When the Treasury persuaded Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson to back their respective neo-liberal ‘briefings to incoming government’ reports, they included the ideas that education and health should be run like businesses.
Since 1984 NZ education has deteriorated. Each neo-liberal idea has been introduced to reinforce the idea that schools should be run like businesses. Teachers are forced to complete ever increasing administrative roles while trying to meet predetermined performance targets.
Continuous Government cuts in resources, in real terms, have meant that schools have increasingly relied on “voluntary donations”, reaching a quarter of million dollars in 2012. So much so that some schools have resorted to using dubious methods to extricate the money from families: collection agencies; naming those who fail to donate; naming those who do donate; or preventing non-contributors’ children from participating in school events.
Inequality in education
Zoning has contributed to a gradual segregation of children according to the income of their parents, so that the integration found in former times rarely exists now. Recent estimates suggest that higher decile schools receive thousands of dollars more per student per year in income.
In some many lower decile schools’ teachers also have to contend with other effects of our unequal society with children coming to school poorly fed or poorly equipped.
This is ensuring that the inequalities in our society are reinforced with each generation, and that the most important resource our country has, our children, are underutilised.
Effects on education
Over the years our education standards have declined in comparison with earlier years and with other countries. The current Government has been happy to provide finance for new charter schools, a privatisation of education, whilst refusing to provide the resources that state schools desperately need.
Like education, health has been run on a business model with regional District Health Boards (DHB’s) competing for resources. Under-resourced and forced to meet ever impossible targets for queues, hospitals have taken to requiring certain levels of pain before people can even join queues!
The fact that by the time patients get to be seen their conditions require greater resources to fix makes a mockery of the idea of fiscal responsibility.
Inequality in health
With a public / private model we are presented with the idea that the “user pays” and “user choice”. The reality is that many people can no longer afford even the basic levels of health. Even though children are entitled to free health care until the age of six, many parents can no longer afford the cost of the medicines for their children or themselves.
Queue jumping is achieved through private health insurance, which has reasonable premiums when people least need to use them but then rise to levels that can no longer be afforded by most when the policy holders would most likely have need of them.
The result is a select few who can afford to have anything fixed anytime, and increasing numbers of others who must wait until they become too debilitated to work before they can be accepted in a queue to be treated!
The policies needed from left-wing parties to show that have rejected neo-liberalism
Left-wing parties need to assert that health and education are social services and not businesses. That they must be judged on outcome and not how much can be saved.
Education needs to be returned to the structures that pre-date “Tomorrow’s schools”. All schools need to receive sufficient funds to enable them to produce well educated children, irrespective of their decile levels. Teachers need to teach, rather than perform administrative roles.
School inspectors, or the like, need to ascertain whether or not schools are meeting standards, not over-regular tests.
Health needs to centralised. The current setup requires huge sums to be spent on duplicated administration. There are 20 DHBs in New Zealand and each DHB is governed by a board of up to 11 members. Yet our total population is probably less than the number of people served by two or three London (GB) National Health Trusts combined.
Governments need to recognise that early intervention saves money and that queues need to be reduced by adequate funding not by arbitrary hurdles placed between patients and clinics. The savings in the current cost of administration should be used to provide more health care, so that private health is not needed.