Paul Barber with 10 Great Election Ideas

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Paul Barber, a policy advisor with the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, a national network of social service organisations, one of the 37 groups in the Equality Network, promoting a more equal country for everyone.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to david.chaston@interest.co.nz.

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact gareth.vaughan@interest.co.nz.

See all previous Top 10s here.

September is Election month so here are some thoughts about voting for policies that help make a fairer and more equal country for everyone. It is great to see interest.co.nz tracking election policies and inequality remains the big issue in peoples’ minds heading into this election. The “Great Divergence” that opened up in the 1980s and 90s, is not reducing so the groups that are part of the Equality Network have come up with 3 key messages and 10 Big Ideas for turning the tide.

1. Income for all that provides the necessities of life through a Living Wage and fairer income support

The past weeks have shown how hard it is to speak up about life on a benefit and how unfair the treatment you receive is – depending on your gender and race… But courageous people like Debbie, Mareta, Maddie, and Nathan are telling their stories of the hardships and difficult choices they face.  Three simple things that would make like better for people not in paid work and their families that include nearly 200,000 children, are: change the In-Work Tax Credit to a Child Tax Credit so children in non-employed families can receive it; lift core benefit rates to a fixed percentage of the average (like NZ Super is set); and reduce the rate at which benefits are abated when people manage to find some paid work.

There are Living Wage political forums happening around the country and the hundreds of people coming along are asking for the Living Wage to be paid by all core public services. Catriona MacLennan has 10 great ideas to pay for a living wage in government including capping public service top salaries and freezing MPs pay.

2. A Government-funded house-building programme to help address the housing crisis and provide everyone with healthy, affordable homes with long-term tenure

Meanwhile the Salvation Army has ploughed through the confusing and complex data about social housing in this country and concluded we need to build at least an extra 2,000 – 2,500 more social housing units ongoing if we are even to begin to meet the need. In case you are wondering, over the last two years the total number of social housing units (combining Housing NZ, local government and NGO community housing) has actually gone down from just under 85,000 in 2015 to just under 84,000 at the beginning of 2017.

Renters make up half the population and they are the most affected by the poor quality houses and units that are being rented out. The People’s Review of Renting has collected some of the horror stories, many from people who fear the consequences of speaking up about their terrible housing. The review has five excellent recommendations include a compulsory WoF for rental housing, abolishing letting fees and no-fault evictions, and improving tenancy advocacy support including establishing a Commissioner for Housing. Readers can take action by signing the Open Letter to call for these recommendations to be implemented.

3. A tax on very high levels of wealth and higher top tax rates on the highest incomes to ensure everyone contributes their fair share and enable our families and whānau to thrive

While the two biggest political parties seem to have largely taken income tax cuts (or rises) off their election agendas, that doesn’t make the problem of our unbalanced tax system go away. Is it really fair that someone on $200,000 pays the same top tax rate as someone on $70,000? We also need to find a way to bring the un-taxed wealth gains into the system and it would be good if the debate was more than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a Capital Gains TaxThere are other ways of taxing wealth already being done around the world such as inheritance and estate duties. There is the idea of a deemed rate of return on all capital that is treated as income, other ideas include various ways of designing land taxes, and ways of taxing financial transactions.

4. A full partnership between Māori and the Crown to fulfil the promise of Te Tiriti

Parliament’s decisions impact hugely on how income and wealth are shared and it is hard to earn income, save and build wealth if you are on the receiving end of systematic discrimination. The idea of sharing democratic power more fairly could mean bringing back an upper house of Parliament to act as a check and balance on the Cabinet power in politics (although Geoffrey Palmer is not a fan of the idea). But this is only part of the longer process of reimagining how we live together in this country. The report of Matike Mai Aoteoroa, the Independent Iwi Working Group on Constitutional Transformation sets out a range of ideas for how to honour Te Tiriti relationship and is based in rich and sustained consultation in communities throughout the country. 

5. A free healthcare system to ensure everyone can access health support

Healthcare, along with education funding and skills training address obvious major long-term drivers of inequality and disadvantage. Yet people on low incomes struggle to access and afford the healthcare they need. The link between mental health and inequality in societies is strong and proven. New Zealand is in the midst of a mental health service crisis and facing the worst suicide rates ever.

