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Plight of the Poorest Unclear - Caritas

28 August 2008

Drop in Inequality Good, but Plight of the Poorest Unclear - Caritas

Despite a reduction in overall inequality indicated by the Government's latest Social Report, Catholic social justice agency Caritas remains concerned about social outcomes for the poorest 10 per cent of New Zealanders.

Caritas Director Mike Smith welcomed the release today of the 2008 Social Report, and the apparent reduction in overall inequality. "Social monitoring is essential to well informed debate about poverty issues in the lead up to the 2008 election," he said, "and New Zealand previously had some of the largest growth in inequality among OECD countries."

"However, the inequality measure used in the Report compares incomes of the highest 20 percent of households with the lowest 20 percent. It doesn't show the plight of our poorest New Zealanders," said Mr Smith.

"We're concerned about what's happening in New Zealand's very poorest households, and among particular groups," said Mr Smith. That's echoed by New Zealand's Catholic Bishops. In their recent statement Poverty in an Affluent Society, they noted considerable investment in social spending in the last ten years, but also "concerns that people on benefits and low wages have not benefited as much as many higher earning families from increased social spending."

The plight of New Zealand's poorest is also examined through Caritas resources produced for the Catholic Church's Social Justice Week (14-20 September), which this year focuses on Poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand. "Catholic agencies working with New Zealand's poorest citizens continue to be witnesses to the deprivation and isolation experienced by many New Zealand families," said Mr Smith.

Mr Smith said the Catholic Church wanted to see poverty and inequality clearly placed on the election agenda. "There have been improvements, but there is no room for complacency from any political party or any voter. We are still waiting for the detail on social security policies, and are seeking commitments that no party intends to return to policies which caused such suffering and hardship for so many New Zealanders during the 1980s and 1990s."

"We are also seeking an across the board commitment from political parties to maintain social and environmental reporting, in which reporting on social outcomes is given equal importance with the government's financial reporting," said Caritas Director Michael Smith.

Mr Smith noted the Social Report suffers from a substantial time lag between the introduction of government policy, such as the Working for Families package in 2004, and formal reporting of the evaluation of those policies. "However, this is still a substantial advance on the situation in recent decades, in which there was no formal monitoring of the social effect of the economic restructuring of the 1980s or the benefit cuts of the 1990s."


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