Category Archives: News

Bizarre claims about choice

I’m struggling to write at the moment, between falling asleep in the evenings instead of writing like I usually do, and being so busy during the day that I’ve just had no spare time. This weekend I might try pre-writing several days worth of material to smooth things over a bit when I’m particularly tired or run off my feet.

Today it’s an American nugget of stupidity that’s caught my eye. The article is a few months old, but the stupidity glows bright through time. A Florida state Representative wants to restrict people to using the bathroom of their biological sex at birth (no word on the fate of intersex people. Unisex bathrooms for those of ambiguous sexual characteristics only?). This is a fairly normal state of affairs, with all the usual claims of public safety and won’t you think of the poor women subjected to the men in women’s clothing in their bathrooms? No word on what happens when trans men go to use female bathrooms under this law. That would probably bother quite a few women – to have someone who looks and thinks like a man in their bathrooms. Anyway.

What really stands out about this guy is his claim that

People are not forced to go the restroom. They choose to go to the restroom.

That’s some pretty deep bullshit that you just felt yourself land in there. It’s a biological need, which everyone feels, and it is not optional! But people like this man are so desperate to justify their bigoted points of view that they will make all sorts of ridiculous claims that fall apart when held up to the light. They’re counting on people not questioning anything.

I am not trans, and so my word on trans issues is only that of a bystander. Trans men and women, in my opinion, have the right to identify as the gender they believe they are, and a right to use the facilities meant for that gender. I trust them to do so as much as I trust anyone else – because they are anyone else. They’re not more dangerous than the average person, or more depraved, or anything like that. They’re just people.

Trans issues are difficult for this cis writer to talk about because they are not my issues, and I can never understand them fully. I can only say that trans people are people, an deserve every human right afforded to the most affluent straight cis white man. The reality is a long way off, but the groundwork is laid when people begin to see trans rights as human rights.

More on cold, damp housing

A lot has been written in the last few days about sub-standard housing in the wake of the deaths of Emma-Lita Bourne and Soesa Tovo. Today I’m just picking out a few of the more interesting things that have been said.

From Judith Collins, government minister, who has never, as far as I can tell, known what poverty is like:

I think the best place to start is in social housing. This area provides housing for the most vulnerable New Zealanders who realistically have the least choice of all when it comes to housing. If Parliament expects private landlords to improve their houses, surely Parliament and Government should lead by example, rather than by law.

Tell me, how many landlords are going to look at well-maintained social housing and go ‘look, they’re doing it all right and getting bugger in rent. How about we increase our standards and accept low rent too!’. They’re not going to do it. Leading by example only works when people have some motivation to follow you. There’s no motivation to spend money that can conceivably be held on to until the last possible moment, for no real reward other than ‘yay we did what the government does’ and possibly ‘yay our tenants are happy’ . . . or not, when you hike the rent to cover the cost of the renovations. Leading by example just isn’t going to work. There needs to be some incentive.

From one Against the Current blog, rather left-leaning I would say:

The answer cannot be just to wave our fists at Nick Smith but to campaign for the nationalisation of the power companies so they can be managed as social utilities providing affordable power to all. They should be brought back into public ownership, and run democratically in the interests of workers and consumers. Then, prices can be controlled, bills made affordable, and profits invested in cheaper, cleaner and safer energy supplies, rather than in shareholder dividends.

I don’t know if public ownership with the right solution, but the way it’s put here sounds pretty bloody tempting really. Running it as a social enterprise and knocking prices down to where people can actually afford to run their heaters sounds like a very good idea right now, as one in ten face a winter where they will not run their heater at all. It’s five degrees out there in Wellington right now. Ten percent of people out there, give or take, are shivering through it. It’s not good enough. Maybe public ownership is the answer, maybe some sort of regulation is better, I don’t know, but the price of power is just too high, and the current model is not working.

Finally, Pete George of YourNZ, a right-leaning blog that claims to be ‘Reason, Reasonable, Robust’, has this gem for us:

But no matter what the Government does they cannot ensure everyone heats their house adequately, or ventilates their house adequately, or keeps their carpets and beds relatively free of allergens, or budgets effectively, or the many other things that can contribute to a family’s well-being.

