An enduring mystery: the poor are still with us always
It was a sentence tucked away near
the end of Tim Watkin’s story on the nation’s Poor
List (Editors note: NZ Herald 19.07.03), but for me it seemed to
sum up the whole sad, sorry story. It came from Ross Richards,
manager of the Salvation Army’s Community and Family
Services centre in Mangere.
“We can take you,” he
told Watkin, “to children in South Auckland who have never
seen the ocean.”
I wanted to get on the phone, hire
a fleet of buses, drive to South Auckland, fill them with kids
and take them all to the beach.
But, of course, I didn’t. I
sat in my leather armchair in my warm lounge in front of a
blazing woodburner on a cold Saturday afternoon, sipping
percolated coffee and nibbling on a chocolate biscuit and carried
on reading the Weekend Herald. While all over South Auckland -
and other places, too, no doubt - there were children and adults
who had no chair to sit on let alone a lounge to sit in, who were
ill-clad, cold, hungry, living on charity and wretchedly
So I suppose it was inevitable
that I should once again ponder why it is that we have this
degree of poverty in this richly-blessed country, which by its
size and population is probably the best-placed in the world to
get rid of it.
The Watkin article headed
“Down and out on the Poor List” was a clever
follow-up to the publication last week of the National Business
Review’s annual Rich List, a recital of obscene wealth and
greed which, in its own way, is just as sad as the Poor List.
But it is much too simple to try
to blame the inequality of wealth for the poverty that persists
all over the world, for there have always been rich and poor.
Granted, in societies in which the
rich get richer - as in New Zealand today - the poor always get
poorer and more numerous, but there has to be more to it than
State welfare doesn’t work
either, because if it did there would be no poverty, certainly in
this country which spends untold billions of taxpayers’
money every year in trying to alleviate the sufferings of those
who are, or think they are, in need.
And it has to be said here and now
that the greed that drives the rich man to become vastly wealthy
is the same greed that drives the poor man (and woman) to rip off
the welfare system, or health system or accident compensation
system. Which New Zealanders do - by the thousand.
I have always reckoned that a
large part of the problem is and always has been the incongruity
of trying to run a socialist wealth-redistribution system within
a capitalist economy. That always means high taxation and that,
in turn, leads most of us, having paid our income taxes and GST
and a multitude of other indirect levies and fees, to adopt the
attitude that the poor are the Government’s problem.
So we salve our consciences by
tossing a few dollars to charities such as the Salvation Army or
the City Mission and try not to resent even that because God
knows we’ve paid the Government more than enough so we
shouldn’t have to.
If there was ever incontrovertible
evidence of Government thievery and lack of stewardship of the
money it extorts from us, it is in the appeals for funds, the
raffles and other inducements that arrive in the mail from
innumerable charities day in and day out.
Years ago I wrote that I would be
happy to pay a few extra dollars in income tax if it meant our
health, welfare and education was improved for the benefit of
Well, I regret that now and feel
as if I have been betrayed, which is a bit silly really since I
should have remembered that betrayal is what politicians do - to
us and even to one another.
Health, welfare and education have
shown no improvement - in fact they are all going downhill faster
than ever - the Government has imposed even more taxes and
charges, then has the gall to brag about a multibillion-dollar
So it’s no wonder that the
third annual Social Report of the Ministry of Social Development
on the social health and well-being of the nation reveals that of
10 measuring sticks, six have got seriously shorter since last
Suicide is on the increase, as is
obesity; average gross disposable income is down, the number of
people on low incomes is up; and child abuse and neglect are
increasing, as is discrimination.
Which led our Minister of Social
Development, Steve Maharey, to tell us that the report showed
“substantial progress” towards creating a prosperous
and environmentally sustainable country - a downright lie typical
of the Labour Government’s smoke-and-mirrors
Some 2000 years ago Jesus said,
“For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you
wish you may do them good ... “ I would have thought that
by now we might have found the way to do that - once and for
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