A Policy A Day: Addressing Homelessness

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is by Lamia Imam

There is a lot of disagreement around how bad the homelessness situation is in New Zealand. While the experts and the politicians are busy fighting about the definition of homelessness, we can’t ignore that there are a lot of people who are living it rough in Aotearoa. Last year there was a cross-party inquiry into homelessness (by the Labour, Green, and Māori Parties) which suggested that the level of homelessness was higher than at any other time in history. They also suggested that the cause can be traced back to the last 30 years. So we can safely assume that we aren’t going to solve this problem overnight and the solutions will have to be multi-faceted. It is not enough to just focus on the affordable housing aspect but wages, welfare, rental standards, and healthcare all have to be addressed together, which makes the problem more difficult than just building houses.

Earlier this year, a Yale University study put New Zealand at the very top of the list of OECD countries with homelessness as a percent of the total population on a per capita basis. We also know that the government has been putting people in motels and putting them in debt as the motel costs are transferred to the homeless. The government is spending as much as $100,000 per day to provide emergency housing, which is well above what was budgeted. Emergency housing grants have been steadily increasing over the last few years, which shows that the problem isn’t getting much better.

New Zealand is a small country. In the broader scheme of things, our homelessness problem could be addressed if there was political will. The National Party in government has effectively made an ideological decision to do as little as possible to house the most vulnerable people in our communities. Over the last 9 years, the government has made a number of decisions in the provision of social services which has seen a slow erosion of the safety net. From welfare reform to the selling down of state housing, inadequate social policies have harmed those on the lowest incomes and/or no incomes. Effectively, our current government is now in the business of subsidizing the motel industry, which is unacceptable. There is no benefit to this approach other than boosting our tourism numbers because Statistics NZ is using the motel occupancy by homeless people in their domestic tourism numbers.

The easiest way to fix temporary homelessness is to provide access to low-cost shelters and homes, and provide folks with a long term solution. Labour’s Kiwibuild program is designed to make low-cost housing available, combined with making Housing New Zealand a public services organization rather than a state owned enterprise which will make more housing available. The Greens also have a similar policy to build more houses and making homes available for those with the most need immediately. They also want to remove the dividend requirement for Housing New Zealand temporarily. When I checked last, the National Party did not have a homelessness policy on their website although, they are evidently attempting to address the issue through the last couple of debates. New Zealand First does not have a specific homelessness policy, but they do have a housing policy in principle which would restrict home ownership to New Zealanders. The Māori Party wants to set targets to eliminate homelessness by 2020 by building houses, and the assumption is that they would adopt the recommendations from last year’s inquiry as well. ACT does not seem to have a homelessness policy and TOP would like to outsource it to NGOs.

The steps to addressing and preventing homelessness must include the following:

  • Living wage
  • Access to mental health services
  • Rental standards and security of tenure
  • Low-cost government housing
  • Increase in state housing numbers
  • Emergency housing plan
  • Greater regulations of investment housing (including but not limited to capital gains tax)

Currently, the housing market is designed to enable exploitation of low income and vulnerable people because there is very little oversight of the rental market. There has been a lot of focus on foreign investment, but aninadequate understanding of how Kiwi homeowners also use the same conditions to their advantage. The motel policy is not sustainable and puts homeless people at a greater risk of being homeless for longer due to the level of debt incurred.

Right now, about 1% of the population is considered to be housing deprived, which does not necessarily mean homeless but generally means that they are not in good living conditions. This translates to about 45,000 people. The government claims that the actual figure is a lot lower – somewhere around 4,500. The definition of what constitutes homelessness is technically irrelevant because even those who do have access to a home are paying a significant amount of their income towards housing costs. This means that many people are one paycheck or one illness away from being facing homelessness. Without adequate measures in place, the government risks creating long term homelessness that will have an effect on other areas of social development such as health, criminal justice, and education, particularly affecting children in homeless families.

