Duncan Garner: Mind the gap - the growing gulf between rich and poor in this country

The richest 10 per cent now own 60 per cent of the wealth in New Zealand. The bottom 40 per cent scrape by with just 3 ...

The richest 10 per cent now own 60 per cent of the wealth in New Zealand. The bottom 40 per cent scrape by with just 3 per cent of the wealth.

OPINION: The inconvenient truth slapped the Government in the face this week.

New Statistics NZ figures show the gap between rich and poor is growing - fast.

The richest Kiwis are getting richer, they're loaded, and the poor are getting poorer, sleeping in cars and garages. It's a ticking time-bomb. Good for no-one.

In fact it's the largest gap since 2003. Shocking, if you care about this sort of thing.

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The richest 10 per cent now own 60 per cent of the wealth in New Zealand. The bottom 40 per cent scrape by with just 3 per cent of the wealth.

They're basically living in poverty, hand-to-mouth, week-to-week - if they're lucky. They don't have assets.

So what did we hear from the Government? Concern? Worry?

Not really. They agreed with it - in a dismissive and slightly argumentative tone. So what? Nothing we can do about it.

Nothing to see here, it's the same trend as in the last 20-30 years said Prime Minister John Key and his right hand man, Bill English. These figures don't fit the narrative - so they've been dismissed as meaningless.

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English is even now celebrating our minimum wage as one of the highest in the developed world. Wow - we're the best of the poor.

These guys cherrypick what they want to believe. Like the stats showing foreign buyers aren't really buying our homes.

Yes, this Government has done some good things for the poor: they've raised benefit levels, got more children into early childhood education and they are redesigning the broken Child, Youth and Family model.

From Friday, paid parental leave went up by $10 a week,  and there's more free healthcare for children.

But it's been incremental and finances always come first. It starts at home and we don't have enough houses for the poor.

People are living in cars, garages and on the streets and that's now way too visible.

I saw it in Hamilton last week, where I counted eight people on the main street either begging or sleeping there at 10pm.

I counted 15 in Wellington's Lambton Quay and Cuba St a few weeks ago.

I was approached for a "coin" by a bloke in a car park in the Auckland suburb of New Lynn on Tuesday.

These facts this week are a wake-up call. These people can't stay poor and silent forever. What does the revolution look like? What is the knock-on effect?

Pakeha wealth continues to grow while Maori and Pacific fall behind.

European/Pakeha have a median individual net worth of $114,000, Asians $33,000, Maori $23,000 and Pacific Islanders just $12,000. At the bottom end life is hard - these people live in constant poverty and with few choices.

But remember John Key promised to target the underclass and lift them up. I was at his 2007 Burnside speech before he became prime minister.

They were lofty goals. We believed him.

He said that day: "We are seeing a dangerous drift towards social and economic exclusion. I know we can do better, we have to do better. Because left unchecked the problems of a growing underclass affect us all."

And: "I have no intention of being a prime minister who only tackles the easy and convenient issues. Dealing with the problems of our growing underclass is a priority for National."

If he wants to know the truth - he's probably failed then hasn't he. The task was too much. Yes we have more people working - but more people are on benefits now than when National took office. Although both sides argue the toss on that point.

So, if so many own so little why can't the Left get these people out to vote. The opposition needs to connect with these people. But they've failed too. They offer not much or Little (Andrew) that inspires them to vote.

Remember that 40 per cent of Kiwis own just 3 per cent of the wealth - imagine if they all voted, shudder the thought - especially among the ruling and wealthy elite in the Beehive and boardrooms around the country.

Inequality should worry us greatly. The gap between rich and poor is growing and has grown under this Government's watch - if we are to believe Statistics NZ. And I do.

It makes all that talk about the underclass nine years ago more important than ever.

So what do we do about it Prime Minister? And is it still your priority?

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 - The Dominion Post

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