On Friday the 27th of May, we delivered the following post budget memo to MP’s David Bennett and Tim MacIndoe . We are awaiting a response.
RESPONSE TO BUDGET 2016
Date: 27 May 2016
To: David Bennett and Tim MacIndoe
From: Poverty Action Waikato
This budget represents a poverty of imagination and yet again the poor and working poor are the losers. The needs of people living on the breadline are immediate yet there is no direct funding from the budget that will meet any of these needs.
We note the complete absence of funding targeted at increasing the State owned housing stock. We call for the dividends paid to Government from Housing NZ to be directed to an immediate recapitalisation for increasing the housing stock, rather than going into the consolidated fund. Recent evidence reported on RNZ (18 May, 2016) indicated that the State owned stock currently falls 20,000 houses short of per capita provision in 1991. The overall housing stock is well short of the need for housing, particularly for people living on low incomes.
We note the increased taxation on tobacco while many of the other harmful substances which carry high social and health costs, such as alcohol and sugar, have not been targeted for increased taxes.
We applaud the investment in Te Reo Maori to strengthen the use of this official language.
It is extraordinary to see that the Government is investing more than 3 times the amount allocated to supporting pressing areas of social deprivation in new military spending. This spending reflects the ideological direction this Government is taking.
We the undersigned, call on the Government to reject the current pathway to destruction of our common good communities and society that is underpinned by neo-liberal economic policies.
The pool of resources being spent on the welfare for the most vulnerable in our communities is not getting any larger – yet the needs in our communities have expanded. At the post budget lunch last week, Alan Johnson from the Salvation Army reflected on the actual realities of the budget, providing the 70 attendees with a critical perspective different to the political spin hitting our mainstream news media.
The Minister of Finance has capped welfare spending at approximately 30% of the budget. Superannuation is funded out of this welfare spending. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the current government will be retaining all superannuation entitlements. As the population ages, more and more people will be claiming their superannuation entitlements and this will mean that there is less and less money available for other welfare recipients. There is a conversation that needs to be had about the distribution of welfare spending and some personal challenges for more privileged people claiming their superannuation benefits.
The government’s spending on income related rent subsidies and accommodation supplements has increased significantly over the last year and is expected to increase significantly over the following years if the current trajectory of government spending holds. There is a concerted push by central government to push people our of State Housing into the private rental market with assistance. This is effectively a transfer of wealth from tax payers to private landlords.
The government has not reviewed the regional cap on the accommodation supplement – this is concerning to us in the Waikato because over the past year, for example, the average rent in Hamilton increased 5%. Without increases in the accommodation supplement, people who rent are effectively required to find this additional money themselves. In a low wage economy, with restricted welfare spending, increased accommodation costs would simply be too much for some families, households and individuals.
This budget represents an extension of the neoliberal agenda – a push to market provision and the ongoing erosion of the Welfare State. Poverty Action Waikato is advocating for increased investment in State Housing and a social welfare system that recognises our shared vulnerabilities. We need a system that meets needs and that prioritises the common good. For more of our suggested actions, based on the stories of the social service sector in Hamilton, please read our latest report – Neglect and Nurture.
In the report, Writing back to the Hamilton community about…Neglect and Nurture (2016), Anna Casey-Cox and Rose Black interviewed people working in 16 Hamilton community and social service organisations. The report reflects the observations of those who participated about how neglect and nurture operates in Hamilton and offers insights for building a responsible society.
Participants pointed out that people utilising services are struggling to access income, food and accommodation needed to live. To address this it was suggested that a combination of good policies, effective action and services underpinned by the values of manaakitanga, collaboration, unconditional love and interdependence are essential for enabling society to flourish. Community houses and centres are highly valued resources, offering an essential point of contact for people in need. In many cases, community and social service providers have to go beyond the call of duty, so as to ensure people are accessing the best possible all round care and support.
“Walking alongside someone in need in a holistic way is valuable work that is time intensive and under resourced in our community”.
Consequently, the report suggests greater investment in community centres, community houses and advocacy services. Thus ensuring that our most vulnerable populations have access to resources and the time and space to self-nurture and care for one another. By prioritising people and communities, Hamilton as a city will also flourish.
As part of a nationwide series of post budget events, Child Poverty Action Group is pleased to be hosting this event together with: Poverty Action Waikato, Anglican Action Hamilton, and DV Bryant Trust. Speakers include Alan Johnson and Professor Martin Thrupp.
Venue: Celebrating Age Centre, 30 Victoria Street, Hamilton.
Lunch is provided, please bring a koha to help cover this.
A review from Stewart Lawrence, Professor in Accounting, Waikato Management School.
“This report offers an excellent exposition of the failures of the market economy – in the areas of housing, employment and health. It shows clearly the impact on specific vulnerable groups (Maori, children and young adults). The statistics provided are shocking and thought-provoking. The report clearly shows the implications of treating housing as a commodity, and labour in a market economy is treated simply as an expendable commodity. The revelation (p.15-16) of the attitude of the wealthy towards tax avoidance is particularly shocking. The accounting profession has a lot to answer for in this respect. The winners of the market economy are the rich and powerful. What are the positives to the wealthy of having a fairer distribution of wealth? The report takes up this point well on page 14. There are benefits for everybody in social and economic equality. If inequality keeps increasing there are dangers. The increasing concentration of wealth in a few hands and the lack of purchasing power of the many was a major point of Marxism – it would lead to revolution! The illustration of Timebank was a reminder of the labour theory of value – in which labour is the source of all wealth and all labour should be equally valued.
