From the Seven Days for Socialism! International Supplement (August 1967)
People have some odd ideas about New Zealand. For some it is ‘God’s Own Country’. Others regard it as ‘the workers’ paradise of the Pacific.
A few years ago Mr. H. H. Innes, a Hamilton Councillor and Chairman of Innes Industries Ltd., described New Zealand as an ‘affluent desert’ whatever that may be. He deplored the fact that:
‘New Zealanders bet an average of £20 each on racing and trotting horses; bought 28s. worth of Golden Kiwi Tickets, and donated an all-time record of 2s. 8d. each on Corso, the main expression of giving to the less privileged people of the world’.
We surmise that from Mr. Innes’ position it may be difficult for him to visualise that in New Zealand there are also a considerable number of ‘less privileged’.
The daily press abounds with evidence of wide-spread poverty in New Zealand. In giving a few instances we hope to convince the like of Mr. Innes that the condition of a large section of the working class in New Zealand is anything but affluent. The findings of a survey of aged beneficiaries in Auckland by ‘The Crusade for Social Justice’ organisation, in conjunction with the Auckland Combined Housewives’ Association, were published in 1962. Of the listed 29,000 aged couples, after paying rent, many “were in fact reduced to the barest necessities. They stated that these necessities did not permit of a nuritious diet”.
In Wellington, welfare workers told a similar story. Letters of indignation to the local press, protesting at niggardly increases in the age benefit; an appeal to abolish the blight of poverty among age-pensioners, testifies to the poverty-stricken condition of this discarded section of the wealth producing class. Poverty however, is not confined to the age-pensioner in New Zealand.
In 1965 the Conference of the Federation of New Zealand Housewives’ Associations held at Whangarei, dealt with an inquiry into “the causes of, and remedies and penalties for ill-treatment of children”.
One delegate, Mrs. A. W. Gragies of Hastings, said:
‘A welfare officer in her district once told her there was more poverty in New Zealand than in London because some families had too many financial responsibilities. They could not cope with modern living and took their frustration out on their children. Another delegate stated that married women were now forced to work to help family income in many cases'.
This, no doubt, is a reflection of the hire purchase system most workers are forced to resort to in order to maintain a home. So, incidentally, their wage packet is mortgaged for months, even years ahead.
Let us take another aspect of working class poverty : the housing problem.
Consider for instance, the report in 1965 of the Petone Borough Council health inspector who described Petone’s sub-standard housing as a “colossal problem”.
“Owners of these houses care little about the comforts of the occupants but are prepared to take up to £20 weekly in rents.” Asked what was the greatest number of persons he had found sharing a room he replied, “Ten”.
These conditions are not confined to Petone. Cases of rack-renting and deplorable slum conditions are revealed by investigators and welfare officers in other parts of the country.
For instance, Mr. Kirk, Leader of the Labour Opposition in Parliament attacked slum housing and offered to show the Minister of Health, Mr. McKay, how some people in Wellington lived.
In October 1966 the Press carried pictures of Mr. Kirk inspecting the hovels some pensioners live in. His remarks in reply to an interjection are recorded:
“There are people living in Wellington and in the Member for Wellington Central’s own electorate, in conditions that no human being should have to endure”. (Evening Post, 6 October 1966).
Unkind critics of Mr. Kirk and of course government members, accused him of electioneering for the November General Elections. It is true that these slums have existed for a long time. They were there when the Labour Party was in office. It seems ironic that nearly 30 years after the Social Security Act came into operation in April 1939, poverty is still rife in New Zealand.
What a mockery of the words uttered by the Rt. Hon. M. J. Savage, the first Labour Prime Minister in New Zealand to age-pensioners: “In the eventide of your lives, I will not let you down.”
However, words uttered by well-meaning old gentlemen of pelf, and place-seeking politicians make no difference. Poverty remains an essential feature of capitalism.
The reorganisation of working class poverty, and its gathering under one roof as it were, into a State department has made no essential difference to the workers’ position in New Zealand.
Socialist Party of New Zealand