Lizzie Marvelly: Election promises ignore those in need

By Lizzie Marvelly

Winz has 458 homeless people on its books. Photo / Michael Craig
Winz has 458 homeless people on its books. Photo / Michael Craig

As a proud Kiwi, when I see a story about New Zealand in the international press, I make it my business to read it. Over the past few years I've laughed along with John Oliver as he made sport of our ponytail-pulling Prime Minister, our national best drawing competition and our propensity to fling sex toys at Government ministers.

I've watched with delight as Team Ball Player Thing and Feel Inside took our quirky little country to screens all around the globe, as Lorde and Kimbra accepted their Grammy Awards, and as the All Blacks became world champions again. So when a story about New Zealand popped up on the Guardian's homepage this week, it caught my eye.

The headline? "New Zealand housing crisis forces hundreds to live in tents and garages".

This just a day after Prime Minister John Key had suggested that his Government would deliver tax cuts if re-elected in 2017.

To quote Big Bird, one of these things is not like the other.

We have 305,000 Kiwi children living in poverty, and in March, 428 people told Winz that they were homeless. This number is likely just the tip of the iceberg, with researchers estimating that there are over 30,000 New Zealanders who have no place to call home - 15,000 of them living in Auckland.

One such New Zealander, Julie, told Radio NZ that she'd been on the Winz waiting list for five months. She left her partner to escape domestic violence, taking her five children with her, but Winz had nowhere for her to go.

Women's Refuge couldn't take her with her older boys, and she was kicked off the waiting list when she (understandably) declined a Housing NZ house just around the corner from her ex-partner's mother. She and her children have been forced to sleep in the car, or to stay at motels.

Motels that she can't afford. Winz provides emergency funding for families to stay in motels, but they are then required to pay back the debt. And the temporary emergency funding soon runs out. One Kiwi mum, Nicole, had been living in a motel with her three children for three weeks. With a debt of $2200 accumulated, her stay ended. When she returned to Winz to plead for help, there was nothing it could do. Nicole and her children were faced with only one choice - to sleep in their car.

Nicole's children are 6, 2 and 8-weeks-old. Three Kiwi youngsters forced to sleep in a car. That's no way to grow up.

The Prime Minister seems to agree.

"The situation where people find themselves living in a car, or living under a bridge or something, there could be a range of reasons," he said, "but, at the core of it, that's not the New Zealand we want, and it's not acceptable."

He's right about that. Which leads me to wonder why on earth he'd consider tax cuts, when so many people are in desperate need.

Tax cuts won't help the homeless. They won't help kids who are going without the basics. They won't help to fix our overloaded mental health system, the housing crisis, our metropolitan traffic woes or to fund cancer drugs.

Sure, we have finite resources, and it would be impossible to solve all of our problems with the $3 billion likely set aside for tax cuts. But while the $27 million blown on the flag referendum was spent over and over by flag change opponents on any number of worthy projects that it could never possibly cover, $3 billion is a huge amount of money. It would go a long way towards getting people off the streets and into warm houses. Especially with winter just around the corner.

I don't know many people who really enjoy paying tax, but I'd imagine even fewer enjoy living on the streets, or struggling to feed or clothe their children. I wonder if we asked New Zealanders whether they'd rather slash tax revenue or spend our tax on getting Kiwi kids out of cars and into their own beds, which they'd choose.

I'd like to think that the Kiwi spirit of looking out for each other would win out over selfishness, but given the Prime Minister's suggestion that National may base an election campaign on slashing our tax revenue - when our vital services clearly need more funding rather than less, and not just one year of it - it seems he may be banking on self-interest winning out over helping our fellow Kiwis.

What many people don't know about homelessness is that half of our homeless population is under 25. A quarter of them are children. Around 63 per cent of homeless women have experienced domestic violence. And with some researchers estimating that Auckland's housing shortfall could reach 90,000 homes by 2031, the situation for our most vulnerable families is becoming increasingly dire.

Homelessness is not a choice, unless you count choosing between staying and being abused or leaving to try to find safety. That is the kind of "choice" that homeless people are forced to make. It's hardly a choice I'd like to be presented with.

In the current state of our nation, tax cuts would be frankly irresponsible. But then, kids living in poverty can't vote. Disenfranchised people whose lives are full of struggle are highly unlikely to vote. And homeless people, who are required to have a place of residence and a postal address to enrol, aren't exactly turning out to elections in their droves.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why the Government isn't making election promises to them.

- NZ Herald

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