Un­der­stand­ing the causes of in­equal­ity

Ruapehu Press - - Your Local News - DR EMILY BEAUSOLEIL

Over the last decade, New Zealand saw one sig­nif­i­cant gain in the fight to tackle in­equal­ity: it went from white noise to the top-polled con­cern among Ki­wis in 2014.

That’s the re­sult of both the hard and tire­less work of count­less ad­vo­cates and ex­perts, but it’s also be­cause the signs of grow­ing in­equal­ity have been ever-more keenly felt.

We all see ev­i­dence of the strain of mak­ing ends meet on a less-than- Liv­ing Wage; the surge of house and rental prices; pre­ventable res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses due to cold and damp homes – and, more re­cently, an in­crease in ex­treme poverty that’s forc­ing fam­i­lies to con­tend with sleep­ing in cars and on the streets.

In fact, two re­cently-re­leased re­ports (NBR’S Rich List and the Perry Re­port) re­vealed that the wealth of New Zealan­ders worth more than $50 mil­lion rose to $80 bil­lion and home­own­ers ben­e­fited from jump­ing house val­ues. But the bot­tom 10 per cent spend about half their in­come to barely pay the rent, while 75,000 chil­dren are in damp, mouldy, cold homes.

So, we know grow­ing in­equal­ity is a ma­jor is­sue in New Zealand. The next bat­tle is un­der­stand­ing what causes it.

Right now, ex­perts and politi­cians are bat­tling over the ques­tion of how to mea­sure poverty. This is, ad­mit­tedly, also key – it helps set tar­gets and makes ef­forts to fix it ac­count­able.but it also stands in the way of ask­ing the far more cru­cial ques­tion of what we can do to ad­dress and pre­vent it.

With­out un­der­stand­ing the causes of in­equal­ity, we will con­tinue play­ing de­fence as we scram­ble to mop up its ef­fects on the front­lines. With­out grasp­ing its causes, we can too eas­ily mis­take top­i­cal or ‘band aid’ so­lu­tions as ‘solv­ing’ an is­sue that con­tin­ues to grow.

This is what many ad­vo­cates and ex­perts in this field ob­served with the Na­tional Govern­ment’s re­cent $25 in­crease to ben­e­fit rates. It was a great sign that public pres­sure was mak­ing an im­pact, but the drop in public con­cern about in­equal­ity in re­sponse also showed that a vague no­tion of what in­equal­ity is, and what drives it, also means we’re un­clear on what mean­ing­ful and long-term so­lu­tions might be.

That’s no fault of the gen­eral public – be­cause in­equal­ity is com­pli­cated. It in­volves com­plex sys­tems that con­nect the fate of the rich to the poor in ways that are dif­fi­cult to map; it con­cerns struc­tural con­di­tions that are harder to pin­point than lo­calised is­sues such as school lunches and damp hous­ing, or easy-to- iden­tify causes like per­sonal choices and hard work; and while we may agree that grow­ing in­equal­ity is a press­ing is­sue, as soon as you drill down to ques­tions of why and how, it opens a Pan­dora’s box of com­pet­ing frame­works and value sys­tems that are used to make sense of it.

This means in­equal­ity isn’t just com­plex, it’s hard to imag­ine how we can per­son­ally make a dif­fer­ence.

But this is the task be­fore us – be­cause the fact of the mat­ter is, it’s get­ting worse. With clear links of high lev­els of in­equal­ity to health is­sues, crim­i­nal­ity, de­clin­ing so­cial trust, and eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, we can’t af­ford not to ask the hard ques­tions about how sys­tems in place con­sis­tently ben­e­fit some and force oth­ers to strug­gle. We say we be­lieve in a fair go for all.

It’s time to drill down into the, al­beit messy, even dis­com­fit­ing busi­ness of col­lec­tively seek­ing to un­der­stand the sys­tems that pro­duce in­equal­i­ties, so we can de­mand mean­ing­ful, sys­temic change.


What causes in­equal­ity.

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