Visiting speaker Bryan Bruce knocked the stuffing out of neo-liberal economics in his Wanganui lecture on Saturday night.

The documentary-maker delivered the annual Quaker Lecture to about 300 people in Wanganui War Memorial Hall.

His starting point was the similarity between his early life in Christchurch and that of Prime Minister John Key. Both were helped by the welfare state of the time.

Mr Key lived in a state house because his mother was a widow with debts and three children. Mr Bruce's parents emigrated from Scotland, in 1956, where the family had lived in a two-room apartment seven stories up, with no bathroom or hot water.

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They were amazed to get a flat in Christchurch with a bathroom, hot running water and a washing machine. It was the first time they had been able to save.

Within five years, with a capitalised family benefit and low interest loan, the welfare state had helped them into their own house.

Help from the state made a huge difference to Mr Bruce's prospects and, like him, Mr Key had the benefit of free primary, secondary and university education. Why then, Mr Bruce wondered, was Mr Key not giving New Zealand's 265,000 children living below the poverty line in 2015 the same chances.

The May Budget is still awaited, but Mr Bruce said the National Party had already voted down bills that would have pushed landlords to insulate cold, damp houses and funded schools to provide lunches for children who arrive having had no breakfast and bringing no lunch.

The Government was now looking for solutions, despite many suggestions having been made, and was unwilling to admit that free market neo-liberal economic policy was to blame.

Mr Bruce said it was time to bring some morality back into economics, and he asked listeners to vote for more co-operative and caring policies.

"Wealth doesn't and hasn't trickled down as was predicted. Instead, wealth has 'trickled up'", he said.