By Rodney Macann
9 November 2011
We’re Rugby World Cup winners and now it’s time to pick a winning team in the General Election. Over the last 25 years fiscal policies have contributed to the widening gap between our richest and poorest, creating a new class in our society: the underclass.
When government support fails our most vulnerable members of society, social service agencies step in with limited resources. The tenth Vulnerability Report from the NZ Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) for the April-June 2011 quarter shows that even though benefit figures fell with the exception of DPBs, social services were busier than ever.
Poverty rates for children in beneficiary families are around 70 percent, but about two in five poor children are in households where at least one adult is in full-time employment or is self-employed.
Around 22 percent of children are living in poverty – one in six Pākeha children and one in three Māori children.
So what’s going on? The report suggests that hardship statistics may provide an important clue: there were large falls in the numbers of hardship grants made, but life had become more expensive than ever.
Unemployment figures were down by 6,000, but the fall was not large given the size of the labour force. Perhaps it is the tightened government assistance policies, combined with price rises for basic items that are resulting in demands on social services?
Poverty stresses families and puts children at risk and it is the children who suffer the most when families are under pressure.
Meanwhile, social services face increased pressure. For example, in the last quarter, Wellington’s Catholic Social Services helped individuals and families with a multitude of social and health issues – family violence, financial difficulties, parenting dysfunction and severe dental decay among the children. And in the last year, Hamilton’s Catholic Cathedral Centre’s Tuesday Lunch attendees increased by 16 percent (175). Most are Māori, and around half are long-term attendees. The regulars tend to be on unemployment benefits, have mental health problems or are sick in some other way. Some have part-time work; others are recently discharged from prison.
The new government will need to be extremely careful about where it chooses to spend and where it chooses not to. New Zealand cannot afford a growing underclass and social service agencies are not a panacea for the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.
All Kiwis need that level playing field. It’s time for policies that reduce the inequality gap and bring our country Closer Together Whakatata Mai.
For more information www.nzccss.org.nz
Rodney McCann is spokesperson for the church leaders.