A few weeks ago the Significant Other and I were hitching a ride with a friend of ours. He’s German, and very, very blunt. So we knew him well enough not to be insta-offended – and to take a moment to think about his statement when he told us, “You know, New Zealand isn’t actually a first-world country, as far as Europeans are concerned.”
Leaving aside his tendency to act as Spokesman For All Europeans, the man had some decent points. NZ is not a rich country. Some of us are comfortable, and apparently many people – born-here citizens and immigrants alike – are quite happy to put up with a smaller economy and no monorails in return for the “lifestyle”.
And I figured, hey. I’ve been poor. I’ve been raised by a solo mum relying on government support. I’m a student! I work twenty hours a week! I can hardly been speaking from a position of unenlightened privilege, amirite? Sure, the Significant Other just got a whopping pay rise with his new job, but we’re hardly dining on caviar! Surely things can’t be that bad. This is New Zealand. This is a great place to raise your kids! All the Metro polls say so!
To steal the excellent title of another blog, Sadly, No.
Because that payrise, which is allowing us to move into a nicer flat and maybe (*gasp of consumerist relief*) get Sky installed? Puts my SO – my no-formal-qualifications-for-this-job, got-in-through-networks-and-raw-skill SO – in the top 14% of New Zealand wage-earners.
Which isn’t suprising, really, when you know that almost half of New Zealanders earn less than the full-time minimum wage.
It kind of staggered us, really. I mean … we don’t have kids. We don’t own a car. We don’t have any chronic, expensive health problems. But we don’t know how soon we’ll be able to afford to buy a house, or plan kids, or travel overseas. All we could think was, how the hell are some people surviving?
Well, they’re not. They’re living in crowded substandard housing. They’re developing – and yes, German friend, you had a good point – “third world” health problems. And so are their children.
In 2004, 150,000 New Zealand children were living in severe hardship (pdf). That’s 26% of Kiwi kids – up from 18% in 2000. And that report from the New Zealand Child Poverty Action Group contains such other fantastic findings as
New Zealand children have higher rates of preventable illness and deaths from injuries than children in almost any other OECD country.
*golf clap* Go, Kiwi!
We have insanely high rates of diseases (pdf) like cellulitis, tuberculosis (tuberculosis, for God’s sake! I like reading Bronte novels, not bloody living in them), bronchiectasis – which is what happens when your family has a choice between eating dinner or getting that cough checked out, and you end up with permanent scarring on your lungs.
But let it not be said that our Brave, supposedly Left (Of Centre) Government has stood by and done nothing. No, as their ad campaign for the Working For Families scheme shows, they do think Kiwi families need extra support. After all, this eligible family may need to get their daughter a second iPod any day now.
Tiny original here.
Because of course, when you want to target Families In Need *violins, gaze into the middle distance* what you definitely want to start off with is not giving that assistance to beneficiary families. I mean, it’s just totally illogical that those on the bottom rungs of the ladder might need more assistance than the family pictured above – who I doubt have had to think, “New shoes for my child, or heat the house in winter?”
And in this election year, let’s please not delude ourselves that the other side would do any better – National thinks that funding to insulate state housing is pork-barrel politics. Because people whose children are suffering from tuberculosis are such an influential interest group.
This post is kind of going nowhere coherent, but my point is this: New Zealand is not a happy socialist paradise. We have a child poverty problem. When doctors at Middlemore Hospital can go on Campbell Live and say, “The diseases I see here are the same I saw in black hospitals under apartheid rule in South Africa”, we need to stop, and think, and realise that the “Kiwi battler” isn’t a bloody land-owning white farmer in the Waikato, and it’s not a Good Hardworking Family who can’t afford the mortgage on an investment property, and the “middle class”? Isn’t.