6. Increased education funding to ensure every child and young person has access to free, quality public education that allows them to reach their full potential

The simple message is that free education gives best results. A primary school principal says that while every child in New Zealand has a right to a quality, free education, not all are getting this. Funding has effectively been frozen and this has meant that schools have stopped providing resources that they should be, for example by not painting school buildings, or halting the purchase of new library books.

Another former school principal, Peter Malcolm, points out that countries with the best academic results, such as Finland, have properly free education, including tertiary studies. “If we removed the hidden costs of education and made it properly free for all children, we would create a more just and fair Aotearoa New Zealand which allows every child, regardless of the income level of its household, to thrive.”

7. A huge boost to retraining and skills programmes to give people a better chance to find a job

The continuing high number of young people (aged 15 - 24) not in education, employment or training (NEET) that has sat around 75,000 for some years, shows that much more needs to be done if our employment market is to serve young people better. Ideas to help us do better include more apprenticeship schemes including a greater focus on younger apprentices, industry specific workforce plans and better coordination with immigration policy so that short term employment needs are not displacing longer-term workforce development and training for younger people

8. Extending the law to enable industry collective bargaining

More evidence about the dynamics of inequality came from Bill Rosenberg this week - the higher earners have been increasing their salaries and wages faster than those in the lower and middle wage levels. The reduced ability for low paid workers to organise to bargain for higher wages is reflected in the fact that increases in the minimum wage have not been accompanied by increases in the lower and middle level wages.

9. Curbs on political donations to stop money distorting politics

Curbing the influence of the wealthy on politics will remove a roadblock to pro-equality policies, as will creating a better informed and better-connected public. Max Rashbrooke has been investigating ways to have better government in the twenty-first century and his analysis of political donations shows reason for concern that “parties are, if not reliant on individual wealthy donors, certainly reliant on wealthy donors as a class”.  Among some of the “big ideas” he is promoting to improve this is the idea of every person having an electoral funding voucher to give to the political party of their choice, once every electoral cycle. This could create a strong incentive for parties to engage with the public, while spreading influence equally.

10. Broadcasting that serves the public interest

How does broadcasting help reduce inequality? Well, it is about Increasing people’s awareness of issues through high-quality broadcasting that serves the public interest. Private media outlets (like interest.co.nz of course!) are valuable but our democracy needs public service broadcasting, because (as the European Commission says it is “a very reliable source of information and represents, for a not inconsiderable proportion of the population, the main source of information. It thus enriches public debate and ultimately can ensure that all citizens participate to a fair degree in public life.” 

A final word from Dr Emily Beausoliel from Massey University:

The good news is, policies change and governments adapt in response to public opinion. The $25 increase in benefits is proof of this. We do have the power to effect change, whether in government or our own communities, in countless ways. A robust sense of the change we want would ensure we use this power in productive ways – and not let up until systemic changes are enacted to address this systemic issue.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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25 Comments

One has got to be careful when giving away "free stuff" as it can cause wastage.

I was in Russia in 1992 not long after the USSR had disintegrated. (business trip)
We had dinner in Vladivostok at the house of a retired KGB officer turned semi-professional historian.
At that time there was a serious water shortage there and running water was only available between 6am - 8am and 5pm - 8pm.
The kitchen door was open and from where I was sitting, I could see the water tap not just dripping but running.
I asked why the water was running.
The answer was that the washer was worn.
Why not get a new washer I asked.
The answer was " the water is free, I have to pay for the washer".

This may sound extreme, but a not too dissimilar thing happened to not long ago here in NZ.
I had a prescription for some ointment and when I came to pick it up, there were 6 large tubes of the stuff.
I told the chemist that I didn't need that many.
She replied: "but they are free".
I told here to give me only 3. She looked p*ssed off as she had to change the inventory or whatever.

Anyway, that is my opinion on free things and the likely wastage it will result in.

