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Beehive Chat: 'The Denial of Humanity'

Beehive Chat: 'The Denial of Humanity'

Comment By Tariana Turia

The press release from the Government was glowing. "The Living Standards 2004 Report shows that three in four New Zealanders report having a fairly comfortable to very good living standard".

But in the 312 words they dedicated to their announcement, three were conspicuously absent: Maori; Pasifika and poverty. The headline actually should have been 'disparities have increased'. Full stop. End of story.

The Economic Living Standards Index is used to directly measure the living standards of New Zealanders. It describes an increased level of inequality of living standards within Aotearoa, with Maori and Pacific people, beneficiaries and low-income families with children showing increases in the proportions of people in "severe hardship". Yet this fact that latest evidence reports a "higher proportion of Maori people in hardship" doesn't even rate a mention in the Government's release.

Forty percent of Maori and 58% of the Pacific population were in some degree of hardship, compared to only 19% of Europeans.

The proportions of the Maori and Pacific populations experiencing hardship, are also more skewed towards the "severe hardship" end of the living standards continuum now than in 2000. For example, in 2000, 7% of Maori and 15% of Pacific people were in "severe hardship". By 2004 this had increased to 17% and 27% respectively.

The results highlight the poor living standards of many beneficiary children, with more than 30% of the children in these families in "severe hardship". It should not be a surprise to anyone that most children experiencing hardship were concentrated in Maori, Pacific and sole-parent beneficiary families. 61% of beneficiaries with children were in significant or severe hardship in 2004, a huge increase; up from 41% in the year 2000.

How shocking is that. Children have the lowest average living standard of all the age groups. They are disproportionately at the lower end of the ELSI scale, with more than one in three (38%) in some degree of hardship. The report concludes there is a higher rate of income poverty amongst children. And yet the Government sings a song that 3 out of 4 Nzers are 'comfortable'.

These are terrible results, which represents a Government which couldn't care less about the working poor, about vulnerable children, about impoverished families. The Maori Party will continue to point out the urgent need for support for whanau to experience transformation. Transformation from poverty to decent living standards; from multiple 'lifeshock' factors, to sites of wellbeing.

The report findings are strikingly clear:

"The results in the report vividly reinforce previous knowledge concerning the higher prevalence of disadvantage among Maori and Pacific people. The results underline the importance of maintaining a strong focus on finding effective ways of reducing these disparities".

Ironically, a conclusion which the United Nations Special Rapporteur also shared - as have numerous health and social analysts in recent months. The big question is - when will the Government listen?

Finally, there was one finding in the report, which the Government has been happy to trumpet as part of what Social Development Minister Benson-Pope described as a "largely positive picture".

Over the four year period, there has been greater 'within-group' variation in living standards. For example, there is now a greater spread of living standards among Maori, with a higher proportion in hardship and a higher proportion with good living standards.

I will be the first to recognise the outstanding successes that tangata whenua have made, and continue to make to the nation.

These include amazing outcomes from wananga which provided extensive opportunities to second chance learners and achieved considerable success. Or the fact that earlier this year, we learnt that Maori are the third-most entrepreneurial people in the world (after Thailand and Venezuela).

Yet New Zealand's recent experience demonstrates that Government is only too willing to shut down innovation when it suits.

We have seen the numbers of Maori Private Training Establishments dwindling, Maori Primary Health Organisations struggling, and wananga numbers have decreased markedly. As we all know - wananga were attacked, because other tertiary institutions in the sector were suffering. It's the old tall poppy syndrome kicking in again.

And with entrepreneurs, we have to ask why it is that only 37% of Maori entrepreneurial start-ups survive three and a half years, compared to 62% in the general population. What is the Government not doing, in terms of the failure to provide sustainable support to Maori entrepreneurs?

I can only hope, that now the Living Standards report has recognised the rewards that some Maori are enjoying, that this information isn't manipulated for any other purpose than to congratulate the sweetness of success.

We need to recognise and commend the successes that are amongst us - but also never to forget the miserable underbelly that our society has created where even in the midst of economic prosperity, the vulnerable are marginalised even further.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The best test of a civilised society is the way in which it treats its most vulnerable and weakest members"; and Nelson Mandela said "It should never be that the anger of the poor should be the finger of accusation pointed at all of us because we failed to respond to the cries of the people for food, for shelter, for the dignity of the individual".

Currently, we are failing the test as a civilised society, we are deaf to the cries of the people, and blind to the evidence of our own research. How long does this government think it can continue to treat people as fools and "fool all of the people, all of the time" with its political spin?


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