Housing: still unresolved

pexels-photo-731082.jpegThe cost of home ownership remains astronomically high. The amount of debt being taken on by first home buyers is mind-boggling. One international analyst warns that the mortgage debt levels in New Zealand are not sustainable. Another Report published in February warned that New Zealand was “quickly becoming a society divided by the ownership of housing and its related wealth”.  In one key finding, it found up to 90 percent of people seeking emergency shelter were being turned away.

There is no doubt that housing was one of the top issues in the 2017 General Election. In a country that has an abundance of land, timber and young people wanting to learn a trade we should be able to house all our people in warm, safe and dry homes. There are some things that the previous government could have done much earlier. Things like:

  • A mandatory warrant of fitness for all rented houses to ensure that all dwellings meet a certain minimum standard where it is safe for people to live
  • A Rent to Own scheme where tenants can put a portion of their rent towards a deposit on the home they are renting.
  • A large-scale State housing build programme. We need to maximize the number of houses that are being built with government funding and a portion of them must be set aside for those who cannot afford market rents.
  • Alcohol and drug counselling and treatment for those who need it
  • Budget advice service for those who fall behind with their rents
  • An end to sale of State Housing and land – at least until all New Zealanders are properly housed.

Even now there are some specific solutions which could be adopted in Auckland to overcome the housing crisis. Among them:

  • sort out roads, rail, buses and water
  • focus on the compact city
  • strengthen the building industry with longer term planning and stronger links between trade training providers and construction companies.
  • build more smaller houses and design to promote community.

No one expects to solve a problem that developed over two decades to be solved in two years but the government will be expected to demonstrate that it has a clear plan, with timelines, the means to pay for it, and substantial progress on implementation of well-considered solutions.

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International Women’s Day

womens rightsThis week we celebrated International Women’s Day. It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of women all around the world.  It’s also a time to continue to ensure that all women are afforded dignity and respect as people made in the image of God. 

Unfortunately in many parts of the world human rights are still not upheld and women are often the victims of such failures. In many countries around the world access to property, education and health services are not available on an equal basis. So what can we do about this?  Well in the Pacific region charities like Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand are helping women in Timor Leste to develop their own businesses and to receive training in marketing and business planning so that they have greater economic empowerment.  You can donate to the work for women and children through Caritas at www.caritas.org.nz

However, the challenges are also closer to home. In New Zealand, Women’s suffrage was granted after about two decades of campaigning throughout New Zealand, by women who included Kate Sheppard and Mary Ann Müller. The New Zealand branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union led by Anne Ward was particularly instrumental in the campaign. Influenced by the American branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement the movement argued that women could bring morality into democratic politics.  Opponents argued instead that politics was outside women’s ‘natural sphere’ of the home and family. Suffrage advocates countered that allowing women to vote would encourage policies which protected and nurtured families.  Eventually they succeeded. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. This one of the great achievements of the movement for human equality which is rightly be celebrated during International Women’s Day. 

But there is still work to be done if we support equality. Many female workers in New Zealand work in occupations that are more than 80% female and these female-dominated occupations tend to be lower paid. Women are under-represented in higher-level jobs.  The gender pay gap is a high level indicator of the difference between women and men’s earnings. Factors that contribute to the gender pay gap are:

  • the jobs women do: while there are some notable exceptions in New Zealand today, women are more likely to be clustered in a narrow range of occupations and at the bottom or middle of an organisation. Women remain underrepresented in many professions including engineering, law, information Technology and business management in large Companies.
  • the value put on women’s jobs: the skills and knowledge that women contribute in female-dominated occupations may not be recognised or valued appropriately in comparison to other jobs
  • work arrangements and caring responsibilities: more women combine primary care giving with part-time work, which tends to be more readily available in lower paid occupations and positions.

This needs to change so that the contributions of women to a cohesive and democratic society are valued as much as those of their male counterparts. But I would argue too that it needs to go further than simply ensuring that women get appointed to demanding high paid jobs on the same basis as men do today. Perhaps its also time to look at the whole nature of work and the way workplaces operate. Perhaps the underlying capitalist values of workplaces need to move away from “efficiency” and “profit above all” – towards an environment that promotes care for people and welcomes the contribution that each person makes – regardless of gender.

“I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”  – Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani women’s activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate

Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
– Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

New generation of ‘never smokers’ emerges

tobacco

NZ Herald   reported today that youth smoking rates have dropped by a third in the last year, as a new generation of “never-smokers” emerges, Ministry of Health figures reveal.

The figures showed the number of 15 to 17-year-olds smoking fell from 12,000 last year to 8000 – meaning 3.9 per cent of those in the age group are smokers. A decade ago 35,000 people aged 15 to 17 had taken up the habit.

