Growing wealth gap alarms charities

Charities say they have watched with concern as the gap between rich and poor grew over the past few years with no solution in sight.

Wellingtonian of the Year and former City Missioner Father Des Britten said there was no doubt things were getting worse.

Unfortunately in today's world it was up to each person to pull themselves out of a bad situation, he said.

Father Britten had been in the unique position of serving up food to both Wellington's wealthy, when he owned top restaurant The Coachman, and to those down on their luck while at the Wellington City Mission.

"It is up to individual responsibility and at the mission we tried to help people to help themselves because you're never going to be happy living on a benefit."

City Missioner Susan Blaikie said she had previously worked in the corporate world where beneficiaries were seen as bludgers.

"But I don't know anyone that actually wants to be on a benefit. The bigger the gap is between the richest and the poorest, the more likely there will be social problems and crime."

The Reverend Blaikie had spent the last decade working with the church and said the issue was worse today than ever before.

She was concerned that no major party had produced a serious policy this close to the election.

The Salvation Army's social services spokesman, Major Campbell Roberts, said he had seen the gap grow over his 40 years there and in recent times more people were worse off.

"Even over the last two years there has been a significant increase in people coming for welfare services. At the same time you've got salaries at a level which have increased significantly.

"This is most probably a reasonably recent thing over the past 15 to 20 years."

People who had a long history of working and contributing to society were losing their jobs and more families were struggling for the basics.

At the Catholic charity St Vincent de Paul, national council chief executive Anne-Marie McCarten said more government agencies were referring people to charities.

"It's been bad in the last two or three years and is getting progressively worse. We are feeding more children in schools and feeding people who don't make it to the next pay day.

"It's a bit to do with everything and if there was an easy solution, I guess everyone would know it."

Great Divide strikes chord with readers

Yesterday's Dominion Post article on the growing gap between rich and poor hit a note with readers, many of whom commented at dompost.co.nz (some abridged):

"As a young man, I now know what it was like to live in Germany just before and during the war. John Key is running this country like a dictator, with the rich people as his chosen race." – David Nelson

"As long as the rich are investing and spending their money here, I don't have a problem how much they have. You need to give tax breaks to encourage those who are going to invest hundreds of millions here. It is not how much money you've got that counts, it is what you do with it. Let's not target all the rich, only those that are not doing anything with it that helps NZ." – Pete

"It seems crazy that the wealthy have had their tax rate cut and now the Government wants to sell NZ-owned assets, which will probably be bought by them. I don't believe for an instant that the wealthy would leave NZ because of a higher and fairer tax rate; after all, you'd be paying more tax in Australia than you do here." – NG

"I don't think NZ is any different from any other capitalist country. And no, NZ is not lauded overseas as an egalitarian society – where do you get that impression from? What is different here, is that there is little focus on these [wealthiest] 1 per cent whereas overseas there is much more open exposure. I imagine that most of the 1 per cent here are farmers, and you're not allowed to criticise farmers are you?" – Trevor Woolnough

"John Key was brought up in a state home. He did it, why can't you? You have the same schooling and opportunity he did. The answer is not your circumstances, it's your own attitude and determination." – Harry

"The median net wealth of the top 10 per cent is $255K. That is not a hell of a lot. It is one half of a section in Auckland. If you think that that is rich, you have very, very low aspirations. And that is the problem with NZ. Everyone thinks an Xbox is an investment, and a KFC burger box is doing the grocery shopping." – K2

"Hard work is a red herring. Let's say hypothetically that everyone in NZ worked just as hard and were equally as motivated and as educated as everyone else. Even after all that, someone still has to clean the toilets, empty the septic tanks." – Jim Kirk

"If you are mega-rich you are a wealth deprivator; you are impacting on people's ordinary lives and aspirations more than any everyday criminal probably could. Graham Hart spending $85 million on a yacht made from money milked from the NZ economy ... clearly over the boundaries and a man whose soul has become corrupted by his wealth. What's he giving back?" – John Gower

"I do work hard – sometimes 11 hours a day, I have a degree which cost me huge amounts in student loans and didn't help me get a job, and I have aspirations. To me the problem is not that there are rich and poor; this will always happen as it's human nature. The problem is that more and more people in the same boat as myself are finding it hard to live due to the rising cost of food, petrol and rates." – Catherine

The Dominion Post