Can we stop blaming the victims of economics for their own deprivation? It’s not a matter of choosing to run your heat pump and dehumidifier, or vacuuming, or watching your pennies. If it were, then there are a whole lot of people who were a whole lot healthier! These people. Cannot. Afford. To. Run. A. Heater. I suppose that the government really can’t ensure that everyone runs their heater – because there are people who look at whatever heating is provided in their home and laugh bitterly, knowing that it will never be turned on. They live in damp areas where opening your windows every day will do precisely nothing for the damp, except maybe exchange your inside, slightly warmer damp, for outside, slightly colder damp.

Keeping their carpet and bedding ‘relatively free of allergens’ has got to be one of the more ridiculous things I’ve seen. Ho do you keep your carpets free from allergens? Well, you vacuum  with one of those HEPA thingies, right? That required owning a vacuum cleaner, and bags for it, and so on. Those that can afford such things use them at about the same rate as richer people, I would wager – some just don’t but many do. But vacuum cleaners are luxuries. And what about the bedding? You keep that allergen free by washing sheets often – which poor people do as much as they can, but getting the only set of sheets you own for the bed washed and dried in one day in winter is a challenge sometimes. A dryer is WAY out of the question, and a trip to the laundromat to dry them off can mean no milk for breakfast that week. Then there’s the blankets and duvets and so on – things which need dry-cleaning. Ha! That’s bloody expensive. It just doesn’t register as high on the needs list as food and rent and power.

And then, there’s ‘budgets effectively’. If I had a penny for every person that has blamed poor people’s budgeting for their poverty, I would start a programme of insulating homes, and get a good way through the crappier areas of Wellington without blinking. How do you get it through people’s heads that you cannot budget effectively without the first tool of budgeting – money. When your money runs out before the end of the list of essentials, you cannot budget for the less urgent things. You just don’t have the resources. You can ask any budgeting advisory service in the country what they see most, and they will tell you – people whose money runs out before their needs do, who don’t even get into their list of wants.

There has been some sensible dialogue around this issue, and some stuff that just makes me rant. I think there are some people that need a short sharp dose of reality around this.

Cold damp housing kills

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the death of Emma-Lita Bourne, who passed away from complications of pneumonia. Her cold, damp home was ruled to be a factor in her death. Today, news broke of the death of Soesa Tovo, a 37-year-old man from South Auckland, who died after a year of medical requests for the family to be moved from their cold and damp home He struggled with heart and lung issues, including a hospitalisation for bilateral pneumonia.

Over and over again, social workers associated with various health care organisations including the hospital that treated him for pneumonia and his local Primary Healthcare Organisation, wrote to Housing New Zealand to request that he, his wife, and their six children be moved. Their three-bedroom home was damp, mouldy, and so cold that the whole family slept in the lounge together – the only room in the house with carpet. The ceiling was insulated, but that was not nearly enough to make it a warm dry home.

Housing New Zealand homes are killing people. Many are in locations already known for being cold and damp anyway, and the houses need extra care to keep out the moisture and mould. But the government hasn’t been maintaining the houses, and they’re falling into disrepair. That sounds quite sterile – ‘disrepair’ – but it’s murderous. It’s literally killing people.

The school noticed the kids were sick all the time. The father was in and out of hospital. Yet Housing New Zealand did nothing at all to help this family. You can talk all you like about waiting lists and fairness and appreciating what you have, but I want to know why there was a family living in a home unfit for human habitation. They won’t be the only ones, either. We just don’t hear about the others until someone dies.

State housing was originally built to give workers strong, healthy homes so that they could be at their most productive. Today they’re storehouses of misery. We can do better! What we lack is the will to do better. This government gives precisely zero shits about the welfare of its poor people.

The kicker for the Tovo family is that, almost a year after Soesa died, they are still in that same small damp dump. Even the struggle of grief, added on to the list of illness and misery already catalogued, was not enough to get that family a better home.

What does it take to get help around here?

The crazy lady next door

A recent survey reveals that New Zealanders are mostly ok with ethnic minorities or LGBT people living next door, only half would be ok with someone with a diagnosed mental illness moving in. I am happy that three quarters of us would be ok with living next to a Maori or an Indian or a gay person. I mean, it could be better but three quarters isn’t terrible. But only half being ok with the mentally ill? What is that saying?

