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Paul Barber on the importance of non-profit organisations, our changing population, our homelessness shame, disappearing beneficiaries & more

Paul Barber on the importance of non-profit organisations, our changing population, our homelessness shame, disappearing beneficiaries & more

Paul Barber is a policy advisor with the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, a national network of social service organisations.

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1. Non-profits more precarious than they have ever been?

According to researcher Garth Nowland-Foreman:

“Overall, it looks like non-profits, while crucial to New Zealand economy and society, are more precarious than they have been, for at least a decade and possibly longer.” 

It is a very large sector contributing $6 billion to GDP but if you count the volunteer input of 1.2 million volunteers, it adds another $3.5 billion. Yet it would be one of the most under-reported and under-analysed as well. The sector employs more people than the construction sector, agriculture, forestry and mining, even without adding in the full-time equivalent volunteer hours. But, while the sector is growing, expenditure is growing faster than income, which means there is “dis-saving” happening, and the total time input of volunteers is dropping, even as numbers remain high.

2. The need for action against rising inequality

“This is not some tepid third way Davos fudge in which we pretend the only response to growing wealth and income inequality and disruptive technological change is world class education and training” (Wayne Swan, Australian MP).

If you like your analysis taken with a dose of ideological clarity, check out this latest number from the Australian Labor Party think tank Chifley Research Centre, “Inequality: The Facts and The Future.” 

3. Searching for threads of humanity

Simon’s struggle to live independently in the community while struggling with mental health and other issues epitomises straight talking from those working at the front line of poverty and inequality in the Waikato that the Poverty Action Waikato team has shared. “Neglect and Nurture” documents experiences of communities dealing with a neglectful state while trying to build and maintain nurturing communities.

4. My future laid out before me - startling info about our changing population

Okay, so it is not news that our population is ageing but this graph from the draft of the new Health of Older People Strategy gives some food for thought. In 2015 there were around 1.5 million people aged under 25 in our population of 4.6 million. In 20 years’ time in 2035 there will still be around 1.5 million people aged under 25 but our population will have grown by almost another million to 5.5 million. Most of those million extra people will be aged over 55 years. We really need to start having some good intergenerational conversations! You might want to add your thoughts on the consultation running until 7th September. 

5. Our homelessness shame

Researcher Dr Kate Amore is one of those who have worked tirelessly to document the full extent of severe housing deprivation (homelessness) in this country. On Wednesday she released the full details of the latest statistics from the 2013 Census showing around 41,000 people in severe housing deprivation. In the 7 years between 2006 and 2013 the rate of housing deprivation went up by nearly 15%. And that was before the prime time media discovered people living in cars.

Half of the homeless live in Auckland, not surprisingly, but other places are struggling as well, like Far North District, Opotiki, Whakatane, and Porirua (read the full report here). The government policy answer to this is actually very straight forward – inject the extra supply of housing into the places where is most needed. That means building a lot more social housing that is affordable to rent (or buy) for people on low incomes. This direct policy response would also have the great additional effect of reducing the pressure off the middle of the housing market as well.

6. Wonderful caring innovators

In the midst of this housing shame, there are brilliant social services and emergency housing teams getting out there to help provide housing, find places to live and generally stand beside those needing help. Auckland's Te Puea Marae and Mangere Marae have stood up over winter and taken people in, and they are working alongside established Auckland emergency housing services like Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, The Salvation Army, Island Child, VisionWest and De Paul Housing.

There are also those working with the homeless through the “housing first” model such as LifeWise, or The Peoples Project in Hamilton, and the Auckland City Mission, and many more.

7. Social dis-investment in the prison system

Kim Workman has recently expressed his disappointment at the way justice policy over recent years is leading to increased prison numbers instead of decreasing the number of people we lock up. And more than five years after declaring our prison system a “moral and fiscal failure” is Finance Minister Bill English re-discovering alternatives that he already knows about when he described a Howard League literacy programme as “fitting within the government’s social investment approach”? 

8. How do you say ‘Sorry’?

Check out what these Auckland law students think about saying sorry (warning: no Pakeha rights were harmed in the making of this video)!

9. The case of the disappearing beneficiaries

It takes a bit of detective work to find out what is happening to people once the Government has managed to get them “off the books” when people “exit” the benefit system. While Government targets of fewer people on social welfare are going down, how come food banks, budgeting services, and emergency housing services are going up?

Aren’t all these people leaving benefits going on to employment, training and lifting themselves out of poverty? Well, the Government doesn’t know because it isn’t asking this question so it takes hard working people like Victoria University Masters student Alicia Sudden to research this. She surveyed or interviewed nearly 250 people to find out what happened after the 2013 welfare reforms, what it is like on a benefit and what happens when you leave a benefit.

It turns out only 37% are actually moving into full-time paid employment, a further 17% do get into study or training, but nearly half find themselves struggling in casual employment, back on a benefit or with no source of income at all…. (Check out information from both MSD and StatsNZ that supports this analysis).

