By Lt. Colonel Ian Hutson, Director - Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit
This year’s State of the Nation Report launched in February, had the theme—Tangata Whenua, Tangata Tiriti, Huia Tangata Kotahi—People of the Land, People of the Treaty, Bring Everyone Together.
This theme seems particularly relevant now, as it calls us as citizens of Aotearoa to unite together to see that our whānau and communities get through this difficult time and experience the kind of security that comes from sharing resources and to also know that we all belong and that not one of us will be left behind.
As I ventured out for my allotted COVID-19 daily exercise, I rode my bike through the picturesque, tree-lined pastures of Cornwall Park to the top of Maungakeikei /One Tree Hill. The view I saw was stunningly beautiful. The City of Auckland lay before me, with Manukau and Waitematā Harbours and Hauraki Gulf beyond—the sparkling sea as smooth as glass.
The vista seemed so at odds with the looming crisis and alarm that is increasingly enveloping our city, our nation and our world. To some extent, the contrast was representative of the way we as people will experience the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. Although all of us will be anxious about whether we catch the virus and the outcomes if we do, the economic consequences of this crisis may be experienced in starkly different and unequal ways. People currently in jobs in stable and secure employment and those who receive adequate government wage-subsidised support, may well travel through this crisis relatively unscathed. The crisis will be purely measured by whether they, their family or friends, suffered the potentially severe consequences of the virus itself.
This will not be the case for others. Even as I write, I hear that up to a third of Air New Zealand employees are expected to be laid off—an estimated 3500 employees. Other jobs related to tourism and other industries will surely be affected in a similar fashion.
The existing cracks inherent in our current health and welfare system will be significantly expanded if we as communities and as a nation don’t respond collectively. This relates to how we react through our church, Iwi and other community organisations as well as the Government, in ensuring significant numbers of people don’t descend into levels of poverty in which they and their families may take years to emerge from. Add this to the estimated 600,000 people who are already living in poverty while our economy was said to be ‘in good shape!’
For many who have not experienced the inadequacies of our income support system before, the shock of trying to ‘make ends meet’ could be potentially catastrophic. It has been good to see the Government responding with significant measures for business and employees with a large financial package of support. The Government has also raised the benefit a little ($25)—which is good, but still inadequate—and has done away with the stand-down period that existed before a benefit could be received. Can you imagine people who have limited or no savings managing without income in the interim period! Yet this has been the alarming reality for people in New Zealand who have been made redundant in the past. In addition, the Government has also legislated for a 6-month rent freeze and a 3-month period in which no evictions can occur. These and more measures will be needed if we are to get through this crisis together.
At an individual level, landlords could consider temporarily reducing rents or giving rent holidays—especially if the house involved is mortgage free. People could give money to help provide food for what looks likely to be an influx of people needing food from food banks or delivery of food to those necessarily confined. In these and many other ways we can as individuals and communities be part of the solution.
What it will take is a generosity of spirit.
Tangata Whenua, Tangata Tiriti, Huia Tangata Kotahi—People of the Land, People of the Treaty, Bring Everyone Together.
Maybe with the right kind of response this crisis could be a transformative moment in our nation’s history.
A comforting promise for today from God in the Bible made to a dislocated people, millenniums ago, in a time of great fear, suffering and uncertainty:
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 – NIV).
Photo by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash