One of the unforeseen knock on impacts of mass lay offs, benefit restrictions and high youth unemployment brought on by the privatisation agenda of the late 80s and early 90s was a tripling of New Zealand suicide rates in the 1990s.
It’s a win, albeit a small one for Sir Peter Gluckman, someone who has constantly called for Key to take the plight of New Zealand youth seriously.
As someone who has called for youth workers in high schools for a decade it is pleasing to see a select few of the poorest schools will now get this support, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the needs.
All the initiatives like additional school nurses, anti-bullying programmes, parenting information services and a little top up for the few youth one stop shops that have survived sound great but barely scratch the surface in terms of the challenges facing at-risk young people.
Of course the government cannot fund everything, especially now they are borrowing so heavily to cover the tax cuts no one really needed.
Taxes have been described as ‘the national expression of corporal love’ – and it is fascinating to look at what has happened over the past twenty five years since top tax rates started reducing. Income inequality in New Zealand increased faster than in any other OECD country. Most of the increase was due to larger rises in overall incomes for the top 20% of income earners. Incomes for the bottom 20% actually decreased over the two decades from the mid-1980s.
British academics Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett use ten key indicators mapped against income inequality measures to compile an Index of Health and Social Problems. New Zealand features as or amongst the worst on most of the indicators.
The damage being done to the next generation living in deepening poverty will exact a terrible price on our communities. It is good to see some acknowledgement of the need to invest in the health and wellbeing of young people, but this token gesture is far from what is really needed.