The first thing it says is that people do not understand mental illness. I reckon they’re imagining someone seriously ill moving in, someone who can’t care for themselves yet is somehow living alone, while the reality of the garden variety mental health client is very different. Something like one in five people suffer from mental illnesses at some point – so, statistically, a bunch of people you know have mental illnesses, and it’s likely that you don’t even know about at least a few of them. Mental illness is not just people who have been on meds so long that they shake uncontrollably, who are unable to deal with personal care, who are prone to flying into a rage at strangers over tiny things. It’s the guy next door, who seem just fine, if a bit quiet. It’s the lady down the road who seems to keep odd hours but is nice enough. It’s also your doctor, your dentist, your receptionist, and your cleaner. It’s the parking warden you just swore at under your breath, and your friend’s mum who bakes the best cookies.

Living next door to someone with a mental illness shouldn’t be a big deal. It is quite likely that if you live in a few places, with a few people, you will end up living with someone with a mental illness, diagnosed or otherwise. Sure, you’re going to hate some of them, but you’re going to like and care about others. If you can live with them, you can live next door to them, where you don’t have to fight about the hairs left all over the bathroom.

What about the seriously mentally ill, who can’t care for themselves properly? Wouldn’t it be a bad thing to live next door to them? Well, no. In almost all cases, you’re going to notice their mental illness about as much as you notice someone’s epilepsy or diabetes. Sure, there can be emergencies where the illness comes to the fore and it gets all very exciting for a while, and maybe you even have to call an ambulance, but in general everything goes on behind closed doors.

There are exceptions, people who cause trouble for their neighbours by their behaviour – but they’re rare, and they shouldn’t be the standard by which mentally ill people are judged. The truth is, the bipolar patient next door is no different to the diabetic over the back fence. They’re just out to live their own lives in their own homes, and people should not be afraid of that.

Investing in mental health care

Investing in mental health care sounds like a great idea, right? Put more money into the mental health system, more people get care and logically more good outcomes ensue. Right?

Well, when this government heard ‘investing’ they went, ‘you know what, let’s get private investors to fund mental health initiatives using a bond scheme, where the investors get a return on their money if the scheme hits preselected targets’. And there went good ideas, flying out the window like so much smoke after a toaster fire.

Are. You. Kidding? When did it become a good idea to put mental health treatment in the hands of private investors who are prioritising a return on investment, not on actual positive outcomes for the patients involved? Sure, the key performance indicators (KPIs) might seem as though they demand good results for the clients, but we are not looking at a situation where people are looking towards client’s best interests.

The first scheme to be proposed under this new framework is one in which mental health patients are moved into work. The potential for abuse is huge – pushing people who aren’t ready into work that’s not suitable, employed by people with no understanding and ripe for abuse and failure. But it’s got to work for investors, so it’s going to work, dysfunctionally, checking boxes and playing with people’s mental health in return for a few dollars.

I don’t know how this is supposed to benefit anyone except the investors. It’s going to cost the government money. It’s not going to do any favours to the sick people involved. It’s not, as far as I can see, fiscally sensible. And it’s an experiment.

This is an experiment that has only been tried in the UK and the US, and those experiments are so new that we don’t know the outcomes yet. Sure, there’s some think-tank in New Zealand saying it’s a good idea, but it’s an unknown.

Should we be experimenting with social bonds on vulnerable mentally ill people? No, and no, and yet again no. Mental health care is already so bad, and this is not going to make it better. It’s a crazy capitalist experiment, one that we shouldn’t be trialling on people with enough serious challenges in their lives already

Tehe Th

A few more dollars in your pocket – in exchange for your right to parent

Yesterday’s Budget was . . . not as horrible as I thought it might be. My beloved Health sector didn’t get much more than this year, or at least not in the areas I’m passionate about, and neither did Education, but at least there were no cuts. The bit that everyone’s talking about, though, is welfare. There’s big news on that front.

The big news is a really bloody big deal. $25 per week more to each beneficiary – that’s more than a third of my food budget when I was on the student allowance, to feed a couple of kids in addition to myself. $25 would have been revolutionary, and it will be to the lives of some kids. There are catches (of course) that I don’t fully understand yet, but I’ll come back to them tomorrow when I’ve read some more learned opinions than my own. Still. $25. That’s something I never expected from this government. It says that yes, they are actually kind of attempting to sort of keep their child poverty promises. This won’t take effect until April next year, but it’s still a pretty big shard of hope for beneficiaries.

