YWRC columnist Christina Couling is a former member of the YWRC board, a union organiser, as well as a fierce and passionate advocate for those in need. We’re bringing you Christina’s rants on a monthly basis in the name of starting conversations, and creating a safe space to have those conversations. Enjoy!
Let’s talk about poverty and New Zealand’s appalling judgmental attitudes towards those in need of a social safety net.
The Green Party tried to start a conversation about poverty in New Zealand and get votes in one fell swoop. Only one of those things seems to have happened (current polling has them at 4%, eek). But at least there are conversations about poverty happening now – or at least ones that I’m seeing in public spaces. They’re not all great conversations though and NZ seems clearly divided into two groups – those who care about other people and those who are total dickheads.
People just seem to think that you have to be living on the street to be poor enough to resort to the worst of crimes…lying to an uncaring government department (MSD, I’m looking at you). If you aren’t “poor enough” then you just need to play by the stupid rules and live week to week on noodles and water. And if you are poor enough then definitely don’t be poor where anybody can see you or hear you (that just makes people feel uncomfortable, you know?).
It’s basically fucked.
New Zealanders say they want people to ‘help themselves’, ‘get a job’ and ‘stop being lazy’, but then we don’t provide the resources to help someone do that. And if we don’t provide the resources then we don’t really want people to have a hand up. And if we don’t want to help people who need it, then we’re not the cool dudes on the global scene that we have pretended to be for a long, long time. We’re dickheads.
The point I’m trying to make is that MSD/WINZ/whatever they are, don’t make it easy for people. They don’t make it possible to succeed. They drive people into poverty and then leave them there. And it’s not okay. It’s not okay for us to be okay with people living in cars and on the street. It’s not okay for us to be okay with kids going hungry and mothers being forced into prostitution to survive (see the awesome interviews Mihingarangi Forbes did for RNZ in Manurewa).
We have to start caring about each other and we need to own up to the fact that our country is fucked in the way we treat people living in poverty. It’s okay to admit that, because we’re not going to fix it any other way and it doesn’t make it un-fucked when we ignore it. So let’s talk about poverty and then let’s fix it*.
Check out the work that Auckland Action Against Poverty does and then GIVE THEM ALL YOUR MONEY.
Also check out the ‘We Are Beneficiaries’ page on Facebook (that’s where I stole the picture from).
*It’s pretty easy really. Just give those living in poverty more money…it actually works. I mean, then there are a bunch of other things to fix, but it’s a good start.