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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Keep calm and have another Bluffie

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Only a small number of the poor are living in cars. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Only a small number of the poor are living in cars. Photo / Jason Oxenham

There's been far too much hysterical hanky wringing over the so-called problems of homelessness and poverty lately. These are not so much problems of economics and social conditions as of terminology.

Take the so-called recent housing shortage. It's neither a shortage nor recent. We have plenty of houses sitting empty.

The problem is a surplus of poor people. Even Nick Smith agrees it's been going on for yonks: "The idea that that suddenly happened in May 2016 is a figment of some people's imagination. These are long-term challenges." "Challenges" is a great word. We love "challenges". "Total balls-ups" we're not so keen on.

And let's not lose perspective. Only a small number of the poor are living in cars. Others are living in garages and on the streets.

The argument has been distorted by a reliance on anecdotal evidence. Reading about the details of poverty and misery being experienced by people who deserve better is likely to make people upset and emotional.

It's worse when people go dragging children into it. Like the little girl in Starship with some lung disease whose mother - solo mother, of course - was frantically trying to find somewhere to live when she got out. The kid is on six medications and the mother was insisting that any accommodation would need running water, which meant garages and cars weren't an option.

Picky. Why can't people look on the bright side? I've been to Starship. It's lovely.

Unfortunately, stories like this and the Government's refusal to react to them in a way that would qualify them for the title of "human beings" can make the likes of Paula Bennett and her colleagues look callous and unfeeling.

The fact that there are whole families sleeping in cars - probably cheap Japanese imports on their second or third time around the clock - is deeply regrettable. It makes it difficult for those charged with doing something about the problem to relate.

And let's not lose perspective. Only a small number of the poor are living in cars.

I can sympathise with their predicament. When you have to do your thinking about poverty from a warm, insulated house with sweeping views of Wellington Harbour, or after a halfway decent meal of Bluffies and duck confit washed down with a couple of $90 bottles of pinot on Ponsonby Rd, it can be hard to identify with someone who has three children crammed on a single mattress in a garage cross-infecting each other with every bug going and unable to concentrate at school because they are too hungry.

To their credit, everyone whose job it is seems to have given up pretending they want to or could do anything about these problems.

Hence the reaction to that ridiculous story about the woman with eight children who owed Winz money because she had to stay in a motel after her house was found to be contaminated by P. For many of us this was the first we'd heard of Winz getting money from poor people rather than giving it to them.

Talk about a regular cash flow. As Jesus said: "Ye have the poor with you always." It probably goes back to when people who used to be called beneficiaries started to be known as clients. Beneficiaries are people you benefit. Clients are people you earn from.

Some people thought the motel-bill case was a bit topsy-turvy. But then there was a vague suggestion that the woman might have had some involvement with P.

No one knows whether that's true or not. But obviously, anybody with a P habit and eight children wouldn't have enough problems already.

Thank goodness Winz was there to help.

- Herald on Sunday

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