Friday, July 03, 2015

Grasping at straws over the suicide rate

Bomber Bradbury posts the following:

The provisional suicide toll has risen to its highest figure since the coroner’s office started releasing the statistics.From the year June 2014- May 2015, 569 people died by suicide or suspected suicide.Last year (for the year ending 30 June 2014) that number was 529.The horror of our suicide rate gives us a glimpse behind the ‘she’ll be right’ veneer of our culture and the dark torment of an alpha male macho mental landscape that is terribly fragile.
Our under funded social infrastructure, our ‘me first’ consumerism, our 30 years of neoliberal mythology, our disconnection from one another, our untreated pain, our lack of hope from grinding poverty in a first world country, our toxic masculinity, our unspoken rape culture, our inability to express emotion beyond anger – all of this demands questions we don’t want to hear as a society and the shame of suicide continues to hide and smother any healing.
We huddle frightened on these lonely grey crags at the end of a jagged world and slowly one by one slip off into the swallowing dark. Until we are prepared to confront many of the individualism-over-all myths and rebuild our tattered communities, our suicide rate will remain darkly reminding us of our whispered deceptions.
Just out of interest I went back and looked at the period before all the mayhem Bomber describes.

In 1980 there were 337 suicides - a rate of 10.8 per 100,000. In 1965 it was 9.1 and in 1945 it was 11.

In the year ending June 2014 the rate was 11.73

NZ's suicide rate is tragic and represents hellish grief for far too many. But Bomber's rhetoric about the reasons for it is over the top.

UK govt recognising and redefining child poverty

The UK is going to scrap the practice of measuring child poverty by income alone. They have been using the same measure as NZ where the official poverty line is drawn at 60% of the equivalised median household income.

Although the minister did not spell it out, there will be a moral, judgmental dimension to the new definition. The government says it plans to develop a “range of other measures and indicators of root causes of poverty, including family breakdown, debt and addiction”, which it will put together in a “children’s life chances strategy”. Further details of precisely how the new measures will work are expected in the next few weeks.
Here's one reaction

 Fiona Weir, the chief executive of Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parents, warned that “further stigmatising single parent families will do nothing to tackle child poverty”.“Family breakdown doesn’t cause child poverty. It is unaffordable childcare, low levels of maternal employment and poor wages that push families below the poverty line,” she said.
'Family breakdown' is an unsatisfactory term because it infers a family existed and the relationship between the partners broke down. But in thousands of instances of single parenthood, that is not the case. Children are born to females who have no partner to support them or the child. And the poverty begins.

But if these cases can be labelled "family breakdown" (as in being attributable to the general reduction in nuclear families) then it is indeed a cause of poverty. The children are born into a situation where the knowledge about the unaffordability of childcare and low wages already existed and was ignored.

If saying that makes me guilty of moral judgement so be it.

Child poverty often begins with a poor choice. People who make poor choices shouldn't necessarily be punished for them but any pressure or persuasion a community can apply to stop them making bad decisions has got to be good. Identifying and talking about poor choices is a start. Trying to feather-bed poor choices only makes matters worse. That's how we arrived at the current untenable situation.

(Thanks Bob McCoskrie for the link).

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Idiocy from the UK

Just in from a reader:

In a move that has fired up parents, teachers in the UK have won the right to inspect pupils' lunchboxes and confiscate unhealthy snacks.
"Schools have common law powers to search pupils, with their consent, for items," Schools Minister Lord Nash said.
At least they have lunches. And the state still isn't satisfied.

Iain Austin, a Labour member of the Commons education committee, said: "With Britain tumbling down the international league tables and with a generation entering the work force with less literacy and numeracy than the generation retiring, you would have thought that teachers might have better things to do than rummage through children's crisps and fruit."
Hooray for that man.

Vikki Laws, 28, said her daughter - six-year-old Tori - was not allowed to eat her sausage snack. It was confiscated and returned at the end of the day with a note from teachers. She said another parent was warned not to give her child Scotch eggs.
Gasp. I love scotch eggs (and pork pies). Neither of these items is a problem unless that's all that is eaten and no exercise is taken. Isn't that what the teachers should be focusing on?

Educating about the science of calories in exceeding calories spent.


Why I support Winston

A Listener editorial warns against the  inter-generational war that politicians exploit, in particular, Winston Peters.