Ditto for free education. "Any perception that central government currently forgets
students is misguided. As of 2010, the government
subsidises approximately 84 percent of the cost of tertiary
education. It spends $4.235 billion of taxpayers’ money per
annum on tertiary education. Per household, this amounts to
$2,456 in taxes per year." That is a whopping wealth transfer with few guidelines to train graduates that the economy needs.
https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/taxpayers/pages/768/attachments/or...

up
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Let's ban the term 'non-profits' because it is meaningless. I have a lot to do with these organisations and while strictly they don't make a 'profit' they sure do act in their own self interest. Mostly they are just government contractors. In their advocacy role I could take this seriously, but only when the source of their support is not taxpayers money. That happens but when you dig in it's reasonably rare.
Sometimes these contracting providers in health and social services get it wrong. ( everybody does from time to time) It's difficult to tell them that, because they are so pompously proud of their charitable purpose, they don't understand they could get it wrong. Still happy to take the government cash though.
The more self promotion they do - you know the ones with the heart rending TV ads - the more self interested they act.
Give me a good honest profit based contractor any day. They get paid, they understand that, and they do the job.

#1 the problem is the benefit is supposed to be a safety net for those who fall on ill fortune, not a lifestyle choice. Our experience is too many use it as a lifestyle choice with high expectations, so that it's benefits as a safety net have had to be eroded to prevent or limit the abuse.

#3 At a tax rate of say 20% ( I don't know the actual rate) a person on $70,000 pays $14,000, if he earns $200,000 he will pay $40,000 - $26,000 more. Discussing just the rate and not the amount introduces a distortion that most people do not get. Lets talk actual amounts here too.

#1 the problem is the benefit is supposed to be a safety net for those who fall on ill fortune, not a lifestyle choice. Our experience is too many use it as a lifestyle choice with high expectations, so that it's benefits as a safety net have had to be eroded to prevent or limit the abuse.

I'm interested to know more about this. How many in NZ use it as a lifestyle choice?

Ever since I can remember government welfare has got bigger and bigger; the people have become more and more like dependent, spoiled children. Just a coincidence I'm sure.

No one can argue the hardship of being on a benefit and how difficult it is to go by...

However, No one really knows how many people or families abuse the benefit system or take it as a lifestyle ... but through my experience and contacts over the years in renting to some of these people I can assure you that they do exist in reasonable numbers ... and have whole families depending on benefit for a very long time ... some would not be employable but most have no excuse at all - they just improve their benefits by having more children, but most will be doing something for Cash away from the taxman and WINZ to pay for their lifestyle ... you can easily tell that they are not surviving on benefit alone by the amount of booze cans in the recycle bin every week or the cars parked at their door let alone the latest TVs, playstation, videos, and cell phones ...and the size of water and power bills in some cases ...!

Easy come, easy Go ...as they say!!

probelm ECo is we (you) are fingering the wrong socio group. It is the politicans voted in who set these benefits. As a group, benficiaries are low voters compared to the middle class - so they are blamless in this respect.

The benfit policies encourage certain behavours. These people are repsonding entirley logically to the sytem that 'we' have created. If you were born into the same type, you would be eaxctly the same - don't kid yourslef that you would not alsolive in such dysfunction given the same factors in life..

Free will is a fiction, there is no such thing.

We have a problem, but re-focus the cause.

Rastus,it may not be a matter of free will being a fiction or reality, perhaps there are degrees of free will. The more wealth/power you have the greater semblance of a free will you are likely to have. This is why I believe in and try and hold onto my privilege

..you have no free will. You are the sum product of lifes influences..right from you mothers 3rd trimester.

Implant yourslef onto any other persomn with their backgrond, history and upbringing and you would behave in exaclty the same way as they do.

Apprciate your life, but be grateful it's the lcuky coin toss that gave it to you. Nothing special you managed to steer.

Frighful thought huh..

Rastus, all you are saying is, "if I were someone else I would be someone else".One day you will grow up a little and realise what nonsense this is. There can only be ONE you, the one that has your unique history. Nevertheless you do seem to understand your history makes you who you are today. That's the first step toward enlightenment.

".. you have no free will"

It is not frightening, it is an irrational load of illogical cobblers put about by the intellectually dishonest to justify their lack of personal responsibility for their own actions.

Rastus needs to understand that we will never truly grasp how humans function because to do that we would need to be more complex than ourselves and that is impossible. The reality of free will will forever remain a mystery and a spiritual thing.

I somewhat agree with your points .. but we live in an age where we provide free education and open communication ...which would suggest that a minimum of forward thinking could change the status quo of living families realised in its following generations.
Yes, you could turn to a loser if you are are born and bred in such a family but as human we are programmed to survive and advance ...even small steps...

