Tag Archives: budget

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.

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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.

I know a lot of beneficiaries . . .

‘I know a lot of beneficiaries and they are all dead-beat shitheads who will never work’ – good for you. You’re generalising to a huge and diverse population. Three quarters of all unemployment beneficiaries will be off the benefit in under a year, and in the meantime every extra penny makes a difference in their kids’ lives.

Even if someone is on a benefit long-term, $25 per week makes a huge difference to their kids’ lives – because no, beneficiaries do not all waste every penny on booze, drugs, and gambling. They are human, and have the human range of vices, but also the human impulse to protect and provide for their kids. There are always exceptions, but they should be seen for what they are – exceptions.

There are middle-class parents who smoke and drink and gamble their money away, and a $25 per week pay rise will not benefit their kids at all – shall we say that they don’t deserve their raise? No, because that’s bullshit. We don’t do that to ‘respectable’ people, why should be do that to poor people?

There’s this idea that poor people are that way because of some moral failing. That’s just blatantly wrong. People are poor for a variety of reasons, and ‘because they’re a lazy sheathed’ is way down the list of causes. Coming from a poor background, or being Maori, or being disabled, are much more common reasons, and we can stop pretending that any of those things are moral failings. Poor people are not inherently scum, and treating them like they are makes you a despicable person.

The way to tackle poverty is to make sure poor people have enough to live on. It’s that easy. Poor people tend to be excellent budgeters, because otherwise they’d starve in the streets. They know how to get the most out of the worst. Give them some fucking dignity and let them live like whole people, rather than half-shunned lives.

The answer is not this or that intricate programme that someone dreams up – fruit and vegetable baskets to poor families do nothing to get the power bill paid. A meat hamper is pretty fucking useless if you don’t have any gas to cook it on. Insulation in the ceiling is no good when there is water seeping up through the floorboards.

Give. Poor people. Enough. Money. Stop judging them. Start trusting them with their own lives.

Two dollars is still a 67% rise

And that 67% is a big deal. Pharmacy co-pay rates rose from $3 to $5 about a year ago. It’s only $2! Yes, only $2. But those two dollars are a hell of a lot when you live on a benefit or work at minimum wage.

TVNZ had a look at the issue, in particular how rural pharmacies were affected by the rise in costs. It’s hitting rural towns pretty hard, as poverty rates can be quite high, as can the incidence of illness. Rural pharmacies are forced to open tabs that will never be paid, or watch people choose which medications they can afford and leave the rest on hold forever. It’s dire.

But how could $5 cause so many problems? Well, it is the difference between walking home (rather a feat if you’re unwell) and getting the bus. Or being able to get to work on the bus. It’s half a pair of cheap shoes for the kids. It’s a quarter of a big bag of nappies. It’s three loaves of bread. A couple of litres of milk.

If you’re like me, you waltz into the pharmacy with half-a-dozen prescriptions – that’s thirty dollars right there, and that’s a huge amount to come up with when your food budget is only $50 per week for your family. Throwing around $5 per prescription is the difference between bread and milk or nothing. When people are struggling to afford $3 prescriptions, $5 is way out of reach.

I’m sure there is a good reason for the rise. Well, maybe. It’s probably something along the lies of “We don’t want to fund Pharmac adequately” for reasons that may be reasonable, but may not. So there are good political reasons, even if they may not be good reasons with regard to patient welfare.

All the good budgetary reasons in the world can’t make up for the fact that this change is threatening the health of some of the most vulnerable people in our country. People on sickness benefits or invalid’s benefits who need that medicine, but cannot make their very meagre budgets stretch to afford it. Solo mothers who are making hard choices – medicine for the baby or formula? Or maybe just no vegetables for mum (meat went the way of the dodo early on, when the choice of meat or formula came up).

People may protest that this is what the disability allowance is for (although that’s irrelevant to acute illnesses). The truth is, adding in a disability allowance sinks into the grand moneypit. It becomes part of the budget that’s making money look critically endangered. It makes things a little easier, but the budget simply isn’t stretchy enough, even with that input.

$5 is too much for people that are already in need of a community services card. It’s too much for beneficiaries on tight budgets. It’s too much for people on minimum wages. It always comes at the cost of another one of life’s needs.