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Andrew Dickens: The PM cannot claim to have any insight into poverty

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 14 Mar 2022, 6:01pm
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Andrew Dickens: The PM cannot claim to have any insight into poverty

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 14 Mar 2022, 6:01pm

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to make headlines I've been struck about how few politicians seem to have any clue about poverty. 

But that doesn't stop them crowing about it. 

After the past week, the Prime Minister cannot claim to have any insight into poverty. 

I have listened to a number of her interviews this morning in which she squirmed and wriggled and tried to explain that there's no difference between saying there's cost pressure – her position – and a crisis. 

The Prime Minister is also the Child Poverty Minister. This is a job she has dramatically ignored due to her micromanagement of the fight against Covid. 

So as Child Poverty Minister she must be aware of how close to the breadline so many families sail and how many families fail to make ends meet. 

She must be aware of the impact that a rapid rise in inflation, in the order of 5 to 7 per cent, must have on the household budget of the poor. These are households that have nothing spare a week. No wriggle room.   

Combined with the inexorable rise in rents and a rapid rise in fuel and there's nothing else you could call it but a crisis. 

To give you an example, Julia Chapman from KidsCan was on air with Kerre McIvor today.  She says there are families whose sole goal is to pay rent. Anything after that is a bonus. And that includes food. 

What is shocking is that the Prime minister has been shamed into taking action rather than taking pre-emptive steps as soon as the problem manifested itself. 

Meanwhile, the National Party claims that tax cuts would help. And yes, they might, eventually. But they don't seem to be aware of how many families pay no net tax after Working For Families and Accommodation supplements are factored in. 

Again, this morning Julia Chapman welcomed tax cuts but said it would be nice if the poor got a better deal than the better off. People earning the top rates will get $8000 back but those on the lowest rate get $1000 back, she says it would be helpful if those statistics were reversed. 

Finally, at the weekend the former Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett wrote an opinion piece wondering why, when there's full employment, do we have so many people on the benefit. Despite holding the MSD post for 8 years she seemed not to have an idea why this should happen. 

So, Julia Chapman told a story today of people giving up their jobs because they can't afford the petrol to get there.  

When costs rise, wages remain low and child care is expensive, households make a calculation as to the best way to get through.  

What Paula Bennett doesn't get is not that the benefit is so high. It's that the wages are too low and inflation makes work unprofitable and unsustainable. 

Our comfortable, middle-class politicians cry crocodile tears for the poor while all the time failing to understand the poverty trap that so many New Zealanders have fallen into. 

So, of course, it is a crisis. It's been building for years. 

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