New Zealand is an incredible place to live and raise our family, but the income and wealth inequalities we have here make me queasy and uncomfortable.
Over the past two decades, New Zealand has had the greatest inequality of wealth in the developed world. This inequality has been steadily increasing over this time – someone in the wealthiest 10% used to earn five times as much as someone in the poorest 10% – now they earn eight times as much.
Inequality matters because the people at the lower end often struggle to have reasonable quality of life. The quality of life of every person in our society matters, if we all want to feel safe and happy. Inequality erodes trust and appreciation of others, and destroys our connections with others – which is a fundamental human desire.
It matters because it is unfair – that people working equally and incredibly hard can be rewarded so differently. The CEO racking up 70 hour weeks in a high stress job taking home hundreds of thousands, or millions. The cleaner and fast-food chain worker on minimum wage, equally stressed through holding down two jobs, caring for their family, and watching their children go to school without managing to scrape together some breakfast for them.
Inequality threatens democracy, risks the potential of some of our most talented children, and is perpetuated through generations.
Most of my friends and family are beautiful, kind and caring. We are mostly middle class, balancing work which we enjoy with enough income to eat well, stay warm and healthy, and recreate freely. We think we are fair to and considerate of those of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and those wealthier, and less wealthy than ourselves.
But have we recognised the privilege and advantages we have, just by being who we are and being brought up with the influences we have?
A young person from a wealthy family may work hard and succeed. They may or may not have been given more tangible benefits than someone from a poorer background – university paid, rent free living, car insurance and registration covered, flights home. Perhaps they were fed well each day; perhaps they were given an interest free loan for their first business enterprise – or perhaps they weren’t. Whether or not they received any of these tangible benefits, they have still been moving through the world in a position of privilege. People look to whom they are surrounded by, and this forms their goals and aspirations. The people around someone teaches them what is possible, and what is not. It reinforces their sense of what they deserve and where they are headed in life.
Part of resolving inequality is recognising it, and caring. I could sit in my comfortable house and think of my fulfilling job, healthy well and fed babies, and the ways I recreate, and believe I got here under my own hard work. I could believe that any other New Zealander should do the same (if they just stopped the alcohol and credit cards and junk food, I mean how stupid). I could think like this, and miss the frightening and uncomfortable fact that I have benefitted from New Zealand’s ugly inequality, just through being privileged and subtly influenced by the people and communities who have surrounded me.
I have been thinking about what inequality is and why it matters, however I don’t have the answers. Here are someone else’s ideas. I would love to see all our children receive equal opportunities to flourish – however this is impossible in today’s New Zealand. It is election year and I think this is a massive issue: so get thinking, get uncomfortable, and feel challenged.
#Facts collected largely from closer together.org.nz and inequality.org.nz