Deborah Hill Cone: It's hard to balance books and life

30 comments
The predicament of state housing tenants facing eviction encapsulates age-old views of haves and have-nots.

You are destined to be deeply disappointed if you expect any government to make life fair.It's hard to find a comfortable place on either side of the moral divide when it comes to state housing. Photo / Chris Gorman
You are destined to be deeply disappointed if you expect any government to make life fair.It's hard to find a comfortable place on either side of the moral divide when it comes to state housing. Photo / Chris Gorman

Bratty middle-class me got my knickers in a twist when I had my resident's carpark taken away - boo hoo - so I feel trepidatious expressing any kind of opinion on the predicament of state housing tenants turfed out of their houses.

But I was, gosh, I don't know - aghast? despairing? soupy? - listening to this exchange on National Radio between the host Kathryn Ryan and Tu Tangata Maraenui housing protester Chantelle Brown. Kathryn: "Do you believe any family has a right to state housing effectively for life?"

Chantelle: "I think everyone has the right to standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family including food, clothing, housing, medical care, necessary social services, the right to security, in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or lack of livelihood [benefit]. Circumstances beyond his control, yes, the Government has accountability."

Well, I think the Government should give every child a pony and dispense free banana smoothies and ban wrinkles too. (Puts head in hands.) Oh crikey. No wonder new figures put our welfare bill at $78 billion.

Chantelle honey, I'm sorry but you are destined to be deeply disappointed if you expect any government to make life fair. But please, if you've read this far, and are thinking "There goes silly bint DHC on another right wing tirade", steady on.

Because I can't find a comfortable place in either camp. On the one hand, it is easy for smug middle class people to think welfare beneficiaries should show immigrant-type grit and start planting vegetable gardens and spinning hessian.

Maybe I was like that once but this year I had my consciousness pinged on this point when I returned to university. (It seems some of it stuck.)

One piece of research we discussed was called "A Life of Ease and Immorality: Health Professionals' Constructions of Mothering on Welfare". Ignore the pompous title; the research revealed that no matter how seemingly compassionate middle class people are to beneficiaries their deeply held attitude is that as, say, a young mother on welfare you have no social value and are immoral and a user. Yes I know, you probably don't think you think that: that's why it's called sub-conscious.

For those beneficiaries, who sense they are "disqualified from neo-liberal definitions of citizenship", even if they wouldn't put it in those words, it is very hard to change. A lot of beneficiaries have had appalling lives. But you need to construct a strong sense of identity in order to function well enough to take responsibility for meeting your own needs.

At this point the bleeding hearts think the Government could or ought to fix this situation, by spending more money. This is where we part company. Because I am a believer. I truly believe people can change their lives. But many of us will not find strength to do it unless we are forced to by a trauma of some kind. It is terrifying to change and you need an incentive.

In his bestselling book The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg sets out matter-of-factly the latest neuroscience showing how you can change by setting up new habit loops by finding the cues to habits you want to get rid of and replacing them with new rewards and routines. (Great book, incidentally.)

But this is the money shot: Duhigg reveals many other people can transform their lives without being prompted by a trauma or a tragedy of some kind. These people changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier. The magic factor that helped people to change was that people in that group believed change was feasible. "For most people who overhaul their lives, there are no seminal moments or life-altering disasters. There are simply communities - sometimes of just one other person - who make change believable."

How do we set up a group like that? Perhaps that is the important question. Chantelle? Want to join?

Dialogue: Contributions are welcome and should be 600-800 words. Send your submission to dialogue@nzherald.co.nz. Text may be edited and used in digital formats as well as on paper

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 22 Aug 2014 00:37:25 Processing Time: 231ms