Based on the policies put forward by the various political parties, a Labour-Greens- Māori mash-up could be the best way to address homelessness. However, it is equally important that any new government does not get bogged down by setting targets and creating more inquiries/studies. For the most vulnerable and at risk folks, there needs to be an immediate commitment to creating access to housing (non-motel) which can be used to get people off the streets and cars. There also needs to be an immediate halt to the selling of state housing at a time when housing is unaffordable and an increasing number of people do not have any homes at all. There cannot be a policy justification for selling state housing while putting people up in motels and charging them for it – which translates to a much higher cost than the average rental.

Housing is a necessity and is key to eradicating poverty. As New Zealanders, we should be ashamed that our country would be at the top of a list given the history of our welfare state. There are some easy and quick ways to fix this issue but for an ideological aversion to it. Surely that is an untenable position for any government.

Lamia Imam is a communications professional currently working in Austin, Texas. She previously worked as a policy analyst in the New Zealand Parliament and the Ministry of Justice in Wellington. She was one of the contributing authors of The Interregnum, a book of essays by young writers commenting on the current state of political uncertainty.

A Policy A Day: [REDACTED]

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s satire post is by Liv McKenzie

This has been the most interesting six months in New Zealand politics potentially ever. However, more insane stuff happens daily in the Trump administration. This has inspired all political parties in NZ to go with a “[REDACTED] It” Policy because no matter what happens in NZ politics in the lead up to this election, it can’t be more bat[REDACTED] than a 3am Trump tweet, so who gives a [REDACTED] at this point right?

TVNZ has bestowed the honour of moderating their debates on Mike Hosking, a man whose head could not be further up National’s ass if he was wearing Bill English as a beanie. But of course, they picked someone who will sing National’s praises until the cows come home, as TVNZ is a NATIONAL-LED GOVERNMENT OWNED MEDIA CORPORATION. That level of media bias has never been seen before, apart from when Trump appointed an alt-right media darling/Indiana Jones villain as his right hand man, and when he screamed “FAKE NEWS” at any media outlet who dared publish negative pieces on him. Also, all the times he only retweeted positive news stories about himself to his millions of followers. Or that one time when Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whose dedication to Trump makes Mike Hosking look like a Green voter, said that Trump staring into the sun during the eclipse (BECAUSE HE’S A [REDACTED] CHILD WITH NO IMPULSE CONTROL) was “perhaps the most impressive thing any president has ever done”.

Metiria Turei admitted to committing welfare and voter fraud by registering to vote at the wrong address, which isn’t greaaaaaaaat/mildly illegal and had to step down as leader of the Green Party. Not to be outdone, Trump made so many baseless claims of voter fraud that one of his supporters is now in prison after voting for him twice because she was scared that it was what the left/illegal immigrants/brown people were doing and felt the need to counter that effect.

Gareth Morgan has come the closest in crazy to Trump, because he wants to ban cats, I think? That’s like TOP’s whole platform, right? I don’t know why he hates cats so much, is he allergic? Did cats kill his best friend in front of him as a child? Like Macaulay Culkin and bees in My Girl. I wonder what he’s up to now? I think about that every day. Ugh I forgot Trump was in Home Alone 2, and now I can’t watch that movie anymore, he ruINS EVERYTHING.

Winston Peters has had a mild scandal after it was leaked that he had been overpaid his superannuation (because he “forgot” to say he had a de facto partner, because who hasn’t forgotten another human being’s existence in their life), which he doesn’t need to be taking anyway on top of a $195,000 yearly salary funded entirely by taxpayers’ money. But like any good [REDACTED], Winston has managed to turn his morally dubious behaviour back onto someone else, blaming the National party for leaking the story. You know who leaked the story to National? Hillary’s emails.

Andrew Little just straight up peaced out from the Labour Party leadership and Jacinda Ardern took over, which led to Labour beating National in the polls for the first time in 12 years. Having your leader quit less than two months out from the election should really put a dent in your polling numbers, but Trump advocated for grabbing pussies left, right, and [REDACTED] centre, and STILL WON! HE WON! THAT’S COOL, THANKS MY FELLOW WHITE PEOPLE VOTING FOR HIS RACIST, SEXIST, XENOPHOBIC [REDACTED] JUST COZ YOU WEREN’T AFFECTED BY HIS BULL[REDACTED], YOU [REDACTED] TURDS GOOD FOR YOU.

So, I guess anything is possible. Who needs actual policies when all you have to do is not be Trump?

In summary, please get educated on which party’s policies align best with your values and VOTE! The people who didn’t vote in America because they couldn’t be bothered or couldn’t make a decision are just as responsible as his supporters for the [REDACTED]show that is the Trump administration. Please vote for the [REDACTED] party who you think is [REDACTED] best for the whole [REDACTED] country, and [REDACTED] encourage your friends and family to do the [REDACTED] same.

I need a nap.

Liv McKenzie is a Christchurch comedian who used to live in New York, but don’t worry, she brings it up every 10 seconds so you won’t forget.
BEST NEWCOMER – 2016 Christchurch Comedy Awards
BEST FEMALE PERFORMER – 2017 GoMedia Comedy Carnival Awards
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/livmckenziecomedian

A Policy A Day: Informed Consent in Healthcare

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is written by Mark Hanna

New Zealand has an issue with informed consent in healthcare. Most of the time, if you’re visiting your GP or in a hospital, you probably won’t run into it, but there are some areas where there are real problems.

One area that often goes under the radar, but which I deal with a lot as the chair of the Society for Science Based Healthcare, is quackery. Misleading promotion of pills, potions, and panaceas is everywhere, and this misleading promotion undermines your right to make an informed decision about your healthcare. At the more sinister end, we see parents misled about the false “dangers” of vaccines, leading to real harm, such as 2017’s mumps outbreak in Auckland.

There is some incoming legislation to address this to some extent. The Natural Health Products Bill (previously the “Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill”) will address the areas of the industry where many of the wildest health claims are typically seen. It has some issues, such as explicitly excluding homeopathic products, but also some really good provisions like requiring a “summary of evidence” be made available online for all natural health products sold in New Zealand.

To some degree, I’m sure these sorts of misleading health claims might be expected at health food stores and the like, but it is also commonplace in many New Zealand pharmacies. There are GPs and vets in New Zealand who promote quackery like homeopathy. We also have an industry-wide issue of misleading online advertising by chiropractors who, like medical doctors and pharmacists, are regulated under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act. That’s not even to get started on the tens of millions of dollars ACC spends each year paying for acupuncture treatments that its own reviews did not find to be effective, delivered by practitioners likely to mislead their patients by talking about how they can treat diseases by manipulating non-existent “chi” energy.

As well as the quackery issue, some medical procedures are not currently based on an informed consent model. That’s not to say they don’t require informed consent – it’s a pillar of modern medical ethics – but in addition to requiring informed consent some procedures have other barriers in place that make accessing them more difficult, and often stigmatise people seeking them.

There can be reasons to gate some medical procedures in this way in order to prevent harm. For example, in David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill, proposed access to euthanasia is gated through several steps requiring opinions of multiple medical professionals in order to safeguard against potential harm.

But in other cases, gating a medical procedure in this way can cause more harm than it prevents. This is especially pertinent when they are specific to groups of people who already face marginalisation and have their bodily autonomy threatened in other ways.

Abortion, currently included in the Crimes Act, is an example of this. Right now, pregnant people [1] can be required to say (and in many cases, lie) that carrying their pregnancy to term would be a serious danger to their mental health, instead of the procedure being based on an informed consent model.

Similar issues with gatekeeping face transgender people who are trying to start hormone treatment or access other healthcare (such as chest reconstruction surgery) – they have to be assessed by a mental health practitioner (or sometimes more than one) before they can receive any treatment. Though different people’s experiences will vary, in some cases at least I’ve seen reports of how this can be demeaning, such as mental health professionals misgendering trans patients in their notes.

So, where do our political parties stand on these issues of informed consent in healthcare? Here’s what I’ve been able to find:


David Seymour (the only ACT MP at the time) voted against the Natural Health Products Bill’s second reading.

The ACT Party supports abortion law reform, with leader David Seymour saying “the right thing to do is reform abortion law to reflect what actually happens: women exercise choice for their own reasons”.

If the ACT Party has had anything to say about trans New Zealanders’ access to currently gated healthcare, I haven’t been able to find it. Admittedly, ever since ACT Party candidate Stephen Barry said hate speech against trans people, while disgusting, should be permitted as free speech it’s been very hard to find anything else they might have said in that area.


The Green Party has been involved in the development of the Natural Health Products Bill and has supported its passage so far.

However, the Green Party has had a problematic history with quackery. Previous Green health spokesperson Sue Kedgley (whose successful bid for a seat on the Wellington City Council was backed by the party earlier this year) gave anti-vaccination speeches and tried to get quackery like homeopathy integrated into the medical system. Outgoing Green MP Steffan Browning, who held the party’s now defunct “natural health” portfolio at the time, signed a petition in 2014 supporting the use of homeopathy to treat ebola.

Before the 2014 election, I wrote to Kevin Hague (who is no longer a Green MP or candidate but was then the Greens’ health spokesperson) to express my concerns about that aspect of their party, and I was reassured by his response.

The Green Party has called for years to decriminalise abortion. One of the reasons they gave for this in February was:

“The fact that 99% of abortions are approved on ‘mental health’ grounds reveals the dishonesty of the current legal situation.”

When I wrote to the Green Party in July to ask about their policy regarding trans New Zealanders’ access to healthcare, they responded to say that (emphasis mine):

“The Green Party agrees with the recommendations made by a coalition of groups to the panel of MPs on the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on May 17th this year, which include:

–       Require district health boards to ensure trans and gender diverse people’s access to gender affirming health services available in NZ, based on an informed consent model of healthcare

–       Provide sufficient funding to enable timely access to gender reassignment surgeries not provided through the NZ public health system

–       Support the development of training and resources on an informed consent model of healthcare for trans and gender diverse people, and provide information and resources for communities and individuals about accessing gender affirming services.”


The Labour Party has had little to say on the Natural Health Products Bill, but they have supported it.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has said she would take abortion out of the Crimes Act, saying “People need to be able to make their own decisions”.

Among other things, Labour’s rainbow policy says the party will (emphasis mine):

“improve access to affordable primary care based on the informed consent model, particularly for younger, trans, and intersex New Zealanders. This also includes training and resources for health professionals about sexual orientation and gender diversity“


A somewhat bizarre press release from “New Image Group” in June asserted that the Māori Party opposes the Natural Health Products Bill, though I haven’t found anything directly from the Māori Party about this. They voted yes at its second reading, and at its first reading in 2011 current party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said: “the public should be and can be confident that products are safe and are true to what has been stated on the label.”

The Māori Party supported a call in 2016 for parents or caregivers to be notified when someone under 16 had an abortion. As far as I can find, they don’t have a stance for or against abortion law reform in terms of removing it from the Crimes Act.

The Māori Party doesn’t have a specific LGBT policy, or anything addressing trans New Zealanders’ access to currently gated healthcare.


The National Party has been involved in the development of the Natural Health Products Bill and have supported its passage so far. Though National Party MPs were quick to mock the Green Party in response to Steffan Browning’s homeopathy incident in 2014, with them PM John Key calling him “barking mad”, they have their own dirty secret when it comes to endorsements of quackery. In an interview in 2016, National Party MP Maureen Pugh said “there’s nothing wrong with getting a cold or getting a flu” and revealed that she only ever gives her children chiropractic care. Many chiropractors make a lot of claims about various ways in which they can treat children, and these claims are typically false. It’s the antithesis of informed consent, and I personally hope the National Party will never let her be involved with anything related to health.

National Party leader Bill English is a staunch Catholic, and personally opposes decriminalising abortion. He has said that a National government would not “liberalise” abortion law because it’s a “law that’s stood the test of time”.

The National Party doesn’t have a specific LGBT policy, or anything addressing trans New Zealanders’ access to currently gated healthcare.

NZ First

NZ First has called for the Natural Health Products Bill to be scrapped, saying the regulation is “adequately provided for under other legislation”. For what it’s worth, I think that’s untrue and I wrote about why on The Spinoff in May.

