The fifth State of the Nation report, titled The Growing Divide, was launched on Friday to widespread media coverage, and packed out events in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Dunedin.
The report highlights the ‘deep chasm of difference between the poor, and their middle class cousins,’ said Major Campbell Roberts, director of The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, which produced the report.
‘New Zealand has always had a divide, but we are now seeing a deepening of this divide for a group of New Zealanders who are getting poorer and poorer, more disenfranchised and more marginalised.’
He called New Zealand’s failure to produce a plan against poverty ‘a national disgrace’. ‘We have a roading plan—where is the deliverable plan for defeating poverty? Other countries have one. It can be done,’ he challenged.
Alan Johnson, author of The Growing Divide and senior policy advisor for the unit, agreed that the New Zealand story needs to be told from the other side of the divide—this is what State of the Nation aims to do: ‘What happened to the story that economic growth will be the panacea to social need? There is no reason to believe that our longer-term poverty rates will change, without some fundamental change in the way our resources are shared,’ he said.
Key findings published in the report include:
• Child poverty: 200,000 children are living below the threshold of poverty, or 20 per cent of all New Zealand children.
• Crime and Punishment: Of 9000 prisoners released last year, it is expected that 3500 will be back in prison within two years. ‘There is talk about rehabilitation and re-integration but budgets don’t change,’ said Mr Johnson.
• Young people: While over-65s in employment have risen by around 40,000, this has been mirrored by 15-19 year olds, whose employment rates have dropped by around 40,000. ‘The untold story is that young people are bearing the brunt of the recession.’
• Social hazards: Availability of alcohol has reached a 20 year high. ‘That’s equivalent to 20 million more Woodies available,’ said Mr Johnson—of the Woodstock drink, highly popular with young people.
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