When it comes to inter-generational warfare, it is up to political leaders to be peace activists. Few debates are more pointless and depleting of nationhood and goodwill than those that involve the crude and sometimes cruel objectification of an entire generation. “Gen Y kids are too sheltered.” ”Baby boomers are greedy.”
None of us has any say over when we are born. Most of us do our best with the set of socio-economic cards we’re dealt. How we get on, singly or en masse, is not even necessarily within our control.
Yet the political rewards of pandering to one generation at the expense of others can be considerable for those wanting to divide and conquer. It’s in this militant vein that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is attacking attempts to curtail the fiscal burden of SuperGold Card entitlements. He has railed against the Government and local authorities continuing to cap discounts on buses, trains and the Waiheke ferry with a ferocity he should reserve for actual elder abuse.
To be fair, this is political territory he has legitimately carved out for himself. He has long made a virtue of defending the rights of the over-sixties, and they have rewarded him with a remarkably consistent show of support over his 22 years as New Zealand First founder and leader. His extraction from the Clark Labour Government of a scheme to give those aged 65 and older free non-peak travel on public transport is perhaps his crowning achievement. The card is a busy fulcrum for other discounts, and pensioners appreciate both the gesture and increasingly the reality of free daytime travel.
But they, and Peters in his influential advocacy, have a wider duty to consider the fair limits of these benefits. Yes, free travel does help reduce the isolation and loneliness older people can suffer. Over time they may lose the ability to drive; their network of friends shrinks; their partners die. Few New Zealanders would begrudge the very real benefits of a SuperGold Card subsidy.
However, in vigorously decrying the notion of any limits to this bounty, Peters and the grey lobby are inviting a nasty backlash. As with so many pithy social-equity debates, Auckland is ground zero for resentment. When Lycra-clad retirees are highly visible touring Waiheke vineyards on their pricey bicycles at taxpayers’ expense, while young families are struggling to heat their homes and afford fares to work and school, something has to give. Does the baby-boom generation really want to invoke the wrath of younger taxpayers, who could one day choose to turn off the superannuation tap?
The discussion about wealth redistribution and the role age plays is an entirely legitimate one. Greece should have engaged in it a long time ago. So I am quite happy for Winston to go about his special pleading for the elderly because it wakes up younger generations to how big government is. What's that saying? A government big enough to give you all you want is a government big enough to take it away, or words to that effect. That has literally come to pass for the Greeks.

I did have another fleeting thought about inter generational resentment and family members being pitched against one another. It was sparked by a comment on the article. Within the group of 65+ there are actually two different generations. two generations very unlike each other. In fact there may even be 3 at the margins. It is entirely possible someone over 100 (there are apparently more than five hundred) has a grand child collecting Super. There's a thought.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Labour looks limp

The theatre of parliament does not excite me but occasionally I'll scan through the questions and answers. Yesterday, one about selling state houses to an Australian housing charity led to the exchange below. Labour began with a potentially promising gambit, but quickly crumbled under National's riposte. It typifies Labour's problem with Key and the government. It's stuck with its own stagnant ideology (NO state asset sales EVER) producing incoherent policy; and  a fresh leader with stale lines.