10. To finish with a bit of poetry courtesy of Sister Margaret’s from the Sisters of Mercy in Wiri, South Auckland….

State house numbers going down
In 2013, 69,000 owned by the Crown. 

People sleep in garages, cars and on the floor
while MSD waiting lists continue to soar 
Men, women and children out in the cold
And houses for the homeless are empty or sold. 

The social housing experiment begins to kick in 
Reduce the state stock and pocket the win. 
A fiscal model becomes the norm 
the private market will transform. 

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Yes. Agreed, promoting growth by the expansion of household debt.
Could all become a bit doubtful.


#5 and subsequent My question is why don't we say it how it is? The cause of homelessness, the increasing impact of crime and mental health is fundamentally down to failed Government socio-economic policies. Both Labour and National have failed dismally here, and neither currently offer any real solutions, or even present any indication that they are prepared or are even ready to take any real action to address the fundamental issues. Those are good quality full time employment in decent jobs with decent conditions that deliver a reasonable lifestyle. Take substantive action to reduce the cost of accomodation, especially in the major centres and growth hubs to affordable levels. Instead from all parties we get the universal I'm alright jack attitude, based on pay and benefits, so i don't really care about you, oh and election year is ages away and you'll have forgotten all this by then, and I'll be the better choice among your choices so I'll get back in anyway!


@Murray , just how does one " take substantive action to reduce the cost of accommodation"? as you propose

What practical steps could anyone take to alter the market price of accommodation downwards where demand exceeds supply by 60,000 new faces each year ?

If you tax accommodation providers , they pass the costs on , so it gets more expensive .

If you implement rent control , it distorts the market and providers will leave the market , then we are really buggered because there are simply not enough taxpayers to shake-down for the Govt to house everyone .

Capital gains tax will not solve the problem , a new tax have NEVER reduced the price of anything . And Capital gains tax is easily avoided , just don't sell the asset unless you have to , borrow against it instead.

The rental subsidy for low earners has had the opposite effect to what was intended , its actually kept rents high


Too much hand wringing in this. From my time in south Auckland and living less than 1km from where Michael Choy was beaten to death I can advise as one who did not just drop in to view the poverty porn. Make no mistake, we went from rent to own and raised 3 children in this place and lived among those described in the articles above. We moved out, they remain, still sitting in their garages most days.
Some, as we did, were there in transit but many were content with the low income lifestyle and paying for accommodation came low on the priority list behind some of their other activities. These folk are not in Auckland for the wealth of opportunity it offers. A moderate incentive would see them move out if they could spend more of their pooled incomes on what they prefer and less on their accommodation. EG: lower the supplement for Auckland and raise it elsewhere. This is simply a management deficiency.


Re homelessness , there is no easy solution.

Firstly we have an open -door immigration policy which does not help , we are packing them in here like sardines, and the locals are getting squeezed out

Secondly, social housing provided by the State has some real negatives , quite apart from the cost , the properties are almost never cared for properly by the tenants , and it creates a terrible culture of dependency , expectation and entitlement .

Then we also have so many handouts , its mind-boggling , Working For Families , the rental subsidy scheme for the working poor , and the benefit for those who don't work or in a few cases, don't want to work .

These measures , handouts and grants should be adequate , but clearly they are not enough . And it should be noted they never were and never will be .

I don't have the answer , but there has to be a workable solution , that does not involve bankrupting the country


#2 "If there were a contest for the most stupid idea in politics, my choice would be the assumption that people would be evenly distributed in incomes, institutions, occupations or awards, in the absence of somebody doing somebody wrong. Political crusades, bureaucratic empires and lucrative personal careers as grievance mongers have been built on the foundation of that assumption, which is almost never tested against any facts.

Something as simple as age differences among groups can doom any assumption of even outcomes. If every 20-year-old Puerto Rican in the United States had an income identical with the income of every 20-year-old Japanese American — and identical incomes at every other age — Japanese Americans as a group would still have a higher average income than Puerto Ricans in the United States. That is because the median age of Japanese Americans is more than 20 years older. People with 20 years more work experience usually make higher incomes. And age difference is just one of many differences between groups."…

"Australia – rising inequality but everyone is better off

Australia has also seen an increase in inequality, but in contrast to the US, the incomes of all households increased substantially. This contrast is a good example that makes clear that we cannot rely on aggregate measures – like mean GDP growth and inequality measures – alone. We have to study incomes across the entire distribution to be able to see what is happening."


Nice top 10 the poem


Here was me thinking our family had a home when I was a child. Apparently not, according to an academic study. In turns out the bedroom deficit in our modest but adequate house now categorizes us as having been ‘homeless’. Along with people in mobile homes and boarding houses, Dr Amore places our functional family living situation and that of most of my contemporaries, among the 41,000 deprived citizens in urgent need of additional taxpayer funded assistance. Choose to board with relatives or live in a granny flat or worker accommodation with limited facilities and you too can wear a homelessness badge with pride. If you are a means tested beneficiary you can probably also join the ‘homeless shame’ club. You don't have to be living in a car or garage.