Tuesday, 21 June 2011

New Zealand’s Hidden Shame!

There were two startling reports this month which, when put together, are most concerning..

The first is that thousands of children are going hungry, in New Zealand each and every day. KidsCan, the programme for providing breakfasts at schools, is failing to meet the demand. Not just failing – falling so far behind as to create a major crisis. The problem is increased demand.

The programme to provide food in schools has been running for six years and this year 11,000 children a day will miss out on food. The chief executive of KidsCan, describes the poverty causing this crisis as “New Zealand’s hidden shame”.

Given that two of the causes of poverty are low wages and lack of jobs, the Wairarapa, under the policies of the current government, is either already hit by this crisis or about to be hit. My experience from door knocking in the electorate over the past few weeks shows that the crisis is here.

The other report puts it all in perspective. Finance Minister Bill English has reported that wages, when the tax cut is included, rose faster than prices in the year to March. His report notes that wages rose 7.1 per cent once the tax credits are included. I suggest that you should check your pay slips.

The fallacy of this argument is that Bill English cites increases in the average wage which includes salaries which most Wairarapa workers can only dream of. These are the wages that received the benefit of huge tax cut. However only about 10% of the population received them. To suggest that the population at large has had a 7% increase in income is trickery and just plain wrong.

In the 8 months from September to May food prices rose by 20% and families, rather than receiving a 7% increase in pay, are struggling andthat’s only half the story. Throughout the electorate the number of people who are unemployed and dependent upon a benefit is increasing rapidly.

Each week I am out knocking on doors, and always asking people how they are coping. In a way I dislike asking that question, because people want to be able to say that they are managing and many do tell me they are. Then they tell me about the cost of food and then the full story comes out. One woman who had three kids was in despair. Her face showed the strain as she recounted her story. She lives on potatoes and bread she bakes herself. She can't afford to run a car, so carries all her groceries home by hand. Some Monday's her kids’ stay home from school as she is ashamed to send them off without cut lunches.

Basic food items such as cheese are regarded as luxuries by a lot of people in the electorate. One mother told me that she "has enough to buy her bread, meat and some milk, but cheese is a rarity”. It is sad that in an area surrounded by dairy farms milk has to be used sparingly. From many front door chats I have heard the same thing - the rising cost of living is not only using up what little money people have each week; it is now eating into what little savings people have and is driving them into debt.

The Government’s cutback policy has as one of its stated aims to reduce debt. In reality it is driving more and more people deeper and deeper into debt. In New Zealand, debt to a bank is largely financed by overseas borrowing. Hang on! – isn’t that the economic crisis we are trying to struggle out of?

The crisis we face is threefold: Huge cost increases, few jobs and low pay. In the Wairarapa electorate we are suffering from the three more than any other electorate in New Zealand. The National led government, supported by our current MP, is doing nothing about any of them. (There was an attempt by National “to raise wages to the level of Australian pay”. Don Brash was put in charge of developing a plan – and that was the end of that.) The intelligent response to a recession is not to go down with it, but to build pathways out of it.

Labour is committed to rebuilding the country’s skills, restoring research and development programmes so that we can support business and compete internationally, reducing the tax burden on low paid people, banning the sale of the country’s assets so as to stop price gouging by private owners, and building an economy that can support growth and development.In addition we will remove GST on fruit and vegetables which will be a huge help to many local families.

Above all, Labour is committed to support for families so that children get a good start in life – in education, in health, in access to support systems. Full support for families in the early childhood years was the first policy announced by Labour and continues to feature as the priority.

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