I subscribe to the school of thought of totally abolishing benefits and put in place very strict rules to get them ..they should be the safety net of last resort.

Yes, we can point fingers at the polys for putting these rules in place, just as we tear them apart if they get anywhere near tightening thesem rules !! .. But you can also point the fingers to the teachers and the do gooders in our schools and society who not only encourage laziness but in so many ways contribute to these results by their lack f responsibilities and fear of losing their jobs or smeared by similar stupid peers in school or the Ministry ....the system is soft and spoiled !!

Will this problem be solved by throwing more money at it?? I doubt it very much !! ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnNs2MYVQoE&ab_channel=WorldEconomicForum

Got any data on that?

The Pension has increased massively, for sure, and it's over 50% of our Social Welfare budget. I've heard that our typical "benefit" is now less in real terms than in 1990, conversely.

re #1, it is scumbag benefit frauds like Metiria Turei that make life difficult for the likes of Debbie, Mareta, Maddie, and Nathan.

what about the scum bag fraudster politicians like Winston Peters and Bill "Double Dipper" English from Dipton who both claimed benefits that neither were entitled too?

Steady on there Anarkist, at least as far as the Peters superannuation issue is concerned there is no claim of fraud.
If you want to get worked up about something I would be more concerned about the fact that the government has used it's information on a private citizen (and he wasn't even a member of parliament at the time) to smear a political opponent. This is a new low. We don't do that sort of thing and for very good reason - politics and elections must be at arms length from government. That's absolutely fundamental - we're not China or some other fascist state.

I was going to address the points raised by Mr. Barber but I realise he is just dis-connected from reality. All these proposals come from a world where like minded individuals gather and talk about a world that doesn't really exist. So in the end all the talk is meaningless as it doesn't connect with reality or with anyone outside of their narrow worldview.

only thing in life thats free is a mothers love.....

Top 10 socialist's wants.

I wonder who will pay?

Lol, bigger government, more politicians, more regulations, more tax, 'free' everything, less choice, less opportunities, more people ordering other people around.

Always someone else pays because the end justifies the means. So busy 'saving' humanity they never notice all the people they trample on the way.

We have 1000s of young NZers trained in pre-trades skills, while we have house shortages/tradies shortages etc, with a shortage of willing employers of these young people who could help meet the gaps.
Labour is going to provide incentives for companies to take on apprentices.
Every IWI, non-profit, council etc should be mandated to only take on contracts/projects if 20% of the labour comes from under 25 NZ citizens or apprentices etc.

I read this article and also a couple of newsletters put out by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services and there is nothing Christian in it at all. It's pretty much just the usual Socialist/Marxist, feel good, everyone should be equal, nonsense. The general trend in society, especially at the lower economic levels, is to try and live the lifestyle of a rock star. Healthy, simple living with two parent families and a sensible church on Sunday would do an enormous amount of good for the well being of these people.

Indeed moving ever closer to a Marxist state where everyone is equal and anything goes would be a spiritual disaster. We already see that in our society today with its rising levels of suicide, family violence and mental illness.

I would even go as far as to suggest, although it does seem a bit extreme, that The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, if they really believed in themselves, should be pushing for a return to historic values which can best be achieved by a return to feudalism and cathedral building or something. Simple lives, working in the fields, celebrating harvest festivals and devotion to the faith would lead to happier and more fulfilled lives. This was how it was in the golden age of the Christian period.

Certainly people can be free to pursue different lifestyles, be hedonistic and atheistic, take drugs even, and so on, but they should do it on their own dime, through their own hard work, endeavours, entrepreneurial skill and not expect good folk to finance it for them and certainly not expect Christians to support it. At the very least we should at least see some commitment to solid moral values otherwise you are just going to make things worse in the long run.

I do wonder why these Christian groups are not addressing the root cause of a lot of these problems. They need to harden up and focus on their core values, get a bit more edgy. I think it will be a lot more attractive to people otherwise it just looks like a lot of old people virtual signalling and being generally divorced from the reality of the world. There are demons out there and they need to be overcome.

ZS rant over for another day...

Just remember when Chinese were buying up property in Auckland and forcing up house prices(Chinese are now the 3rd biggest investors in Auckland property) and we told the National assholes that we were concerned about this. They just called us all RACIAST ! national does not care about Kiwis. They must not win the election and we must do all we can to stop them Please get out and vote.