New Zealand prides itself on being a nation of problem solvers.
Of number 8 wire innovators.
When our little island nation puts its mind to it, it can achieve incredible things. From conquering the highest mountains like Everest, to socio-political mountains like Women's suffrage - Kiwis never seem to shy away from a good challenge. Our world champion sporting teams and world-renowned businesses have always punched above their weight on the global stage, and we’re proud of that. At the bottom of the south pacific, tucked out of the way, we’ve built up a can-do attitude.
However, scratch the surface of our country and you’ll find that that success is not being shared among our most vulnerable population, children. A large proportion of with our smallest voices are being left behind. When housing costs are included, more than 250,000 kiwi kids live in households with less than half the median disposable income (less than $24,500 /year). Almost a quarter of our future problem solvers and leaders, are spending their “DIY DNA” on trying to afford food, healthcare and shelter. Adding insult to injury, significant disease of poverty, like Rheumatic Fever (eradicated in most developed countries) continue to cause lifelong disability and premature death at increasing rates of Maori and Pacific children.
Recently, some ambitious claims have been made about turning these embarrassing statistics around, and of course, we all agree in sentiment. Unfortunately here I’m reminded of the adage, if you ask someone what they value, they will tell you, but if you want to know what they truly value - take a look at their bank account. In other words, it’s the actions we take which define our priorities, and with a self-imposed stifling spending limit, a persisting dehumanising welfare system and substandard unaffordable housing - this pattern is set to continue. Indexing benefits isn't enough when you still can't afford healthy food and rent is outpacing wages.
A version of “Maslow's hierarchy of needs” is, while not perfect, an interesting psychological theory to keep in mind here. It offers a look at how basic needs are a foundation and need to be met before self-fulfillment can be achieved. Essentially, if you don't have a decent safe shelter, secure food and water, it’s very difficult to look after others, yourself or aspire to your own potential. The number 8 wire approach is just focused on survival.
Our big ideas need to be backed up with execution - think Rocket lab. There is a vast difference between saying you’ll put something in space and actually doing it (about 100km worth of difference). It takes an unrelenting collective commitment to the goal, one that looks at what works rather than the same political punditry. The status quo of inequality is unacceptable. Both the current and historic tinkering at the edges is getting us nowhere.
A pretty big job.
To start, an evidence-based approach to reforming our tax system will make housing more affordable, and unlock investment into productive assets (like businesses) and in-turn create jobs. By rebuilding the tenancy act, kiwi kids would grow up in a secure healthy home that helps them thrive. A dignified basic income could do away with a punishingly inefficient welfare system that traps people in a cycle of poverty. Think of it, Aoteraora could be a place where we allow all kiwis to live with a decent foundation. We could afford some of our unsung, unpaid, childcare heros, to continue to look after our next generation.
So let’s get serious about all Kiwi kids having a fair shake at this world and use some of that world-beating ambition to focus on what matters most. Let’s think different and commit to real change. If we can split the atom and touch space with our rockets, we can turn New Zealand into that “slice of heaven” we all like to sing about.