Drop in inequality good, but plight of the poorest unclear

‘We’re concerned about what’s happening in New Zealand’s very poorest households, and among particular groups.’

Despite a reduction in overall inequality indicated by the government’s latest Social Report, Catholic social justice agency Caritas remains concerned about social outcomes for the poorest 10 per cent of New Zealanders.

Caritas director Mike Smith has welcomed the release of the 2008 Social Report, and the apparent reduction in overall inequality. ‘Social monitoring is essential to well-informed debate about poverty issues in the lead-up to the 2008 election,’ he said, ‘and New Zealand previously had some of the largest growth in inequality among OECD countries.’

‘However, the inequality measure used in the report compares incomes of the highest 20 percent of households with the lowest 20 percent. It doesn’t show the plight of our poorest New Zealanders,’ said Mr Smith.

‘We’re concerned about what’s happening in New Zealand’s very poorest households, and among particular groups. This is echoed by New Zealand’s Catholic bishops. In their recent statement Poverty in an Affluent Society, they noted considerable investment in social spending in the last 10 years, but also ‘concerns that people on benefits and low wages have not gained as much as many higher earning families from increased social spending’.

The Catholic Church wanted to see poverty and inequality on the election agenda.
‘There have been improvements but there is no room for complacency from any political party or any voter. We are still waiting for the detail on social security policies, and are seeking commitments that no party intends to return to policies which caused such suffering and hardship for so many New Zealanders during the 1980s and 1990s.

‘We are also seeking an across-the-board commitment from political parties to maintain social and environmental reporting in which reporting on social outcomes is given equal importance with the government’s financial reporting.’

Mr Smith said the Social Report suffers from a substantial time lag between the introduction of government policy, such as the Working for Families package in 2004, and formal reporting of the evaluation of those policies.

‘However, this is still a substantial advance on the situation in recent decades, in which there was no formal monitoring of the social effect of the economic restructuring of the 1980s or the benefit cuts of the 1990s.’

For more information contact Martin de Jong martin@caritas.org.nz, 04-496 1782 or 021-909 688.