Rebecca Barry Hill: More questions than answers

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Nigel Latta's look at inequality uncovered some scary stats but offered few solutions. Photo / Doug Sherring
Nigel Latta's look at inequality uncovered some scary stats but offered few solutions. Photo / Doug Sherring

Who does Nigel Latta think he is? That seems to be the line regularly levelled at the clinical psychologist-turned TV personality, perhaps because it appears he has all the answers. Well, he did have a lot of good points to make on Beyond the Darklands, in which he analysed the psychology of violent crime. More polarising was his Politically Incorrect Guide series, which, for the most part, delved into parenting issues in a lighthearted way.

Offering advice about how to raise your kids is surely akin to rolling in tar and standing in a dust storm. But his new show, titled simply Nigel Latta (Tuesdays, 9.30pm, TV One) finds him in new territory: a place where there's a little less Latta. Instead, he wades into the shoes normally worn by current affairs journalists, to tackle some weighty issues.

After this week's inequality episode (The New Haves And Have Nots), he'll delve into education (The School Report), our drinking culture (The Trouble With Booze), child abuse (Killing Our Kids), the justice system (Behind Bars) and sugar (Is Sugar The New Fat?).

These are all rather unpopular themes, in that what they reveal, we may not want to know. I already think I'll avoid the last one. But in an election year they're timely reminders of some of our most pressing problems.

In this week's episode, Latta asked why the divide between rich and poor in New Zealand has risen faster than any OECD country except one. Go on, insert your bad John Key joke here.

Latta, however, remained politically neutral, even as he set out to discredit the so-called "trickle-down effect", poo-pooing the theory that we can do whatever we like with our lives if we just work hard enough.

The point was made that those who start life at a financial disadvantage find it harder to afford education, and get ahead. Didn't we already know this? Perhaps, but there were scary stats that suggest we're not paying enough attention.

Since 1984, the wages of those in the bottom 10 per cent have increased just 13 per cent, whereas those in the top 10 per cent have seen their wages rise 78 per cent. According to the most recent quality of life survey, in the last two years, those who don't have enough money to live on almost doubled to one in five.

Latta clearly has pulling power that allowed him to interview the top and the bottom of this equation. Head of Treasury Gabriel Makhlouf explained that technology and globalisation were putting more pressure on incomes, while economist Bernard Hickey, and University of Auckland professor Jane Kelsey intoned that the economy's next victims would be the jobs of middle-class New Zealanders, and that our ballooning private debt was of far greater concern than our national debt.

Latta put a human face on New Zealand poverty, by talking to a couple, both who have full-time jobs on the minimum wage, yet can't afford to give their five children lunch every day.

A couple of questions went unanswered. Why doesn't Chris, a struggling husband and father who lost his job, not yet have another job? There could be a perfectly good reason but we never got to find out. And perhaps not surprisingly, given the enormity of such a problem, the solutions offered were few. The Hutt Valley's Family Centre had one - campaigning for a living wage, a minimum hourly rate to provide their families with the basic necessities of life at $18.40 an hour. So did entrepreneur Derek Handley, whose plan to encourage sustainable, ethically orientated business seemed idealistic by comparison.

But if Latta set out to raise awareness, he succeeded.

Perhaps it raised a few more questions than it answered. The difference this time was that Latta wasn't the one with all the answers. It suited him.

- TimeOut

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