NZ First’s health policy also says this:

“NZ First will… Consult with the natural health industry and other stakeholders to ensure there is an appropriate regulatory regime for complementary medicines.”

I’m not really clear on what their plan is here. They apparently think new regulation is unnecessary because we already have good legislation, but also would look into making sure there is an appropriate regulatory regime.

NZ First doesn’t seem to have a policy on abortion. When asked by Michelle Duff in July, NZ First MP Tracey Martin said she would be hesitant to remove abortion from the Crimes Act, though she considers herself pro-choice.

NZ First supported a petition in 2016 that called for parents or caregivers to be notified when someone under 16 had an abortion.

If NZ First has had anything to say on trans New Zealanders’ access to currently gated health services, I haven’t been able to find it.


I haven’t been able to find any position from the TOP Party on access to gated healthcare like abortion and transition treatments. They also haven’t had the opportunity to vote on the Natural Health Products Bill, and as far as I can tell they’ve never commented in that area.

United Future

The United Future Party has had little to say on the Natural Health Products Bill, but they have supported it.

Peter Dunne, who has been the United Future Party’s leader since 2002 but is stepping down with this election, has previously expressed support for abortion law reform. In a 2008 interview with Scoop’s Gordon Campbell, Dunne said:

“I think probably, you should be looking at the woman, her doctor and informed consent. I have a very strong view that – and I appreciate the moral issue involved here – but the moral issue is actually the individual’s morals. I don’t think it’s a matter of the state imposing a moral code.”

However, in 2014 United Future Party president Damian Light responded to questions from ALRANZ (Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand) to say:

“We don’t have a policy on [the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act], so it would be a conscience vote for United Future MPs.”

The United Future Party’s LGBT+ policy says the party will (emphasis mine):
“Ensure trans and gender diverse people’s access to gender affirming health services based on an informed consent model of healthcare. Where not available in New Zealand, provide sufficient funding to enable timely access.”


The Green, Labour, and United Future parties are the only ones that put a focus on changing to an informed consent model of healthcare for transgender New Zealanders. The Greens and Labour also have strong stances on removing abortion from the Crimes Act, whereas United Future’s stance on this is less certain. Likewise, these three parties have all shown support for the Natural Health Products Bill, with the Green Party having the closest involvement with it.

On the other hand, the National Party remains conservative on abortion, and doesn’t have any policy regarding access to gated healthcare for transgender New Zealanders. New Zealand First seems to be the only party that has gone so far as to actively oppose the Natural Health Products Bill, though ACT and possibly the Māori Party may not be too far behind them on that front.

Informed consent in healthcare is one of the things I’ll be considering when I vote this September, and I mean to continue doing my best to hold whatever government we end up with accountable on it after the election as well. I hope you’ll join me in this.

Mark Hanna (pronouns he/him) is the chair of a volunteer activism group, the Society for Science Based Healthcare, which works to counter misinformation about health services based on the idea that everyone has a right to make informed decisions about their healthcare. He also cares about issues of equality, and tries to do the right thing. You can read more about health regulation, science, and other topics Mark thinks are important at http://www.honestuniverse.com

[1] I say “pregnant people” instead of “women” because it is an issue that affects everyone with a uterus. This also includes trans men and nonbinary people who have a uterus.

A Policy A Day: Pasifika Advancement

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is by Patrick Thomsen

The problems facing NZ’s Pasifika community are vast and aren’t for the fainthearted. Despite our glowing presence in NZ’s beloved All Blacks squad, we’re flailing as a community.

According to a 2015 report titled: Pacific People in New Zealand: How are we doing? by Pasifika Futures, 51% of Pacific children live in poverty; the number was 39% for Māori, 15% for Pakeha. Pacific people have the smallest proportion of its population with a degree and the highest proportion of its population without any qualifications. This is pretty significant when you consider how higher earnings are proven to be connected to the level of educational attainment.

Pasifika are more likely to be in poor health than other demographics, far more likely to be unemployed, and have the lowest percentage of any group who owned our own homes. The gender pay gap is largest for Pasifika women, on top of the ethnic wage gap, which puts Pasifika far behind everyone else including Māori. And perhaps most alarming of all, our youth are three times more likely to commit suicide than Pakeha.