State and Social Housing—Sale of Housing Stock
2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that “Locally-based providers can be closer and more responsive to their community” in relation to the Government’s policy to sell State houses to private providers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and registered community housing providers will need to have a local presence and a strong capacity to meet the needs of their tenants.
Andrew Little : How would a company based in Brisbane be “closer and more responsive” to the needs of Kiwi families in social housing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Because they will have to be not only registered in New Zealand but have a presence in New Zealand and be subject to the community housing provider regulatory authority. If the head office of a company or an organisation rules somebody out from doing anything, then I suggest the member never go and have another Big Mac, because, and this will come as breaking news, the head office is in America. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am wanting to call the Leader of the Opposition.
Andrew Little : What lessons can a company that provides housing on the Gold Coast teach New Zealand about running social housing in Invercargill?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Firstly, this organisation would have to be, if it bought those properties, registered in New Zealand subject to the Community Housing Regulatory Authority, be subject to regular engagement with its tenants, be a responsible tenancy manager, have routine inspections, and be responsive when it comes to repairs and maintenance—so it would have to run a New Zealand operation. I am little surprised that the New Zealand Labour Party hates Horizon Housing, because here is a press release from the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia when the Labor Government was in office saying what an amazing organisation it is and how good it is and what a great job it has done. I know that something Australian is very scary to the Labour Party, but over here we just want somebody who can provide a good service.
Andrew Little : What precise, measurable, provable benefits would be realised by selling these houses to an Australian company that cannot be realised by Housing New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member is asking a wider question about what the benefits are of social housing. If Horizon Housing were to buy these properties, it would have to provide the same role as any other community housing provider. So what I can say in regard to that is that there is widespread support for community housing providers from all parts of this Parliament. In fact, one member of Parliament has gone on to say in relation to this area that there is “no controversy” and “I see huge benefits in this vision of a bigger, more diverse social housing sector.” That of course comes from Mr P Twyford of the Labour Party.
Andrew Little : Point of order! [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is a point of order. I wish to hear it.
Andrew Little : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very straight, and it was pretty concise—
Mr SPEAKER : On this occasion I agree with the Leader of the Opposition. I am going to ask him to ask that question again.
Andrew Little : What precise, measurable, provable benefits would be realised by selling these houses to an Australian company that cannot be realised by Housing New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The same as New Zealand ones.
Tim Macindoe : What support has the Prime Minister seen for the Government’s policy of transferring ownership of houses to grow the community housing sector?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have seen lots of support, including a good summary of the Government’s social housing reform legislation that passed last year. It says as follows: “What does this bill do? It shifts housing stock out of the hands of Housing New Zealand into the community housing sector. This is something that Labour is perfectly comfortable with.” It goes on to say: “The bill is extending—
Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week you made it very clear, and you have repeatedly done this over the last 2 weeks, that the Government should not use Government supplementary questions to attack the Opposition, which is exactly what the Prime Minister is doing.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER : No, I do not need assistance. That is a judgment that I make. But when I look at the question “What support has the Prime Minister seen for this change of ownership the Government is proposing.”, that is a legitimate question in my mind.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would just urge you—your ruling is absolutely correct—to go away and consider what Mr Hipkins has just raised. What he is essentially saying is that it is impossible within a debate for the Government to point out in question time within a wider debate about social housing what has been said on all parts of this debate. That would be a ridiculous notion.
Mr SPEAKER : That is exactly the point that I am trying to make in responding to Chris Hipkins. There will be questions that I think are put down that are no more than a cheap opportunity by a Government to attack another political party, and they are the ones that I will not accept. In this case I think it is quite a legitimate question to ask about what support is out there in the community. If that answer happens to refer to another political party in this Parliament, I cannot help. The Prime Minister can complete his answer if it is required.
Andrew Little : In relation to the Government’s announced proposal to sell State houses to an Australian owner, and given that the Salvation Army in New Zealand has backed out of the proposal to it to purchase State houses, and also that iwi in New Zealand only want the houses for free, so that he now resorts to Aussie buyers, will his Government press ahead with selling State houses, even if no New Zealand providers can afford to buy them and there are no tangible benefits to the families living in them?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member’s question is incorrect.
Andrew Little : Is not the truth of it that this policy was always about the ideology of selling off State houses, whatever the cost, not about improving the lives of the families in those houses at all, and like all his policies it is now falling apart?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : What was falling apart were the Housing New Zealand houses we inherited after 9 years of a Labour Government, because it failed to maintain them. What everybody knows, actually, is there is more demand, and has been under numerous Governments, than there is supply. In Australia, and actually in many countries, we see the equivalent of social housing providers or community housing providers adding to the overall stock, and that is why, in a place like Australia, the Labor Deputy Prime Minister gets up and celebrates this. This is the reality. The Labour Party in New Zealand is scared of an Australian charity coming to New Zealand. They must be incredibly scary, because—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The answer has gone on for long enough.
Tim Macindoe : What other support has the Prime Minister seen for the Government’s social housing reforms?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have seen a series of statements supporting the Government’s approach, including, for example: “The Minister’s vision is that Housing New Zealand should become just another tenancy provider competing in a contestable market with the community housing sector for both tenants and subsidies. We want to see a larger, more capable, empowered community housing sector. It is certainly a view that Labour shares.” That, again, was Phil Twyford.
Andrew Little : Given that the mass sell-off of State houses was meant to be his defining policy for the year, as outlined in January, what is left after 6 months of fiasco, and why does he not just give up on this failed experiment?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : On the latter, because I actually care about New Zealanders who deserve some accommodation, and I am not going to be driven by a bit of mumbo-jumbo into not providing more social houses to New Zealanders. And, secondly, that was an important policy announcement at the start of the year, but also I have made a great many other policy announcements this year, and so far we are waiting for Labour to have one policy announcement, and, guess what? Mr Little has not announced a single one yet.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

State house tenant rights

MSD have just launched an initiative to encourage state house tenants to move from high demand areas to low. They provide an application form for 'community providers' - those working with a client in a state house - and advise financial assistance may be available. So there's not much particularly newsworthy there and I wasn't going to blog about it. However

With support from their community partners and financial assistance from us, a client on the social housing register, who’s willing and able, may be able to successfully move from an area of high housing demand to one of lower demand.(my emphasis)

After I'd chewed it over in real world terms I got to wondering about the voluntary aspect of all this (assuming also that HNZ takes a similar approach).

The house does not belong to the tenant. If the landlord (the state) wants to better manage the stock for social and financial reasons, isn't that their prerogative? Many tenants are now single, retired and sitting in homes that are bigger than they need and in areas where there are jobs. Why can't they be moved without their consent? In the private sector tenants can and are effectively moved on constantly because the landlord owns the property and therefore has the power to do with it as he wishes.

Why are state house tenants afforded greater rights? It seems they can sit in a house as long as they wish, and are always guaranteed another state home should they agree to move.

The idea of evicting people against their will doesn't have particular appeal to me but the anomaly is intriguing.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Confiscation ramped up

Published in today's DomPost: