Submission in response to the 2012-22 Long Term Plan for Wellington City
We are writing in response to the draft Long Term Plan (LTP) for Wellington City on behalf of the Wellington branch of ‘Closing the Gap’, Income Equality Aotearoa New Zealand Inc.
We have replied in the form of a letter, rather than use the submission form, as we wish to make a general point about the substantive content of the plan, and felt that the form did not enable us to do this. In particular, although the draft LTP offers an economic and spatial plan for Wellington, its focus appears to be almost exclusively on ‘place’, rather than on the people of Wellington. Whilst we recognise the importance of spatial planning and improving our physical environment, we were surprised by the omission of any substantive priorities or actions to address the issue of inequality, and the problems that it causes, within our community.
The LTP sets out a vision for “smart capital” based on three themes, one of which is being a “people-centred” city. The plan lists three priorities that include making Wellington “an inclusive place” and a “resilient city”. We support goals aimed at putting people at the centre of the Council’s work, and believe that an inclusive community will also be a resilient one. Reducing inequality in our city and region is an important step towards making this city a place where “talent wants to live”.
Wellington is one of the most affluent cities in New Zealand, and many of us are fortunate to enjoy a high quality of life; but significant inequality persists and tackling the underlying causes and symptoms of inequality should form part of the LTP. Other councils are working to address these issues. For example, the Draft Auckland Plan makes ‘People’ the focus of its first chapter and sets a series of priorities around children, education and health, and strengthening communities; whilst Wellington Regional Council has developed a Genuine Progress Indicator which recognises equity as a key element of genuine progress. Surely, our city can show it values its people just as highly.
Inequality is a serious issue in New Zealand generally, and in Wellington in particular. A report released by the OECD late last year showed that income inequality has grown rapidly over the past 25 years, transforming New Zealand from one of the most equal to one of the most unequal countries in the OECD. The income of the top 20% in New Zealand has increased massively, whilst the income of the bottom 20% has actually fallen.
Here in Wellington, income inequality has also grown steadily. Since 2001, inequality has consistently been greater in the Wellington Region than across New Zealand as a whole, and has continued to grow more rapidly than the national average.
The result is glaring disparities within our city. According to the last census:
- 20% of adults in Wellington City earn less than $10,000 per year, whilst 17% earn over $70,000
- Some areas, such as Greenacres and Khandallah Park, are amongst the least deprived in New Zealand, whilst others such as Kilbirnie East and Newtown East are amongst the 20% most deprived
- In some areas, such as Oriental Bay and Wadestown, residents have personal incomes on average of well over $40,000; whilst in Mt Cook/Wallace Street and Aro-Street/Nairn Street median personal income is nearer $18,000
This is obviously bad news for those at the bottom end of the income distribution, who are unable to afford the benefits of our affluent society in Wellington and suffer worse outcomes across a whole range of indicators.
Perhaps more surprisingly, there is significant evidence that high levels of inequality are bad for all of us. The work of British academics Prof. Richard Wilkinson and Prof. Kate Pickett has shown that higher levels of income inequality are associated with poorer health and social outcomes not just for the poor but for the whole of society. Their data suggests New Zealand fits with this pattern, and that our high levels of imprisonment, infant mortality, and infectious diseases could all be improved by tackling inequality.
Further information about inequality and its impacts in New Zealand can be found at the website of Income Equality Aotearoa New Zealand Inc.: www.closingthegap.org.nz, and the Whakatata Mai : Closer Together campaign initiated by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services www.closertogether.org.nz.
In short, a more equal society would be better for all of us. As such, this is an issue that should be a priority for the City Council, in order for Wellington to be a great place for all people to call home.
With this in mind, we raise some specific issues that we would like to see the Council make a priority and some suggested, practical actions that the council could include within the LTP:
The Council has acknowledged that access to affordable housing is a growing problem in Wellington. Housing costs form a significant proportion of families’ outgoings, so addressing the issue of affordable housing would go a long way to addressing ‘after costs’ inequality.
Whilst Affordable Housing is represented in the draft Long Term Plan as an issue that the Council is already working on, we feel strongly that the lack of a clear timeline, concrete actions or additional resources will undermine the Council’s attempts to address this issue. There ought to be clear proposals to improve the existing housing stock, ensuring all council owned housing meets minimum living standards and introducing by-laws to ensure privately rented accommodation meets a similar standard through a ‘housing warrant of fitness’.
The current housing upgrade programme is a 20 year project that is already delivering improved housing to some tenants, but is resulting in an overall reduction in affordable housing for low income people in the city. The Council’s own projections are for continuing growth in need for affordable housing. There is clearly a need to invest in additional affordable housing, including expanding the stock of subsidised rent council housing.
The Ministry of Health’s Public Health Advisory Committee recognises that income is the single most important modifiable determinant of health, with men on low incomes having twice the risk of premature death as those on high incomes and children from poor families having higher rates of illness, injury and death than others. Ensuring affordable access to warm, well-maintained housing, as set out above, would go a long way to addressing housing related illnesses such as meningococcal infection, rheumatic fever and other respiratory diseases.
The Council can further contribute to health and wellbeing by ensuring that community activity and fitness centres such as swimming pools remain open and affordable for those on low incomes to use. We also recommend making swimming lessons for children under 7 years free for low income families (e.g. community services card holders).
Wellington has a number of low decile (Decile 1 & 2) schools and we recommend that the Council initiate a programme to liaise with those schools and their communities to identify whether children are coming to school hungry and support offering free breakfasts and lunches in those schools if needed.
Adult education is also an issue and we recommend that the WCC investigate offering free adult literacy programmes through City Libraries or other appropriate agencies. Such programmes would among other positive benefits, improve employment chances for those taking part and their chances of increasing their incomes.
The overarching issue here is income inequality, and action to address income inequality in Wellington would have the greatest impact on these other issues. Wellington City Council has an opportunity to lead by example on this issue.
Under the priority of Balancing the Budget the Council could curb excessive pay by setting a maximum ratio between the top and median salaries paid to council employees. As part of this, the Council should ensure salaries at the bottom are sufficient to meet the basic requirements of a civilised life in our city by setting a ‘Living Wage’ as the minimum to be paid to all Council employees, and the employees of the Council’s contractors.
Having taken a lead in this way, the Council should ensure that the creation of secure, well paid jobs is at the heart of the economic agenda for the city by encouraging and promoting business investment that creates employment which pays a living wage.
We raise these issues, and suggestions, in the hope that the Council will reconsider the content of the LTP to better reflect the need to publicly acknowledge and lead the agenda to tackle inequality in Wellington. If the Council were to take these actions, and begin to seriously address the issue of inequality within our city, then we could be more confident of achieving the priority set out in the draft Long Term Plan, of Making Wellington as an inclusive place where talent wants to live.
We would be happy to answer any questions you may have, and would appreciate the opportunity to present this submission in person during the hearings next week. If you require any further information please don’t hesitate to contact us on [email protected].