“Inequality is the biggest problem facing New Zealand at the present time” says Peter Malcolm National Secretary of Closing the Gap. It underlies many of our social ills, poverty, lack of trust, an economy that could do much better, and a poor uptake of the responsibilities required for a fully democratic society. “ If we do not have sufficient affordable healthy homes for all those in New Zealand who need them, then we can’t really make a start on reducing inequality” he went on to say.
Who stands to lose or gain the most on September 20? The wealthy 10% who might benefit from tax cuts or suffer tax hikes? Or the poor 25%, whose daily lives and most basic health needs will be impacted directly by what happens at the ballot box?
For one in four of us, poor health and poor housing are the miserable norm. But while we know that poor housing contributes directly to poor health, what we don’t talk so much about is that shamefully poor housing is still shamefully expensive to rent.
We don’t talk about the fact that landlords throughout New Zealand are earning decent incomes off tenants whose health is degraded directly by their housing.
There is no starker depiction of the relationship between the (moderately) rich and the (relatively) poor in modern-day New Zealand.
Major health issues, from respiratory disease to mental illness to obesity, are all affected by the size of the income gap between rich and poor. As The Spirit Level laid bare, inequality invokes deep psychological responses in us – feelings of superiority and inferiority – and affects the way we see and treat each other.
So whether we are wealthy or poor, for the sake of our spiritual, physical and mental health, we must urgently push for health and housing policies that break the poverty cycle and reduce inequality in the long-run. We should immediately introduce a Warrant of Fitness for all rental homes. We must ensure there are affordable houses to rent or buy. We must secure improved access to primary healthcare. And we must garner a commitment from all political parties to reduce health inequalities.
We must make sure that New Zealand after September 20 is warmer, drier, healthier and happier than it is today.