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Speaker: The Spirit Level

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  • Steve Withers,

    Awesome.

    Some of us still hold to this.

    I'm still trying to work it why this government having a surplus meant there was enough money for a flag referendum, but not enough money for Pharmac to fund life-saving melanoma treatments.

    Something deeply messed up in that. They just don't care.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Yes. Not in my own lived experience, but I know there were times when things were very tight indeed for my parents, and they went without so they could feed us.

    But we shouldn't have to experience hardship ourselves in order to try to make the world, or maybe just our own country (because the world is a huge task), or even just our own immediate community a better place. Imagination is such an important moral capacity. We should be able to imagine what it might be like to face this kind of hardship, and then respond with empathy. Because that's what decent people do.

    And not just empathy. A bit of cash wouldn't go astray either.

    Thanks for writing this, Che.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to Steve Withers,

    I’m still trying to work it why this government having a surplus meant there was enough money for a flag referendum, but not enough money for Pharmac to fund life-saving melanoma treatments.

    For the same reason that while we all nod our heads at the need to do something about child poverty, the free to air media branch of the ideological state apparatus happily proclaimed, with beaming smiles on the presenters faces, it could be tax cuts for all in 2016.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2213 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    Yup, often it's those who barely have enough for themselves who give - tangibly - more. We were on both sides of that one when I was a kid, and you don't forget.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    No Widows’ Benefit any more. Paula Bennett got rid of it a couple of years ago. There is just the Jobseeker and you are expected to look for work regardless of grief, kids etc. And the Sole Parent which expects work unless children are just babies.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3203 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    1982 was the heyday of PEP schemes, where those drawn from the ranks of the unemployed were generally paid the award wage of the union of whichever local authority provided the bridging finance. With the Auckland City Council it was the Northern Regional Local Government Officers' Union.

    As Colin Scrimgeour noted with heavy irony in a radio interview from around that time, Muldoon would probably be remembered as NZ's last genuinely socialist Prime Minister.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    No Widows’ Benefit any more.

    So, if you're feeling the spirit of giving coming upon you and you're not sure of worthy recipients...here's a widow and her poor wee boys who need a helping $ or two...backed by Our Leader no less...

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11561132

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=11561837

    "He did an awful lot of fundraising for charity. If he hasn't managed money well - let's argue that for a moment - he won't be the first superstar (in that situation)... But he looked to me like a guy who gave enormously. Maybe it's time for us to give back."

    But, in relation to the hoipolloi...

    Prime Minister John Key says drug dependency is a major contributor to poverty in New Zealand, as a damning new report claims that one in three Kiwi children are living in hardship.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11561896


    I will crawl back under my rock of cynicism now...

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1344 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby, in reply to Deborah,

    We should be able to imagine what it might be like to face this kind of hardship, and then respond with empathy. Because that's what decent people do.

    thing is, I often see statements where people claim that negative attitudes to poverty are a new thing, or perhaps "a product of the current government".

    but I can claim my own experience to argue that there is nothing new about deriding or denigrating the poor. nor it is a product of the political Right. the worst offender in my past was a Union apparatchik, and a leader in a local Church!

    so yes, empathy. but even those who have experienced poverty can express a total lack of empathy, because we live in a society that happily accords blame without consideration of cause.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Yeah I don't think negative attitudes to poverty are new. What's new is the amount of poverty around to have a negative attitude to. "New" as in it wasn't like this when I was a kid, anyway - it's not like I can remember the Great Depression or anything. And even in that golden haze of my youth, of course there were seriously impoverished people here. But it feels different now, like it's become more of an actual class than a temporary state that unfortunate people live through. It's a strange time to be impoverished, a time when a smartphone is cheaper than food, when all the entertainment in the world is nearly free, but basics like a roof over the head are stretching even the lower middle classes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari, in reply to BenWilson,

    But it feels different now, like it’s become more of an actual class than a temporary state that unfortunate people live through.

    from my seat the biggest change is the state seems happy to accept this as the norm - many of us here (it seems) grew up before the welfare state started to be dismantled and there was a real belief that helping and supporting others was a public good and duty of the state and ourselves - this wasn't just confined to here, we also wanted our govt and others to help other nations do better to

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 538 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    "For the fact was, the school the Burnell children went to was not at all the kind of place their parents would have chosen if there had been any choice. But there was none. It was the only school for miles. And the consequence was all the children in the neighborhood, the judge's little girls, the doctor's daughters, the store-keeper's children, the milkman's, were forced to mix together. ... But the line had to be drawn somewhere. It was drawn at the Kelveys. Many of the children, including the Burnells, were not allowed even to speak to them. They walked past the Kelveys with their heads in the air, and as they set the fashion in all matters of behaviour, the Kelveys were shunned by everybody. Even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for the other children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers.
    They were the daughters of a spry, hardworking little washerwoman, who went about from house to house by the day. This was awful enough. But where was Mr. Kelvey? Nobody knew for certain. But everybody said he was in prison. So they were the daughters of a washerwoman and a gaolbird. Very nice company for other people's children!"
    The Doll's House, Katherine Mansfield, 1922

    So in six years, if nothing changes, we'll be in much the same place as we were a hundred years before.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    I'm not one for faith based sentimentality, being an atheist and all, but I can't help being struck by the contrast between what conventionally passes for the Christmas spirit, and what people are prepared at the moment to do and say in real life. We hear too much about children in poverty, didn't their parents know having kids is expensive, it's all because of drug abuse, blah blah. The same applies to American (and other) Islamophobia. Peace on earth, good will to all, anyone? The war on Christmas isn't in people saying "Happy Holidays", it's in people saying "screw you, I've got mine."