The reading isn’t exactly encouraging.

Neither is the fact that aside from Labour and Mana, most parties do not have a Pacific people’s strategy clearly defined as policy.

So why should it matter? As one twitter user pointed out to me rather indignantly when I tried to ask all the major parties whether they would be releasing one, it’s probably because “We’re all just New Zealanders!” I apparently am despicable for ‘trying to divide us.’ (You’re really doing your bit for “All Lives Matter” sweetie).

I, too, once believed that if we focused on raising the tide of growth (across all socioeconomic sectors), that this rising tide would lift all boats, including the double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe. Granted, some of our canoes have succeeded in this environment (mine in particular), but in actuality, a lot have begun to sink under the tide of so-called economic growth that has kick started a “rockstar” economy. So I’m sorry twitter user with no profile picture, it definitely matters.

A popular line people peddle is that deprivation is the cause for poor social outcomes. So if we reduce deprivation for all, naturally it will improve the situation for Pasifika people. This does seem reasonable to me.

However, just to cherry pick a little, a recent study published by Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath at the University of Auckland showed that even though an increased level of deprivation leads to a higher likelihood of attempted suicide, Pasifika suicide rates overall were double those in the worst deprivation bracket.

What that means is that there are more complex factors at play. Despite all the major parties committing to reducing inequality in the middle of their election delirium, even if they succeeded in magically reducing the gap between the haves and have nots, Pasifika people are still likely to be the have nots.

The Policies
The Mana Party have had a long standing Pasifika Peoples’ strategy, and they’ve been the boldest in trying to integrate Pacific people into their day to day policy communications. Apologies to the MANA supporters, I won’t be focusing on your policy much at all because it’s by far the best that’s out there. Think amnesty for overstayers, prioritising Pacific climate refugees, and creating a Pasifika broadcasting channel. Recently, the Māori party has also come out strongly with similar policies to help ‘realise’ the aspirations of NZ’s Pacific community, committing to an amnesty for overstayers and investing in our community.

But with MANA and the Māori Party unfortunately only enjoying marginal electoral support, my gaze has shifted decidedly toward the larger political parties – firmly on the red army itself, Labour. If the Māori Party are returned to Parliament on September 23rd, Labour looks like the more sympathetic of the two aspiring government spearheads towards Pacific people’s policies.

However, after reviewing Labour’s Pacific Island Affairs policy, I had mixed feelings. The first was relief. After searching and tweeting relentlessly to what seemed like no avail, a policy magically appeared on Labour’s website a mere two days ago. The policy squawks and makes all the right noises in an election year, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed.

To be sure, there are some highs, such as the Pacific Languages policy in particular. Giving recognition to five Pasifika languages as ‘community languages’ is definitely a policy that will help preserve the heritage of Pacific peoples and facilitate the continuity of Pacific cultures in New Zealand. This is ably supported by a commitment to researching better ways to enhance Pacific language education.

A lukewarm mid-point is their Policy Area 2: Immigration, Settlement, and Pacific Climate Change. At first glance, it looks very good. Labour recognises that the Pacific is going to bear the brunt of climate change and are committed to: “review migration policy to establish an immigration Pacific Plan that recognises Pacific Climate Change […] ensure they have real and timely options for mobility across the region.” The kicker though is that unlike the Greens, Mana and Māori Party, It’s not a commitment to take in climate refugees (although it’s better than National – at least it’s a commitment to find somewhere to put them).

But this is where the rest of its policy falls flat. There’s too much air and not enough substance. Create a “New Pasifika Vision” is their Policy Area 3. They say that we need to develop a vision that explores what it means to be Pasifika in New Zealand today, (I agree) so they’re going to establish a forum to talk about it. Don’t get me wrong; I like talking, and so do a lot of other people. But my experience with these forums (Pasifika focused ones especially) is that a lot of oxygen turns into carbon dioxide and not much else.

When there’s no financial commitment or guaranteed autonomy handed back to the community, it sucks out the utility of such forums. This is a concern that Labour’s policy doesn’t alleviate because it’s so light on numbers.

