Andrew Little: Govt's priorities to blame for housing crisis

A rough sleeper in a car. Photograph / Jason Oxenham.
A rough sleeper in a car. Photograph / Jason Oxenham.

Over the past week, New Zealanders have been horrified to learn the extent to which families are being forced to live in garages and cars because of National's housing crisis.

The same crisis that is locking so many young people out of homeownership is locking our poorest families out of any home at all. That's not the Kiwi way.

The images we have seen used to be the kind of thing we only saw in other countries. We used to take pride in saying New Zealand is better than that. National has taken that away from us, just as they have taken away the Kiwi dream of homeownership from the younger generation.

Paula Bennett wrote an opinion piece at the weekend, trying to justify the inexcusable reality we now face of new-born babies living in cars. Her excuse boiled down to 'it's too expensive'.

She claimed it costs $40,000 to house a family of five in Tamaki. That's a trumped up example but let's take it and see how many families a government with the right priorities could house:

• National spent $27m on a failed flag referendum. That could have housed 675 families

• $11.5m on a sheep farm in the Saudi desert could have housed 287 families

• $118m in dividends that National is taking out of Housing New Zealand could house 2,950 families

So, with just three different choices, John Key's government could be housing nearly 20,000 more people. That's enough to get on top of the homelessness problem, right there.

It's always about choices, and National has made some terrible ones. They've let foreign speculators continue to buy our houses and use them as gambling chips. I don't care if it's 4,000 houses a year, as National says, or 16,000 as the official numbers indicate. One house that is owned by an offshore speculator rather than a Kiwi family is too many.

National has cut $1.7 billion out of the health budget, meaning that 160,000 people have missed out on operations that they need, and people have died because, in the Health Minister's words Pharmac "haven't' got the money at the moment" to buy the latest life-saving medicines.

By underfunding education, National has forced higher costs on to parents and students. The cost of primary and secondary education is rising at 10 times the rate of inflation.

Incredibly, the number of people who are studying for a post-school qualification is falling. How are we meant to get a head as a country if we're not investing in education?

And, to top it all off, new research shows that working Kiwis' slice of economic growth has fallen from more than 50 per cent under the previous Labour Government to just 37 per cent under National. That adds up to $50 less per week for the average family this year.

National's excuse, whether it's decent housing, health cuts, or the rising cost of education is always that doing the right thing costs too much. That argument doesn't hold any water when John Key turns around and says he is planning a $3 billion tax bribe for the election.

Government is about choices, about priorities. The government I lead will focus on what matters:

• Building affordable homes for families to buy and live in.

• Making sure every rental is warm, dry, and healthy.

• Reversing National's $1.7 billion of health cuts.

• Making education affordable for parents and removing fees on post-school education.

• Investing in growth so that there are well-paying jobs, and everyone gets their fair share of prosperity.

Is that an ambitious list? Sure. We need a government with vision. Is it doable and affordable? Absolutely. It is about making the choice: investing in the things that matter or borrowing for tax cuts.

As we see working people's slice of the economic pie shrinking, as we see the public services we rely on crumble under funding cuts, and the heartbreaking images of the kids living in cars or crowded garages, the choice is simple.

Andrew Little is the leader of the Labour Party.

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