"WOULD you still respect me, if I didn't have this gun? Cos without it, I don't get it, and that's why I carry one."
This lyric, from Both Sides of the Story by Phil Collins, is 20 years old, but has always carried an absolute tone of bleak reality.
Author and journalist Max Rathbrooke was speaking last week at the Marist Rugby Football Club on his book, Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis. His contention is that New Zealand has become a world leader for an increase in inequality since the mid-80s. The gap between the rich and poor has reached the point where it is fundamentally damaging our society, our well-being and our ability to function as a community.
The Wairarapa Times-Age, notably through the efforts of journalist Cherie Taylor, is not shying away from demonstrating that in our Wairarapa towns we have significant pockets of poverty, in some cases right alongside pockets of wealth. When I reported for Porirua, and some of the poorest areas there, I thought I had seen it all. But I'm coming to realise Wairarapa could have it a lot worse.
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Porirua has, at least, a strong sense of community among its poorer areas, assisted by a common Pasifika culture and a strong church ethic. A 20,000-member Facebook page has people asking for help, with tips and job requests and second-hand ideas, in the manner of neighbours chatting over the fence. But in places like Masterton or Featherston, I sense a lot of isolation with those who are struggling and failing. I sense a lot of disdain for the less fortunate. I sense a trend of grudging, diminishing assistance from Work and Income.
While there will always be those who struggle, and those who bludge the system, the scale of inequality frightens me right now. This country reeks with the fear and stress of not being able to put food on the table, while those who can are isolating themselves from the problem, claiming the recession is making life harder than usual.
I applaud the Government's efforts to get more beneficiaries working. But as a community we've got to come out of our shells. Otherwise, sooner or later Phil Collins' ghetto kid is going to seek equality the hard way.