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to B Jones,

    what conventionally passes for the Christmas spirit,

    I give you the voice of that great Christian scholar and gentleman, the former prime minister of Australia, the Right Honourable Tony Abbott:

    Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.



    I've never been poor and hope never to be, because I've seen what poor is like and I don't want to go there. And it is high on my list of "things we need systematic solutions to", so I vote and donate accordingly. Unfortunately I'm in a tiny minority with that stance.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Moz,

    I’ve never been poor and hope never to be, because I’ve seen what poor is like and I don’t want to go there. And it is high on my list of “things we need systematic solutions to”, so I vote and donate accordingly. Unfortunately I’m in a tiny minority with that stance.

    I've been poor, and hope never to be again, because I've felt what poor is like. Dirt poor. Hungry poor (Salvation Army food parcel poor). Shameful poor (secondhand underwear poor). Miserable poor. And still nowhere near as poor as the real poverty we have now.

    And yet, the thing that matters most is the inequality. I didn't feel as poor when all but the farmers' children were as haphazardly dressed as I was, and everyone's house was unlined, and our pity was reserved for the girl who's mother gave her sandwiches made with inedibly hard home-made bread. You only feel poor when others not only have things you don't have, but society convinces you your lack of those things is a failure, and the failure is your fault.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Rosemary McDonald,

    Nothng new about 'the deserving poor' as a notion - and Hilary can probably supply references. :)

    There is a huge historic moral underpinning to the distinction between people born disabled or who joined in later, especially by 'accident'. Across cultures, even.

    Also between those who have never had socially-sanctioned 'success' and those who have had it then lost it.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Great to see media finally realising that being on heavy dialysis might impinge on your earnings, despite superstar credibility as one of the greatest sportspeople of all time, in any sport. Antidote to all those "doesn't stop her" stories they love peddling.

    Yet let's not hold our breath they will stop holding disabled people accountable for systemic failures to serve our needs. It's a natural human failing to blame the individual.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Sacha,

    Nothng new about 'the deserving poor' as a notion

    How about the undeserving disabled? For example, Christchurch's "skinhead" community, most of whom, IMHE, appear to be in receipt of some form of disability benefit.

    When activism focuses on what can be immediately changed, i.e. those social attitudes that disadvantage the disabled, people whose "bad attitude" is often a symptom of their disability seem to fall into the "undeserving" too-hard basket. There were few voices of protest over the Chch Press's voyeuristically lurid coverage of this unfortunate woman's highly public decline.

    When society seeks to balance the rights of those whose disability can render them socially disruptive with community safety, the burden falls unfairly on the poor. During Tim Barnett's last term as MP for Christchurch Central I visited his office with a friend who'd sought his help in dealing with a neighbour's dangerously intrusive behaviour.

    When I suggested that we as a society have a level of responsibility in accommodating the socially disruptive, Barnett offered that such problems usually occurred in "low-income areas". The implication was that nice people such as those present didn't normally have to worry too much about such things.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Rosemary McDonald,

    This thread has reminded me of this....http://www.cpag.org.nz/assets/PROCEEDINGS%20of%20the%20Forum%2010%20September%202010%20Final%20(2).pdf

    Rethinking welfare for the 21st
    century: Forum Proceedings
    Report from the forum held 10 September 2010,

    Five years on....

    Waikato, or on the road • Since Apr 2014 • 1344 posts Report Reply

  • chris,

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Withers, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    I give Muldoon credit for caring about people. Unfortunately his tactics left a lot to be desired. Looking back, I’m sorry I voted for neo-liberals in 1984 and ’87. Starting in 1990, I never made that mistake again.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 312 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Che Tibby,

    so yes, empathy. but even those who have experienced poverty can express a total lack of empathy, because we live in a society that happily accords blame without consideration of cause.

    We're currently in an age of just-world dogma - an arm of the Prosperity Gospel - where we're drilled with the belief that anyone can start a business and become millionaires one day. In that respect, prostitution and running P labs count.

    As for myself, even though I'm in paid work, I've basically found the ladder of opportunity missing all of its rungs. Unless of course, you're born into affluence and have nothing resembling a disability or mental illness.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5420 posts Report Reply

  • John Farrell,

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 487 posts Report Reply

  • andin, in reply to John Farrell,

    The author sez in the comments

    " Even those with stupid beliefs and destructive behaviour need a minimal support level to sustain them but provide incentive to change. I would prefer to see these administered by private charitable or professional organisations rather than bureaucracies."

    Them poor eh! you can make money outta them? Oh no tax write off

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1882 posts Report Reply

  • John Farrell, in reply to andin,

    Yup, being poor is a choice, don'tcher know.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 487 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    It's just your basic poor logic. Because some (a few) people choose a simpler and/or lower consumption life, then all people who live with less must have chosen to live that way.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

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