"A rising tide lifts all boats." I don't know about you, but I well remember Helen Clark telling the country at the last election that her wise and benevolent government was committed to programmes that benefit everybody, across the board. "A rising tide lifts all boats," she said. Helen's welfare state, (in which she'd just enlisted half-a-million new beneficiaries in the Welfare for Working Families package) would fix all problems, lift all boats and put a chicken in every pot.
Well, if the report issued earlier this week by the Child Poverty Action Group is to be believed, there are at least 185,000 boats that aren't part of Helen's 'rising tide.' Tide's out. They've missed the boat. According to CPAG's figures, which haven't been seriously challenged, "at least one in five children in New Zealand was living in poverty while 185,000 were living with severe or significant hardship" -- "with the children of beneficiaries the worst affected."
That should worry Labour supporters, shouldn't it? The whole raison d'être of the Labour movement, if it still has one, is supposed to be that it looks after the little guy. For nine years, the Clark Government has grown the size and penetration of government to an all-time high; it has and stamped on enterprise and applied the screws and levers of big government to the problem of poverty, all while global commodity prices have given us the type of economic golden weather that is the greatest salve for poverty anyone could possible conceive -- in other words, they've never had a better opportunity to apply their philosophy to power -- and now, nine years after this Labour Government took the reins of power, all the little guys they're supposed to be looking after are missing their boat.
With all that on its side, and if you believed that the Clark Government knew what it was doing, you'd be worried, wouldn't you?
Don't worry about it, said Labour's Minister Ruth Dyson. There's only 130,000 in poverty.
Oh, that's fine then. We have more people on benefits now that at any time in the country's history (largely due to the Welfare for Working Families package, which has sucked in so many middle class families into becoming beneficiaries), the biggest the welfare state has ever been -- more spending on welfare than ever before -- and it obviously hasn't solved poverty at all.
What's to be done? Beats the hell out of Ruth Dyson, who trumpets the lowest unemployment figures since Methusaleh was a lad (while ignoring the 200,000 or so now on other benefits) and says "Don't worry"; it beats the hell out of the Child Poverty Action Group, who tell us (against everything history and research should tell them) that all we need to do it raise benefits; it beats the hell out of 'economist' Susan St John, who (with a straight face) blamed the problem on policies that "promote paid work as a way out of poverty" which, she says, "a major reason for the widening gap between rich and poor"; and it sure beats the hell out of the rest of the poverty industry who've been fighting this War On Poverty since Methusaleh was born, yet after all that time they still find the scoreboard against them.
Shouldn't they be asking themselves some serious questions? Or are the poverty industry and the politicians happy to accept that "the poor are always with us" because they're convenient voting fodder to keep the same old game going on.
"The poor are always with us" say the politicians -- the very same politicians who really need the poor. They need them as lobby fodder. It's the poor who provide their power base. Who else would see the poorest of the poor and still want to take the money out of their pockets they could have used for food, but a politician? Who else could watch the poorest of the poor struggling to afford the places in which they have to live and still want to severely restrict the supply of new housing -- who else but politicians?
It's time to put people before politics. Stop stealing. Stop paying people to breed. Stop forcing them into factory schools that only teach illiteracy. Just get the hell out of their way.
The poverty industry blames the problem of poverty on 'the promotion of paid work' and says the solution is more welfare. Yet as welfare researcher Lindsay Mitchell concludes, "It is the availability of welfare that is central to the child poverty problem - not the availability of work. The solution does not lie in simply giving people more money." Seventy years of just giving people more money has not made things better, it's made them worse. In the last ten years alone around $150 billion has been taken from taxpayers and spent in a war on poverty, that's one-hundred and fifty billion dollars on a war that no one is winning; not the government, not the taxpayer, and as recent studies all show, not the 200-300,000 or so who've been the targets of this war over the last ten years: we're all worse off except for the politicians, for whom this massive sum amounts to very cheap and efficient vote-buying.
That's $150,000,000,000 -- enough to have given every beneficiary in the country a massive $500,000 each to start their own war on poverty, and it still hasn't worked. And it won't. It never will. To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke,
the spending of this truly vast amount of money -- an amount more than half again the nation's entire gross national product in 1995 -- has left everybody just sitting around slack-jawed and dumbstruck, staring into the maw of that most extraordinary paradox: You can't get rid of poverty by giving people money.
When do we realise that government welfare doesn't work -- not for anyone -- and least of all for those who it is supposed to help. Let's try something else. Let's try to stop stealing. let's give people back their future and the money stolen from them, and let them get on with fighting their own goddamn war on poverty.
If these reports tell us anything at all, they tell us it's becoming urgent. Accordingly, here's a simple suggestion to help the poor: stop stealing from them.
- You could remove GST in its entirety and still leave the government's accounts in the black, and at a stroke you will leave money in the pockets of the poor to pay for food and housing and heath care.
But it won't happen.
It won't happen because the poor are such good lobby fodder for a certain kind of politician: Those who put politics before people.
- You could relax restrictions on land use so that people can build wherever and whatever they wish on their own land, at a stroke promoting choice and reducing housing and rental costs, allowing the poor a crucial foot up on the housing ladder.
But it won't happen.
It won't happen because environmentalists put the environment before people -- and politicians let them.