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Why are so many of us struggling financially?

Is it right that the top ten percent of our population own just over half of the wealth in New Zealand, while the bottom ten percent own nothing at all?

Well unfortunately, I learned that this is in fact the case, when I watched a documentary that aired on Channel 3 in 2013. ‘Mind the Gap’ was made by award winning documentary maker Bryan Bruce and outlines why he thinks the gap between the rich and poor in our country is increasing. As I watched, I couldn’t find myself disagreeing with what he was saying and to be honest, by the time the programme had finished I felt quite angry that we have allowed this to happen.

So what were things like?

In the 1950’s it was entirely possible for one parent to be working, while the other parent raised the family, plus the family could buy a house. How many of us can do this today? I suspect the answer is not many? Back in the 50’s our class structure looked a little like this; there were virtually no unemployed, there was a large working class, a reasonably sized middle class and a small upper class. The more money you earned, the more tax you paid – up to 66%! The money in the economy flowed down from the wealthy to the not so well off.

…and what are things like now?

Nowadays, we have a large group of unemployed poor and working poor whose incomes are topped up by billions of dollars, paid for through taxes by what was once the middle class, but is now the struggling class, while profits from rents and consumer items go into the pockets of the wealthiest ten percent. In other words, instead of the money trickling down from the wealthy to the less well off, money is flowing up from the not so well off to the rich. The struggling class are subsidising the low wages paid by employers through the Working for Families benefit ($2 billion per year) and are also off-setting inflated rents by paying landlords the Accommodation Supplement ($1 billion per year).

Neo-liberal economic thinking

In my humble opinion there are certain things that have gone on politically and economically that make me ashamed of how we treat the poor and vulnerable among us. So where did it all start to go wrong? In my opinion it was the introduction of the neoliberal economic policies in the 1980s that we are still living with today.

Do terms like free trade, privatisation, de-regulation, tax breaks for the wealthy, and trickle-down effect sound familiar to you? They are all hall marks of a neo-liberal economic way of thinking and the reason that these terms sound familiar is because it is a neo-liberal philosophy that New Zealand governments have embraced for the last 30 years. In my opinion the philosophy of neo-liberalism is flawed because it allows the rich to get richer, the poor to get poorer, our countries assets to be sold, in addition to the costs for food, rents and utilities sky rocketing. Is it right that many of our children need to be fed at school, that thousands of us seek assistance from food banks, or that according to a recent University of Otago study 34,000 people suffer “severe housing deprivation”?

Why change and how?

If New Zealand could become a ‘we’ society instead of a ‘me’ society again, where we looked after our needy and vulnerable citizens it would be a better place for us all. I believe crime would drop, people would generally be happier, and education and general health would improve. This could only be a good thing.

If you agree with any of the above and want to help change New Zealand for the better then you need to use your vote in next year’s general election. Look for candidates whose policies include the wealthy having to pay more tax and increasing social spending.

If you are interested in learning more you can watch ‘Mind the Gap’ here:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=__2EdGFdgTA . Bryan Bruce also has a Facebook page that is well worth a look:  www.facebook.com/www.redsky.tv . My thanks go to Bryan for allowing me to use his material for this article.