Economic Rights Are Human Rights: It’s Time to Legislate
Income Equality Aotearoa New Zealand Inc. Closing the Gap
Media Statement For Immediate Release Wednesday 8th August 2018
Economic Rights Are Human Rights: It’s Time to Legislate
If New Zealand wants to close the inequality gap, it needs to follow the advice of the United Nations and enshrine economic rights in the Bill of Rights Act, the income equality group Closing the Gap said today.
The group’s spokesperson, Peter Malcolm, said the continuing piecemeal approach to tackling inequality isn’t working, and enshrining economic rights in the law would help drive a more systematic approach to the problem.
“In its report on how well New Zealand is meeting its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN committee said all rights, including economic and social, should have equal status, but under New Zealand’s current law, they don’t,” Mr. Malcolm said.
The Bill of Rights Act (BORA) doesn’t protect these rights, and even if it did, BORA itself “lacks supremacy over other statutes and legislation”.
Mr. Malcolm said this raises the question of just how seriously successive governments, including the government now in office, take economic justice and rights.
The UN report details numerous problems that need attention, including underemployment, unemployment, housing, homelessness and health services.
“There’s a crisis in many of these areas, particularly housing, homelessness and health, access to all of which are clearly basic human rights,” Mr. Malcolm said. “It’s time our government and our laws treat these necessities of life as basic human rights and protect them as such.”
Pressure for Government to Listen Up
Voluntary national organization Closing the Gaps says the New Zealand Government must start meeting its obligations under the Bill of Rights Act.
CtG’s Peter Malcolm says a coordinated approach is needed to achieve basic human rights that are not currently being met.
A conclusion by United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC 1 May 2018) is that “…the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act lacks supremacy over other statutes and legislation adversely affecting human rights...” The council’s committee request that NZ adopt its recommendations within 18 months.
It states that underemployed people has doubled (estimated at 221,000). It also notes with concern that the unemployment rate among Māori and Pasifika is approximately double the general rate… women and persons with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed.
The ECOSOC committee is concerned that previous reforms of the social security system have resulted in sanctions being imposed on non-compliant beneficiaries, including those with dependent children, and in excessively focusing on getting beneficiaries into paid work.
The Committee recommends that the New Zealand Government pursue its intention to
• Reform the social security system, including the Social Security Act (1964), in wide consultation with social partners, the National Human Rights Commission and civil society, in order to ensure the realization of the right to social security
• Adopt a human rights-based national housing strategy, taking into account the 2018 Housing stocktake report produced by the Government
• Address more effectively the growing phenomenon of homelessness, including by implementing the strategy to end homelessness, and monitor and record more systematically the situation of the homeless
• Redouble its efforts to regulate the private housing market, including by controlling rent increases
• Close the gaps in the enjoyment of the right to health by improving the health outcomes of Māori and Pasifika, in close collaboration with the groups concerned and to reinstate the Māori health plans, and empower the decision-making processes
• Establish an independent inquiry into mental health and addiction services. However, it expresses its concern that the services are insufficiently responsive
• Reform the education system. In doing so, it should develop culturally appropriate education programmes in partnership with Māori and Pasifika, implementing the scheme to increase funding for public schools
Latest figures out show that middle income earners are keeping up with OECD figures but the bottom tier of NZ society is continuing to be overlooked, and most especially the vulnerable, says Mr Malcolm.
“The Ministry of Social Development is taking too long responding to our people’s obvious pain and hardship.”
Peter Malcolm says it has been reported to him by superannuants receiving a weekly allowance of $400/w (for a single living alone), and who also pay rent of $320/week.
“That percentage toward housing is way above what is reasonable. New Zealand is contravening the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“For many obvious reasons the elderly are deprived of creating their own means of subsistence and such, the Ministry of Social Development has a responsibility under the General Assembly resolution 1966 (of the above document) to provide a decent living and continuous improvement of living conditions.
“We’ve been told by seniors they’ve attempted to overcome their difficulties by sharing their home and expenses, only to have MSD reduce their pension, putting them in the same poverty-stricken position as before.”
A 2017 MSD review on Material Wellbeing of NZ Households says Poverty is not just about having “less than”, it is about “not having enough”.
A household is considered “poor” when its resources are not adequate to meet its consumption needs for the basics or necessities.
Research has shown that, using a scale on which 8% of New Zealanders are classed as having “very good” living standards, 14% of older New Zealanders are in that category”.
New Zealand’s “severe deprivation” rate of 4 percent was a little below the EU’s median “severe” rate of just under 6 percent but the child hardship risk ratio for New Zealand is 1.6, higher than for any of the 20 European countries in the comparison.
Mr Malcolm says having any level of homelessness with citizens living on the streets is shameful for a country steeped in a history of being a caring society.
“These people do not want to be cold, hungry, dirty and homeless. No person should be living on the street, not in winter, not ever.”
There are 18 community support services and agencies listed on the Tauranga City Council website and all showing a spirit of caring to the homeless, he says.
The founder and spokesperson for Under the Stars, Tracey Carlton, addressing a political meeting recently, says there are some success stories but there are also many of the same homeless people still there a year on from her introduction.
Her support group caters warm drinks two nights of the week and one meal on Sunday on a regular basis to around 60 Tauranga city homeless.
“Every person on the street comes from differing circumstances. The key point is, a shelter and drop-in centre are urgently required.”
Mr Malcom says community led initiatives are relevant and important but need to be in conjunction with both local body and central government to achieve adequate support and for rounded long-term decisions.
“A coordinated approach is imperative if we’re to lift our game and provide basic human rights to all citizens.
“For those on the streets, we’re not even providing the physical needs, let alone the mental and spiritual support.”
Mr Malcolm says CtG is disappointed that TCC decided to ignore the government’s plea to hold off selling Tauranga’s community housing.
“Let’s hope council stays true to its people and to the Housing Accord it signed with the government in 2014 to enhance housing affordability and facilitate an increase in land and housing supply.”