As well as extra money for beneficiaries, low-income families that already receive the In-Work Tax Credit will receive an extra $12.50 per week. It’s not a lot in absolute terms, but that’s 12 loaves of bread, or six litres of milk, or two and a half kilos of mandarins – a big difference when you’re living on not a lot. It would even stretch to a fish and chip dinner for the family every so often – a real treat for many kids.

So where’s the downside, the seamy underbelly of the child poverty-addressing budget? Well, parents on the Sole Parent Support will be obligated to work from when their child turns three (rather than when they turn five and start school), for a minimum of 20 hours per week. And here we land in the ‘poor people don’t have the right to parent’ territory.

Parenting is important, and it really is a full-time job. It’s not so much when the kids go off to school, but under-fives demand a lot of time and effort. The idea that poor parents should have to send their kids to daycare or preschool while they work, an obligation to be enshrined in law, is blatantly classist. We live in a society that was set up to protect families and children. We live in a society that says it values parenting. But we live in a society that has decided that it doesn’t value poor people’s parenting? There is already an obligation for Sole Parent Support recipients to ensure their child is in Early Childhood Education – why? Because we don’t trust poor people to raise their kids properly, to make the best decisions they can for them. It’s bullshit. We wouldn’t dare enforce work or any parenting practice on white, middle class women. Why are we doing it to poor women?

Our Prime Minister says that it’s fair to force poor parents to work, because “Tens of thousands of Kiwis do that every day, and they do that half the time after 14 weeks”. It’s true that many parents choose to return to the workforce after their paid parental leave is over, and that is right for their families. Others are forced to return because they haven’t the income to do otherwise. This essentially means that people without resources are forced to return to work whether it’s good for their family or not – a situation that Mr Key’s family would have no familiarity with, as his mother was allowed to stay on the benefit in a state house while she raised him, and his wife became a full-time mother to their children. Key is essentially taking away from our people the advantages that his family has enjoyed since they emigrated here. It is shameful.

Not only is the budget requiring parents on benefits to look for work when their child is three, they are also increasing the hours needed to count as part time from 15 to 20 hours per week. Where are these hours going to come from? We already have a huge pool of unemployed and underemployed people in this country. Until the people unencumbered with children, with the time and ability to work available to them are employed, why are we pressuring people with the rather important task of raising the next generation to work? And what employer is going to take a beneficiary with kids on as a part-timer if they can choose someone who might be available for extra hours at short notice, who won’t be called away in a hurry because their child is sick, who won’t have to take days off in order to care for their child? It may be illegal to discriminate in that way, but in the real world that’s the way it happens.

This budget carries some promise for many beneficiaries, and a huge penalty to others. As long as this government refuses to value parenting as an important job and one that even poor people are capable of doing well and should be allowed to do, it’s only going to get worse. It’s a couple of years to the next election, but I hope that next time around there will be a change to someone with a bit of a heart.

The grand flag-changing plan

New Zealand is beginning the process of consulting on changing our flag. It’s a controversial process, and the first part of the process asks which of the new flag proposals the nation prefers, before even considering whether we want the thing changed at all! Most left-leaning people are against the proposal, because they see it as a waste of time and money, and a distraction from serious political issues.

A waste of money, and oh, what a waste. $26 million to go through a process that is driven from a political figure considering his legacy. He’s wanting to be remembered not for his poor handling of the Christchurch rebuild, or his shady Sky City deal, or his failure to deliver the long-promised budget surplus, or even for the revelations of Dirty Politics or his habit of pulling girl’s hair, but for something important and symbolic like changing our flag and moving away from our colonial roots (perhaps). It’s a lot of money for what can uncharitably be called a political vanity project.

What could $26 million buy? Well, it could buy 3250 insulin pumps and supplies for them for a year. It could fund KidsCan, the biggest charity for children in poverty in NZ, for almost four years. It could keep the National Library curriculum topic support service available to school children for more than 66 years. It would keep the Wellington Rape Crisis Drop-in Centre open for almost 366 years. It could fund Lifeline for five and a half years.

This isn’t small change, and there are places it could go that would make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people. Burning it on a flag referendum just feels so wasteful. It’s been allocated now, though, and there’s just nothing that anyone can do about it. All those things go begging, because of a vanity project. It’s galling.