – the government might take up the proposal to introduce a comprehensive food-in-schools programme. See Simon Collins’ Govt signals it will feed hungry kids.
Added to this, Deborah Hill-Cone wrote in the Herald yesterday about the increasing inequality between CEOs and their workers – see: What tosh is spoken about CEOs' pay – and, surprisingly, she says that she has done a U-turn on the right-wing justifications for that gap, and now challenges the concept that the rich get paid what they are worth.
Such examples illustrate the extent that the issues of poverty and inequality have suddenly emerged onto the political agenda in recent times, and how they are challenging the until-now enduring consensus of the status quo.
But that is not to say that there is any kind of new consensus on the existence of poverty and inequality – nor about how to solve it. Quite the opposite, this is an area that is highly contentious with a variety of different views and approaches.
It is child poverty that is at the forefront of the current concern about inequality and poverty. Focus is on the Children’s Commission’s report into child poverty, written by its Expert Advisory Group – public submissions close on it this week. For an overview of the report’s "big ideas", their pros and cons, and the political response to them, see Andrew Laxon’s Six of the best ideas for change
. And the co-chair of the Expert Advisory Group, Jonathan Boston, also has a very good feature in the Herald in which he refutes the Three myths about child poverty
For more on the question of "what poverty means" in New Zealand, see Simon Collins and Catherine Masters’ in-depth feature, Searching for a way out
. They discuss some of the drivers of poverty in New Zealand (such as divorce and unemployment) as well its impact – and they cite one piece of research that suggests "the resulting lost productivity and higher state spending costs New Zealand about $8 billion a year, or 4.5% of our economic output".
Of course, poverty and inequality have many policy relations – and housing is a key one. Some critics say that "New Zealand's response to homelessness lags behind other developed countries: there are no official numbers, there is no legislation, there is no national strategy and there is no funding" – see Trevor Quinn’s Homeless problem demands attention
Education is obviously closely related, and Radio New Zealand’s John Gerritsen produced an interesting Insight documentary in the weekend that explored "why poverty is so closely linked in NZ to poor grades and why tackling income inequality is the biggest single factor in beating under-achievement at school" – listen here
or read the RNZ item More money for poor families urged
So is poverty and inequality the responsibility of the government? Matt McCarten says so in his column No need to starve yourself, just give poor some more
. He argues that the cause of poverty is the "fact that our political leaders run an economy where there are more than 100,000 fewer jobs than there should be, and that many of the existing jobs are low-paid, casual and part-time, is not addressed".
He also has some scathing comments about do-gooding celebrities and politicians that participated in the recent Unicef Live Below the Line campaign.
On the political right, a case can be made that many more appropriate, productive and efficient solutions to improving the lives of those in poverty can be found outside of "welfarist", "big state" and "expensive" intervention.
They would point to, first, the philanthropic element of what has been achieved under existing food in school schemes – after all the KidsCan charity already feeds thousands of children in hundreds of schools based on charity from wider society and individual businesses.
Also, they would say that there are other policy levers that the government can pull that have an influence in the poor. For example, the high cost of housing in New Zealand is arguably because of the policy settings around city planning, resource consent and zoning.
In this regard, it is being reported the National Government is soon to announce some major changes that will supposedly lead to a much needed increase in building activity – see: Govt plan means cheaper housing
Of course, when thinking about New Zealand poverty and inequality it is worth considering how New Zealand companies might be contributing to it elsewhere in the world.
An Australian newspaper has just published the results of its 12-month investigation which found that New Zealand’s Canterbury sports brand is selling rugby balls made in India that take up to an hour to stitch, earning their child labourers "11 rupees, about 25c" – see Amelia Wade’s NZ probe into child labour claims
Other important or interesting political items yesterday include:
John Armstrong has a very good analysis of how much damage the Dotcom saga might be causing the National government – see: Tough lesson for Key in Dotcom blunders
. John Hartevelt also evaluates John Key’s role in it all and, like Armstrong, admonishes him for poor oversight of his own agency. Hartevelt does, however, give Prime Minister John Key some credit for how openly he has handled the scandal – see: Key must press on to fix spy agency
Should the rich do their best to legitimately avoid tax? TV3’s Guyon Espiner reports on how New Zealand has become an "accidental tax haven" in his 18-minute programme Treasure Islands
. Danyl Mclauchlan responds in his blogpost Legitimate tax avoidance
. And in the Herald, Damien Grant argues that "you should first pay your $33,000 but, beyond that, your moral, if not legal, obligation is extinguished" – see: Heavy tax load borne by a few
Finally, left-wing blogger Scott Yorke strikes back at rightwing Matthew Hooton’s appraisal of the Labour Party front bench (cited above), with his own National's Front Bench Report Card
Poverty and inequality
Margaret Hayward (Dom Post): Kirk biographer tells tales of the SIS (Letter to Ed: Not Online)
John Key in Hollywood
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim-Post): Uh huh
Brain exchange with Australia
John Ansell’s colourblind state
Ports of Auckland dispute
Rightwing libertarians / Regroupment of the rightwing