As we move down the alert levels, many are looking forward to life returning to ‘normal’. However, there are a number of areas where we mustn’t let that happen. As a nation we face many problems right now, but COVID-19 hasn’t caused all of them. It has merely uncovered them.
If anything, COVID-19 has been much worse that it could have been if we had a resilient economy and society. We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to reset several key areas of our society so we are prepared for the next crisis.
Health: Treatment over Prevention
Countries around the world have responded to COVID 19 in a variety of ways. The jury is still out on whether lockdown was the right call or the more relaxed approach of countries like Australia are a better idea.
What we do know for sure is that the countries which responded best - the likes of Taiwan and Singapore - were prepared. They both experienced the SARS outbreak in 2003 and were ready for another pandemic. They have experts in government thinking about this stuff. New Zealand’s public health capacity has dwindled since the Public Health Commission was closed in 1995.
This is a symptom of a wider problem - a health system focussed on treatment rather than prevention. We know prevention is far more cost effective, but we don’t fund it. We put all our money into the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
Public health experts consider more pandemics like COVID 19 inevitable, and future ones could be a lot worse. New Zealand didn’t act after the water poisoning incident in Hawkes Bay. This time we need to learn our lesson and invest in public health. TOP would reestablish the Public Health Commission to ensure we are prepared for future events.
High House Prices and Rents
For a long time we have relied on the warm glow of rising house prices to make us all feel wealthier. Having the highest house prices and rents in the Western World was seen as a sign of success. As a nation we have resisted anything that might reduce them or even contain their relentless growth.
Now we face a time where many of us will be struggling to pay our mortgages and rents. Even if we can delay the payments, they will be sitting there waiting for us when this is all over. As unemployment rises, many people won’t be able to make those payments. In the worst case scenario our high levels of household debt could threaten the stability of our banking system.
Can we all agree that having the least affordable housing in the world isn’t such a great idea now? Instead of a sign of success, it is a millstone around our necks. Action is needed both on the demand side to reduce speculation and on the supply side to increase the availability of affordable, high quality and sustainable housing.
Our Broken Welfare System
Our welfare system is complex, bureaucratic and punitive. It is a painful and humiliating experience for anyone that comes in contact with it. For example, people are deemed to be in a relationship (and therefore expected to support each other) after 6 weeks. This hasn’t been a big political issue because it only affects a small number of people.
As unemployment rises, many more Kiwis will be forced to interact with the Ministry of Social Development. They will get a taste of how the welfare system works first hand. We can expect greater calls for reform. As we come out of the crisis people will experience how beneficiaries pay the highest tax rates of anyone in the country.
TOP backs a Universal Basic Income of $250 per week for all to value unpaid work and ensure everyone has the incentive to work hard and better themselves.
Facebook and Google Eating Our Media
For years Facebook and Google have been eating away at the media’s advertising revenue, trimming the ability for journalists to do their job. Some organisations are responding with paywalls and donations, but this will be unlikely to provide enough money to stem the loss.
If we want public interest journalism, we are going to have to pay for it. However, the money has to come from somewhere. How about asking Facebook and Google to pay as the UK and Australia are doing?
Record Immigration Levels
Well managed immigration can be hugely positive for our economy and society. However, successive governments have used large scale immigration as a steroid to keep the economy pumped.
The harsh fact is that we let in migrants faster than we built the housing and infrastructure to cope. Many of these migrants were low skilled and have been competing on the job market with the most vulnerable members of our society.
I don’t blame migrants for this - I blame politicians on both sides of the house who have perpetuated it. Sadly it will be the migrants that cop the blame from an angry public as unemployment rises.
Our immigration policy needs a reset to focus on bringing in lower numbers of more highly skilled migrants.