NZ’s Poverty Gap – Fat Cats Feast Whilst Queues Form For Bread And Jam

A nice little feature article appeared in today’s Herald, demonstrating that a vast social divide exists in New Zealand’s supposedly ‘classless society.’

The ever widening gulf between the country’s dirt poor and the wealthy classes has been recognised on an international stage but it remains something that is unlikely to be mentioned next time one of those ‘most livable’ surveys gets published (most livable for whom?)

If you ever see PR hype hailing New Zealand hailed as a ‘great place to raise kids’ or the sixth best country in the world to be mother it’s worth remembering that  230,000 children live in unacceptable poverty in New Zealand and that Kiwi youth suffer some of the worst health outcomes in the developed world.

Whilst the fat cats feasted on marinaded fish salad yesterday, metres away queues formed for bread and jam and generations are born into and die in poverty:

Great poverty still affects pockets of New Zealand, ministers were told yesterday – shortly before their sumptuous three-course lunch.

Millionaire Auckland mayor John Banks told the conference at the SkyCity Convention Centre that “there are pockets of social deprivation” that needed to be addressed.

“We have to bridge the gap between the very poor and dispossessed and those of us who are making great progress,” he told delegates.

When he spoke of great progress, he may have been referring to the National Party coffers: yesterday morning, MPs learned that Prime Minister John Key’s neighbourhood restaurateur had donated $105,000 to the party.

Chef Tony Astle whips up a grilled venison back steak with celeriac salad, pearl barley and Madeira jus for a swift $50 at Antoine’s Restaurant, in Parnell – a profitable little business, it appears, enabling generous donations.

But yesterday, conference delegates had to settle for a three-course lunch of flash-fried asparagus shoots and marinated fish salad, baby spinach leaves with toasted pinenuts, crispy prosciutto and garlic aioli.

Just 250m away at the Auckland City Mission, dozens of homeless people queued up for handouts of bread and jam.

A spokeswoman said the United Nations rated New Zealand with the sixth greatest gap between rich and poor among developed nations last year.

For Stephen Flowers, who has lived on the streets for about 10 years, Banks’ words were empty rhetoric. He said: “It does make you laugh when you hear people like Banks and John Key talk as if they know what life is like for us. They have no idea, I haven’t seen any improvements since National came to power. After my fines have been paid I’ve got $60 a week. … Lunch for me usually consists of picking food out of rubbish tins.”

Flowers has lived under the Hobson St overpass for two years, with his mates Chris and Edwin, who was left brain damaged after being stabbed.

Good Samaritan Claire Adams-Adamiak, who delivers food parcels to the homeless, said: “There are people living with rats who are at risk of starting an outbreak of rabies or TB. They are born in poverty, they live in poverty and they die in poverty.”

Thanks to Netizen and ‘Waiting for them’ who sent us a very salient links to a report on the United Nation’s report into income inequality across the world and another which shows half of disabled Aucklanders are living on the poverty line.

“There are 77,000 disabled people living in Auckland, the majority of whom earn far less than their non-disabled counterparts, even when they have a tertiary qualification. poverty is a daily reality for many disabled Aucklanders and their families, and from available figures estimates that about half of disabled Auckland adults have personal incomes of less than $20,000, predominantly sourced from benefits, casual, part-time, and/or low-paying work

The United Nations report on income inequality:

“…ranked countries and regions based on a number of factors, including their Gini coefficient, named for Italian statistician Corrado Gini.

We have listed the world’s most advanced economies based on their Gini score, with zero marking absolute equality and 100 absolute inequality. Scandinavian countries, Japan, and the Czech Republic have the least amount of inequality. The U.S. is among the most unequal, but it’s not No. 1. To see which economy is, read on…”

The to 10 countries for income inequality were ranked as follows

1. Hong Kong, Gini score 43.4

2. Singapore, Gini score 42.5

3. United States, Gini score 40.8

4. Israel Gini, score 39.2

5. Portugal Gini, score 38.5

*6. New Zealand,  Gini score 36.2

7. Italy and Great Britain, Gini score 36

9. Australia, Gini score 35.2

10. Ireland and Greece, Gini score 34.3

*”According to the OECD, New Zealand had the biggest rise in inequality among member nations in the two decades starting in the mid-1980s. The country’s economy emerged from recession in the second quarter, but with growth of just 0.1%, the central bank is likely to keep interest rates low until well into 2010.”

But this blog is written from the point of view of the migrant or visitor to New Zealand, how is this relevant to them? Because, believe it or not, migrants are unexpectedly finding themselves caught in New Zealand’s poverty trap due to the low wage economy, or through losing their jobs in the recession and having no safety net. Some can’t find skilled work and are forced to take on more menial jobs.

Readers will remember the blog we wrote a week ago about the young couple (an American and an Australian) caught up in a cold poverty trap and unable to borrow money to insulate their timber home.

We’ve also written about immigrants forced to live in third world conditions, – skilled migrants that lost their jobs and, faced with high rents, were forced into  living in cars, vans and overcrowded houses. The unlucky ones lived on the streets.

If you’re about to move to New Zealand we recommend that you read them and posts tagged Poverty.