They do make the right noises regarding investing in Pasifika youth. They want to get our kids into employment (Pacific youth unemployment is a real concern). They stress in the policy a need for our kids to be part of the high-value, high-skilled, high-earning workforce.  But this is no different to what they are doling out to all youth in New Zealand. This is essentially a Moana dress for the same mannequin called their new party trick. It’s just not enough in the face of systemic issues that Pasifika academics and researchers have been uncovering and screaming about for decades now.

I was surprised to see no mention, not even a nod to attempting to deal with mental health issues for Pasifika people. When the research shows that we are disproportionally represented in suicide rates, a commitment to our communities means a commitment to find a way to stem the tide of graves our people need to be digging. All of this relates to the unique positioning of Pasifika people and our historical genealogy in New Zealand.

The roots of our communities were set in labour-intensive, low-paid, dirty jobs with low levels of capital, both economic and social. Following our convenient scapegoating during the Dawn Raids era, which was followed hotly by the lethal attacks of the Rogernomics era, our people were forced to compete against generational wealth and social privilege.

As a result, our socioeconomic position has solidified at the bottom of the ladder from our very first imaginings in New Zealand. And this carries with it continued deprivation, familial stresses, underachievement, low-incomes, high rates of domestic violence and delinquency; the list goes on for at least a coconut mile. This history is conveniently forgotten by those quietly advocating integration of our community while not dealing with this historical trauma or context.

What does real advancement look like?
As a Pacific person, we are constantly being told that what’s best for the overall well-being of the nation, is best for us. But how can this be true when we were originally cast as “the help” in New Zealand’s post-war story?

What our community truly needs is systemic change. Yes, we do need our social and economic bases to grow, but that’s not enough on its own. You saw the long list of problems we have. Tinkering around the class edges isn’t going to fix these issues. What we also need is for inherent social bias against Pasifika people, much like that pitched against Māori, to be dismantled. It’s not clear if a Pacific languages policy is enough to this. Our community needs social and economic autonomy. We don’t just need more jobs; we need more Pacific businesses, political leaders, representation in our own organisations. We need social and economic autonomy.

One of the greatest challenges to centring Pasifika in any systematic form is the rising tide against so-called identity politics. This weaponised term has become a pejorative of late in NZ political circles. Its critics are quick to espouse that we provide social assistance based on need, not on race or ethnicity. But what happens when both become intertwined?

Perhaps that’s too high an expectation to be placing on a singular policy or party; to be honest, the Nats fizzle from the outset as non-starters. It’s really hard to analyse policies that don’t exist. But in all reality, no major political party seems committed to seeing this vision in their policy because we’re not willing to have the hard conversations around racial bias in New Zealand’s social, judicial, and political institutions. Moving on this may be political suicide. I know this, you know this, and politicians know this.

So where does this leave us?

In essence, it means that Pasifika identity doesn’t really mean much anymore to the political establishment besides being able to add some dancing and singing at glitzy events here and there; what we commonly view as ‘diversity’. As long as political parties continue to work toward Pasifika advancement in a piecemeal policy fashion, the gap between Pasifika well-being and mainstream New Zealand will continue to be as wide as the lack of nuance we have on understanding the complexities of intersecting racial bias and socioeconomic deprivation in this country.

Patrick Thomsen is a visiting professor at the Institute for Poverty Alleviation and International Development, Yonsei University South Korea. Born and raised in South Auckland, he is a current New Zealand Green Party member. Patrick is of Samoan descent and holds the chiefly title of Seutaafili from the village of Tauese in Samoa. He was also the first Pacific Islander to be admitted to the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies doctoral program in 2015 where he is concurrently a PhD candidate. He has spent the past few years in Seattle researching Korea, transnational subjectivity, human rights norms, gender and international development.

A Policy A Day: Gender and Ethnicity Income Equity

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is by Maanya Tandon

Wage and income equity! The distant and much belated cousin to suffrage and equality – remains much desired but ever elusive in Aotearoa today.

