What's up with housing? But also, what's up with incomes?
What's up with housing in New Zealand, is a crisis of unparalleled proportion. Incoming Auckland City Missioner Chris Farrelly said so himself a couple of weeks back. Suffice to say that with all the recent to-ings and fro-ings in Parliament over the matter, the current National Government is skating on thin ice and floundering with their ineffective solutions to the lack of affordable housing, after having thrown merely a handful of beans at it in the latest Budget announcement.
Homelessness is at dire risk of becoming the norm because of all the talk and the little action. Efforts such as the #Parkupforhomes initiative are coming hard and fast across the nation demanding that Government put their money where its mouth is and provide some real meaningful relief to families of Aotearoa-New Zealand.
But what's up with incomes? Once again the issue of inadequate incomes is being swept under the mat. Out of Budget 2016, nothing was allocated towards improving Working for Families tax credits, or welfare benefits. It seems that the $25 addition to the benefit and $12.50 for the WfF In-Work Tax Credit (IWTC) that was promised with the 2015 Budget and implemented only this past April, may be it for those in need, and for probably some time to come. Even with that slight increase, not everyone who needed it got it.
Yes, housing needs to be fixed. That goes without saying. Low-income families simply cannot afford any better than the slums they have been living in, which affect their children's well-being. As social housing is made less available thanks to private sales and lack of replenishment these families are forced into private rentals they cannot afford. And that all depends on whether they can get into a home to start with.
A dangerous reaction from some is to claim we should not give these families more income through benefit and tax credit increases, because it would effectively mean more money in slumlords pockets. Have we seen actual evidence of this or is it just the hypothetical musings of the high-earning right who are terrified that they might not see their tax cuts because extra money might go where it is most needed?
Our thinking is much different when it comes to the elderly in New Zealand.
Not all old people are lucky to have aged successfully; some are also feeling the pinch of hard times through lack of affordable housing and rent increases they can't sustain. A small mercy is that New Zealand Superannuation (NZ Super) goes up annually with wage increases.
When the Government analyses wages inflation each year, they add a bit more to NZ Super. And of course this is what they should and must do. But this link to wages makes NZ Super far superior to both WfF and welfare benefits. And every year while the elderly get a little bit more help, families with hungry growing children wait and wait for policy to change so that they too, may be considered as deserving.
According to the Ministry of Social Development, between now and the mid-2020s, the population of elderly in New Zealand will have doubled and will outnumber children aged under 15 years. Due to this aging population, as well as annual increases to NZ Super, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) estimates that by 2020 58% of the welfare spend will be delivered in NZ Super payments. WfF payments, which are adjusted only when cumulative inflation reaches 5%, and even then parts are not indexed at all, are on a steady decline as Government allocates virtually no additional spending on it over the course of the next few years. The welfare benefit is subjected to the same punitive lack of attention, but there's hardly any public comment of these adjustments that affect hard-up families.
Nobody is saying don't index NZ Super to incomes until the housing problem is sorted. Of course we all are in favour of ensuring those recipients are adequately remunerated for their long service to the economy (of course we assume they all provided this so-called 'long service' our society seems to value so much). But what about our young, who we expect to flourish and develop into economic participants, what about the families who are breaking their backs to make ends meet and going without? What about the rights of the child under UNCROC? Are we setting the children up for a bright future, or are we setting them up for an endless cycle of poverty and mistrust toward the system? And are we leading by example that this is the way New Zealand should be? Surely we can all agree - this is not the New Zealand we want.