Monday, 1 September 2014

Rock Star or Rock Bottom

There was a story in the Press yesterday about 14 people sharing a small 3 bedroom house in Hornby after a family of 6 lost their rental and all their (uninsured) possessions in a fire and had to move in with the other two families already living in the house.

Their budget for a new rental, if they can find one, is a maximum of $440 a week. They are struggling to find anywhere because landlords in Christchurch have been allowed to price gouge and profiteer - i.e. do what uncontrolled capitalist markets will always do when supply is low and demand is high.

The man who is believed to have shot dead two WINZ staff members and injured a third, is sick, socially isolated and homeless. Sue Bradford was lambasted for remarking on the political dimensions of the tragedy and using it to 'score political points'.  This is a horrible tragedy and we must respect the feelings of the family and friends of the victims but like it or not, it is political.  The fact that people cannot afford private rentals, that there is a shortage of social housing, that WINZ staff are instructed not to be proactive and advise people of their full entitlements, that WINZ staff are the buffer zone  between government's social and economic policy and the people who are worst affected by it - are all political issues. 

The Auckland property boom and the Christhchurch rebuild are making some people very, very rich; some people's affluence has increased significantly,  but a lot of people are worse off - especially the  hidden homeless.  Some have slipped off the radar completely,  some people hanging on by their fingertips, and a lot are 'staying afloat by using their credit cards as flotation aids'. 

The number of households that are under stress is steadily rising because rents are going up faster than wages, and inflation is increasing.  

Radio New Zealand detailed the case of a 45 year-old homeless woman in Auckland.

“Sandra and her 2 teenage sons and her 20 year-old daughter are living at the Monte Cecilia housing trust’s emergency accommodation in Mangere. Sandra says the last few years have been devastating. Until a year ago she was working at a plastics factory taking home $890 a week and paying $500 of that in rent for a 3 bedroom house in Papatoetoe.

“’With the escalating rents every 6 months it was going up $20 and $20 every time. If I fell behind on the water rates then I was looking at Baycorp, if I paid the water rates then we had no power. If I could pay the water rates the power we didn't eat for that week. I was working 72 hours a week 6 nights a week, 6 at night to 6 in the morning and it just became too much of a struggle and I collapsed.’

“Sandra got arthritis in her hands, she lost her job and then the house. When her job seekers support benefit couldn't pay the rent. They moved into a friend's state house until the friend was warned her tenancy could be terminated because of having extra people living there.

"’So my children and I packed up and for 3 weeks we lived out of a Honda, my car. We would go to Manurewa pools for showers, you know I'd try to make a game of out it 'come on let's go to the pools, we'll have a morning swim and a shower and then we'll go to school.’

“In desperation Sandra turned to the Maori Woman's Welfare League who sent her to Monte Cecilia.”

"I'm so thankful and appreciative of being in Monte Ceciia today I really don't know where I would have been if I wasn't here. Um CYFS was certainly an option for me to look at for them to take my children  I couldn't offer them anything, not a home not seven meals a week  not 3 meals a day , 7 meals a week, clean water somewhere you know, safe to sleep I couldn't offer them any of that.’ “

Janette Walker, the Labour candidate for Kaikoura,  spoke passionately at a meeting last week about the working poor she has met in the south of the electorate - people displaced by the earthquakes, forced into low quality housing and living in garages, sheds, caravans - because rents have risen beyond their reach. 

These hidden homeless and the working poor are no longer the exception to the general rule of New Zealanders having a decent standard of living. 

The raucous claims by the Right that poverty is caused by people making ‘bad choices’  and spending their perfectly adequate wages or benefits on 'fags and booze' are an ugly echo of all those voices throughout history which have lauded and defended the pathological hoarding of the rich, and claimed it as proof of their superiority in the natural order of things. 

Those same strident voices damn the poor as 'feckless', as a 'feral underclass' which does not have children but which 'spawns' and 'breeds'.  Commentators who call for them to be sterilised are applauded as having the courage to say what others are thinking.  Cartoonists who caricature and stereotype them are defended for simply telling the truth.  Bloggers who mock them get media awards.

The Rightwing ideologues and their foot soldiers should throw off their shallow pretence to being socially advanced and call for bringing back the Workhouse - that at least would be honest.  

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