 

 

 

Early attachment vital for adult well being – let’s encourage it!

parents image

Children do better when parents have time to parent them. We need to reform our economic system to support healthy families and whanau.

Brainwave Trust continues it’s great research on the importance of early attachment for brain development and healthy well being in adulthood. If parents having time with children is so important – especially during the first years of a child’s life – then why do we have an economic system that continually promotes longer working hours, low wages and increasing housing costs? It’s time to look seriously at a Universal Basic Income.  Political leaders over many years such as Bruce Beetham in the 1970s and more recently Gareth Morgan have argued that a UBI would promote better social and economic outcomes.

As technology continues to advance, at an ever increasing rate, then policymakers will be forced to bring in a new system that distributes purchasing power by some other means than the wage system. Without such a reform the system will collapse under the weight of goods and services that most people cannot afford to buy.  As importantly, if income is no longer tied exclusively to wages then it would allow more time for parents to parent and for people to strengthen families and whanau – the building blocks of a healthy society.

 

 

 

Election fever broken: patient recovering

The election campaign is over. The constant barrage of social media posts, TV, radio and newspaper party political advertising have now ceased leaving a surreal calm across the body politic.  
The voters have given their verdict . Even with help from the Greens the “centre-left” parties ended election night six seats behind National (52 v 58 seats).  Effectively the “centre right” bloc ceased to exist – with the removal of both United Future and the Maori Party from Parliament). TOP also could not climb over the 5% threshold – despite backing from one of New Zealand’s wealthiest men. How other small parties are supposed to get into Parliament is anybody’s guess.  National now stands alone, apart from the libertarian oddity that is ACT in Epsom where an electoral hand out has enabled it to survive. It seems doubtful that National will want to keep the charade of an independent ACT party alive in 2020 when it couldnt muster 1% of the party vote and has now proved sufficient embarrassment that Bill English has been forced to rule them out of any role in government in order to woo NZ First. 

For National, Bill English’s hard-work on the campaign trail paid off big time. He led National to one of its best electoral performances ever. National’s move to the centre since 2008 again reaped electoral dividends.  Bill English can take pride in that accomplishment. The Labour Party has now lost four consecutive elections. However, Jacinda Ardern has reinvigorated the party and dragged it upwards towards a vote percentage above 30%. Labour’s “clever” ploy, to delay publishing its intentions on tax, turned out to be too clever by half and backfired badly. Labour was forced to backtrack and ensure that it would not change tax arrangements without first putting its plans to the public via an election. In the process it appeared at best non-transparent and at worst sneaky – the exact opposite of the attractive qualities of brand Ardern. 

Both major parties framed the election as a “drag-race” between the two major parties. The pressure meant that all small parties suffered. Only NZ First and the Greens survived what turned into the 2017 bloodbath of MMP parties. 

Where to from here? Given the Green Party’s ideological aversion to anything non-socialist it seems unlikely that the party will be able to even contemplate negotiating with the National Party. Ironically the real victim of such intransigence is likely to be the environment.  Given the ambitions of the Labour Party caucus for a turn at power in 2020 there is almost no chance of a National-Labour grand coalition.  That leaves NZ First as the sole, willing partner in a negotiated settlement for stable government over the next three years. Who will NZ First go with? That is up to NZ First. But either way the kiwi battlers seem likely to gain.  A National-NZ First government is likely to constrain any residual hankering in National’s ranks to taking the chainsaw to the welfare state.  Similarly, a Labour-NZ First government seems likely to constrain some of the unpopular “identity politics” that Labour’s Left has a propensity to promote from time to time. 

Either way the wider economic and social interests of the country will have to be addressed – continuing sustained economic growth, improving productivity and wage growth, taking the pressure off housing, the lack of R&D investment and a plan to achieve, or better, our Paris Climate Change commitments within the timeframe. The clock is ticking. 

Decision 2017

Trying to work out who to vote for?

Here are some of the guidelines that I’m using.

Does the party promote life – including life for unborn children,  the sick and the elderly?

Does the party promote freedom and responsibility?

Does the party recognise and work towards honouring the Treaty of Waitangi?

Does the party allow a multicultural New Zealand or is it prejudiced against migrants from different backgrounds?

Does the party promote a safe society for all?  Will it keep citizens safe and rehabilitate people who really shouldnt be in prison?

Does the party have a clear plan to combat climate change and clean up our waterways and streams?

Does the party promote a fair tax structure that will help social cohesion?

Does the party have a plan to improve Mental health and to urgently address the wellbeing of young people?  Especially young men?

Does the party have a plan to house all of our population in warm, dry and safe homes?

What’s their track record?  Do they do what they say they will do?

Finally,  does the party promote social cohesion and a positive, just vision of the future?