OPINION: The stark and miserable reality behind the latest Household Incomes Report is that we've hit our highest-recorded level of income inequality and child poverty has worsened big-time.
Otherwise fine. Otherwise, just dandy.
The Government would have us understand that Brian Perry's dispassionately worded analyses reflect the regrettable results of the international economic downturn.
Which, to be fair, is a major impact Mr Perry himself acknowledges.
But surely we must reject any invitations, explicit or tacit, to behold these findings and conclude only they represent further proof, if proof were needed, of how badly it sucks to be poor in the first place.
Especially, if you had the ill-judgement to be both poor and young. The child poverty rate rose from 15 per cent in 2007 to 21 per cent last year.
The worsening imbalance is socially frightening. People flee countries. Or they lash out in anger.
Some might take the hard-nosed view that the significance of these reports depends on how precious you're being when you assess poverty.
After all, New Zealand has no official measure of poverty or material hardship.
(File that one under "scandalous omissions". It's almost as if this isn't something that governments past and present have been anxious to move out of soft focus assessment)
We do, of course, have some legitimate bases for comparison upon which to base reports such as this.
In more economically developed countries, poverty and hardship are about relative disadvantage, Mr Perry acknowledges. So no, we're not talking about an absolute subsistence lifestyle, fending off starvation on a hand-to-mouth basis.
But we are talking about people "being excluded from a minimum acceptable way of life in one's own society because of lack of resources".
Poverty and hardship aren't the same thing, under these criteria. Poverty is assessed on income measures, while hardship reflects non-income measures. All can be calibrated against the European Union and the OECD standards.
The risen hardship rate for children partly reflects the falling incomes of middle New Zealanders, who may already have been in a precarious financial position. These are kids whose family incomes are still assessed as above the poverty threshold, but as they've dropped the impact is being felt on the kids enough to tip them into the hardship category.
Not what their parents would want, you would think. So does this reflect, in practical terms, poor prioritisation or organisation as part of our nation's problems?
It comes as bitter news, though perhaps scant surprise, to so many New Zealanders that our richest income earners had the sharpest rise in their financial fortunes, while the median for all workers dropped 3 per cent.
That, incidentally, was the first drop since the rotten depths of the early 1990s.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, painting the international economic downturn as the real culprit, says it has "really hit those people hard".
Those people? If those people are middle income and the hard-up New Zealanders, then who does that leave to comprise the remaining "we"?
Admittedly, we shouldn't read too much into a couple of words spoken in debate, but Mrs Bennett should be encouraged towards more inclusive language, lest it invite those people to feel they are being viewed on a rather distant basis.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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