Sunday, December 02, 2012

Talking up poverty

Earlier in the week Bob  Stephens and Charles Waldegrave two long-time anti-poverty campaigners wrote a piece for the NZ Herald which  looked at the cost of housing rental, the largest weekly outlay people have. They compared two and three-bedroom properties in the lowest income areas. Then made this statement:

If the children are of different genders and one is adolescent they would normally require separate bedrooms, so a three-bedroom house would be needed.

When I was very young my Mum and dad bought their first home and it had three bedrooms. Lucky me got one to myself because the three brothers had to share. When we moved here it was considered the height of luxury to build a four bedroom house with two toilets no less. Two brothers still shared.

Many - if not most - of the families discussed here are sole parent. If I was the sole parent with a low income I'd been opting for the smallest home in the best neighbourhood - maybe even one bedroom if the children were very young. The idea that a single parent with one boy and one girl automatically requires a three bedroom home is silly. But it does help the case of those who want to push up costs as high as they can.

I am not denying that low income families struggle. But the inevitable conclusion that government has to direct more money into these homes is not a given. You can argue the moral case, the economic case, the political case.... But perhaps the worst aspect of this type of thinking and analysis is it takes away from the poor the expectation that they can be smart, adaptive and innovative; that they can work out for themselves how to make their lives better tomorrow by making some sacrifices today. It's thoroughly patronising and paternalistic and will not deliver some sort of socialist nirvana. It will result in a helpless, dependent population who one day wake up and realise that the all-giving state is now their worst enemy.

Strike that.  It's already happened.


S.Beast said...

Great post Lindsay.

Annoying to still see commentators hanging onto the old model of social housing.

thor42 said...

Excellent post!

Let me say this for the 948th time - there is **no such thing** as real poverty in New Zealand.

What the "chattering classes" call "poverty" is entirely self-inflicted by poor decision-making. Having too many children, spending money on booze and smokes, and so on.

JC said...

Well, I never realised how poor my cousins were, 3 boys and 2 girls stuck in two bedrooms.. obviously their parents' 2 farms and several thousand acres on prime Hawkes Bay land wasn't near enough income to give them suitable accommodation.

The article also bangs on about the cost of food.. but here's a cite showing that NZ has the second lowest food cost in the developed world:

(scroll down to the chart)

Incidentally, the OECD rates NZ as second in having the most number of rooms per person at 2.3 rooms compared to the OECD average of 1.6. To my mind this is a better indicator of space and privacy than bedroom numbers. NZers also have the highest degree of satisfaction with their accommodation at 92% compared to 87% for the OECD average.

Its when you start pulling stats like these off the web that you realise we are not quite the Pacific hellhole that the bluenoses would have you believe.


tracey said...

Fact:Housing is expensive in NZ
Fact:Rents are high with no security of tenancy.
Fact:Many houses are of poor quality,cold,damp and poorly maintained.
Fact:Houses are expensive partly due to investment properties being a major way for people to have extra retirement income and such.