Difficulties For People On Benefits In New Zealand

Mark Sainsbury  ‘Close-Up’ on  New Zealand Television, Channel One. Tuesday 26th July 2011.

Good to see Mark Sainsbury tackling the very sensitive issues of money and poverty.  And great to see Kevin Milne from ‘Fair Go’ on Mark’s show, again working for fair dealings and humanitarian rights He was stressing that 40% of people now cannot go to visit the dentist, because it is unaffordable, and that dentistry therefore should come under a national health scheme, supported by government.

I have been wanting to write about Mark’s programme about a week ago, where he challenged our current Minister of Finance, Bill English, about his stance on not taxing the rich:  In New Zealand, there is no capital gains tax. There are all sorts of other loop holes which enable the wealthy to legally skip their paying of tax. Overseas people can come in here, buy a property, rent it out, and go away again, thus avoiding New Zealand tax.  This works as a drain in another way, because that money is not circulated in New Zealand, but disappears, to the benefit of another country.

Mark Sainsbury’s programme really highlighted the injustice of the fact that exceedingly wealthy people, mainly property owners, can get away without paying any tax:  Several very wealthy New Zealand businessmen have come forward to express the wish to pay tax on their big investments.  One businessman who does not think that the system is fair, made Eight Million dollars last year from one project, and did not have to pay any tax on this. He thinks that he, and all other people in business, should have to pay tax.

Bill English, the National Party Minister of Finance, was asked by Mark Sainsbury if this situation was unfair to New Zealanders, that these rich property owners  should not have to pay tax, when everybody else has to pay tax.  Bill English stood in front of the camera, looking like he was just about to  swallow a whole fat plum, and said, pause,  ‘No….It wasn’t unfair’……..He said that, as  there was no rule  or law which required that these people should pay tax on their investments,  they should not have to do it. Typical politician talk: educated, matter-of-fact words, meant to shut you up, but which  avoided the real issue.  No mention about the injustice of it, or that these wasted tax dollars could be used to make a difference, such as subsidizing dental care.

John Key was shown on telly recently saying that ‘No, we don’t need to implement capital gains tax here, because other countries have shown this does not work.”  What nonsense – MOST other countries in the civilized world have capital gains tax, and have had for many years.  It just DOES work.  Well, Mr John Key would have to be one of the beneficiaries of the no-capital-gains tax himself.

Last night’s ‘Close-Up’ showed Bill English again, hoeing into a beautiful plate of food laden with ham off the bone.  Mark Sainsbury showed us an older clip of the current Prime Minister, National Party John Key, also looking very well fed, sleek and smiling, blithely saying on camera that ‘being on a benefit is a life-style choice’.  John Key is one of the most wealthy and well-fed men in New Zealand, and most probably gets away with paying minimum taxes on his investments, simply because there is no requirement to do any more than this.

But of course it is unfair:  Not paying tax on big money is unfair to all those middle-earners who religiously pay their taxes to support the community; unfair to those  who cannot find a job which pays well enough to feed a family, and who still mete out that money to the tax department; and unfair to those who have no job at all. Those tax dollars could be used to uplift the poor who have to live on benefits.  Benefits could be raised, and so could the minimum wage  be raised, subsidized by those wasted tax dollars from the rich.  Increasing the minimum wage would do much to help families who struggle away, often with two jobs, averaging around $10 to $12 per hour AFTER TAX.

Being on a benefit is NOT a lifestyle choice, as the Prime Minister says. Where are the jobs?  The numbers of people needing assistance has soared, because there are not enough jobs to go around.  John Key, and Bill English, and most other politicians, have just no idea of how difficult it is for people to survive on a benefit.  Part of the problem is that rents are so high – these rents  go to the wealthy landowners, who live like princes compared to the majority.  People cannot afford to buy a place anymore on an average income.  Land and house ownership is now mainly dominated by the big investors who own property, and who get away with minimum tax bills.

And the government is doing nothing to help the situation.  Their policies support the growing of an underclass, which benefits the rich again.  John Key said a few weeks ago that it was a good thing that so many people were on the minimum wage in New Zealand, because the low wages would attract big businesses from overseas to set up here.  This gives no indication of a change for the better:  Poor people will continue to get more poor under a such a government as ours, which has no inclination to improve social conditions .

Last night, Mark Sainsbury highlighted the difficulties which many people have to suffer being on a benefit of any kind.  He interviewed a lady in the South Island who has cancer.  This lady is a chef, but has had to cease work and go on a benefit because of the cancer – two different types of cancer, one in each breast.  She gets just a little over $300 a week.  After the rent is paid, there is only $50 left for everything. There have been big bills for her treatment, as well as ongoing power costs, food, and other expenses.  She simply cannot manage.

This chef is sick of the New Zealand beneficiary bashing which she has experienced first hand now.  It was this lady who made the point that politicians really do not know what it is like to live on a benefit, and how Bill English was shown ‘feeding his face’ on ham off the bone, which she knew, as a chef, was an expensive luxury which most people could only afford at Christmas time.

The difference in diet and ‘life-style’ is vast:  Politicians are a privileged few who eat the ham off the bone, whilst the rest of us survive on bread alone.

“Let them eat cake”, as Marie Antoinette famously expressed.

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