I enjoyed the section on “Economies that serve communities’. Here is the challenge to the market economy that fails so many people. If the market does not satisfy community needs, mass movements could ultimately displace the system that suits only the few. The latter had better beware! Poverty is an inevitable outcome of capitalist accumulation. The concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands brings with it the danger of the downfall of exploitative systems. The rich somehow have to realise that there are advantages to them in greater social well-being and cohesion. Poverty is avoidable.
I enjoyed the paper and found its contents convincing.”
Twelve thousand Housing New Zealand or ‘state’ owned houses are to be sold into the private sector under the guise of community services.
The weekend announcement by housing minister Nick Smith will see the further transfer of publicly owned state assets into the private sector. Minister Smith says that the reason the government is selling off these houses is because the needs of those who currently live in state houses can be better met by community based organisations.
At the moment all taxpayers own and contribute to providing a level of social security to all the citizens of our nation through social welfare, education, health, and housing policies.
“Time and time again research has provided evidence that adequate housing is one of the most basic needs that will contribute to the health and well being of the people of our nation and is therefore a fundamental responsibility of the state rather than the private sector”, says Dr Rose Black from Poverty Action Waikato.
If the government decides it cannot afford to provide social housing how might an already very stretched and slimly resourced community sector do so?
Rather than sell off publically owned state houses the government would serve the public better by setting up ways in which state and community organisations work together to provide for the housing needs of people.
The sale of more State owned houses will further exacerbate the growing inequality in our society as support for the poorer members of society are no longer met by an ethos of social security. The level playing field and notions of equal opportunity are becoming more mythical by the day.
We met with the good people at Fairfield Rotary club on Monday night and heard about their good work raising funds to support many community projects and actions in Hamilton city. Rose and I talked with the Rotarians about our research and advocacy in the areas of food, housing, welfare reform and alcohol…and then it was time for questions – always the best part! One of the questions we got asked was whether we had been able to define poverty – Rose suggested that poverty means different things to different people and that the experiences of poverty are diverse and complex. One measure of poverty that is commonly used by researchers is ‘people living in a household with an income less than 60 percent of the median household disposable income after housing costs.’ One Rotarian concluded the night by offering his own understanding of poverty, demonstrating that how each of us define poverty depends to a certain extent on who we are and our own life experiences.
We had a lot of conversations with the Rotarians over the course of the evening, and one person reflected to us how as a landlord they were dismayed because their offerings of help to their tenants had been treated disrespectfully. A lack of knowing about respect and how to be respectful is an issue that we believe spans across all sectors of our society. A good question to think about might be – what would a truly respectful society look like? Would there be a big gap between rich and poor; would people struggle to feed their families; would people have to live in cold and damp houses? Perhaps there is something in the Rotarian motto ‘service above self’ that speaks of respect. Thank you Fairfield Rotary for a great night of discussion and your ongoing commitment to serve the Fairfield community.
In our work researching issues of poverty in our region, we have frequently heard stories regarding the harm that the use of alcohol causes in our communities. With the stresses of day to day living there is the temptation to turn to alcohol and drugs as an escape, yet turning to alcohol and drugs often compounds and heightens the stress and disharmony that people are experiencing…not that the alcohol adverts tell you this!
We think that one way to make positive choices for coping with life more possible is to limit the amount of alcohol available in our communities – and here’s the exciting thing – currently all the councils (Territorial Local Authorities) in our region (and nationally) have the option of developing a Local Alcohol Policy (LAP). Local Alcohol Policies can limit the amount of alcohol available in our communities. Once in place, licensing bodies must consider LAPs when they make decisions on licensing applications.
A LAP can guide decisions on:
The restriction or extension of trading hours
The location of new licensed premises (in relation to schools etc)
The density of licenses (e.g. how many liquor outlets in your street)
Other licensing conditions of both existing and new licensed premises e.g. One-way doors.
We think the LAPs provide a good opportunity for communities to say how much alcohol they want to have access to – whether they want alcohol outlets on every street corner or not… we will keep updating this blog with information on this issue and how you can get involved in your councils LAP.
It was great to see so many organizations in support of the Feed the Kids bill today in Otara – 2000 children were fed breakfast and lunch and needless to say there were lots of happy faces! If passed, the Feed the Kids bill will mean that every child in a decile 1 and 2 school throughout New Zealand will get breakfast every day, no question. Full bellies, energy, learning and thriving for all our children – that’s what it’s all about. Here’s a photo of Robert Moore (the Social Justice Centre and Poverty Action Waikato) and Angeline Greensill (Mana) ‘feeding the kids’ with the young people in Otara today – an awesome event and a bill worth supporting – ka pai!