What I mean by this is that women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and nondominant populations find themselves working for less pay, or in situations where their work is less-valued, or unworthy of substantive remuneration and empowerment, often due to deep-rooted ideas about the relative value of their gender, ethnicity, and social position.

It’s pretty hard to figure out a clear picture on this in Aotearoa. Below, I do my best to examine what wage equity is, where we stand in Aotearoa, and what the likely future looks like in light of some recent legal, political, and election-related hubbub on this topic.

Income equity – what is it?

Broadly put, this means equal pay for work of equal value – but this encompasses more than just the notion of ‘equal pay for identical work’. It also requires ‘work assessed as needing similar overall levels of skill, responsibility, effort, and work conditions to be paid equally’ [1].

I’ve italicised what I think is important here, as there seems to be an aversion to acknowledging that our attitudes and dialogues around pay, labour, wealth, and income are as racialised as they are gendered.

What’s the current situation in Aotearoa?

Every so often, we hear about where we stand on wage and income equality in New Zealand, and how well or not-so-well we’re faring.

Last year, we heard that the gender pay gap was the worst it has been in ten years. More recently, in our second leader’s debate, National leader Bill English mentioned that women’s wages were, in fact, rising at a faster rate than men’s, and we saw headlines celebrating the fact that the gender pay gap is its smallest since 2012. However, read further and we find that the gender pay gap is not at the level it was five years ago – it’s larger (9.4% in June 2017, compared to 9.1% in June 2012). If you’re confused, that’s natural – not everyone agrees on which set of numbers to use or how to interpret them. Source: Statistics New Zealand

This is a topic that lends itself to conflicting and confusing headlines as well as sporadic attention in electoral politics, but it cannot easily be looked at in isolation. This makes it hard to draw any real conclusion about the health of wage parity across ethnicities, and genders, in our country.

Nonetheless, what we can sadly continue to conclude is that women continue to earn less than men for work of equal value, and Maori and Pacific peoples tend to earn less than European populations. This has been true over time, and while incomes have risen – it’s worth noting the pattern below before we rejoice (re-Joyce?)Source: Coalition for Equal Value, Equal Pay

For example, the New Zealand Income Survey in 2015 showed that Māori earn $166 a week less than the average New Zealander’s weekly income. The continuation of this survey (the MSD’s Labour Market Statistics (Income)) survey shows that median weekly earnings for Europeans rose $38 (4.0 percent) to $997 – for European women, their earnings rose $32 (4.0 percent) to $832.

Just last month, as Jess Berentson-Shaw wrote in the Spinoff, researchers at the Motu Institute found that “when we make other things the same, including the hours worked, the types of work, skills and expertise, we consistently find women are paid less than men”, and that Maori and Pacific women are paid even less. Further, discrimination against women based on employers’ beliefs about gender differences were clearly present.

“In other words, men and women are basically equivalent in terms their productivity. Yet for some reason, women are paid 16% less in relative wages. This effect was worse in more ‘skilled’ industries and industries which faced less competition.”

“Men are more likely to over-promote their future performance than equally competent women, and biased employers are more likely to believe these claims, even when presented with performance data.”

Why should you care?

While wage equity cannot be divorced from broader issues such as racism, education policies, housing, tax, and health, it’s worth noting that even as incomes rise:

  • families on low incomes will need to spend a much higher percentage of income to purchase basic healthy foods; and
  • since the late 1980s, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

While income inequality has not (according to the Ministry of Social Development) increased in the past decade, New Zealanders are spending more of their income on housing. Nor has this gap been filled by social benefits – for example, while benefits for families with children were raised by $25 per week last year – average rents have risen even more.

Existing legislation

The Equal Pay Act 1972 and Government Services Equal Pay Act 1960 got rid of discriminatory female wages and sought to eliminate discrimination in wage negotiations. For reasons better elaborated by CEVEP and beyond the scope of this short article, the effectiveness of this existing legislation is questionable, particularly for addressing the systemic pay gap.

Where do existing parties stand on this?

The following parties have equal pay policies publicly available: Labour (scrap and replace the existing proposed legislation), National, and the Greens (substantially amending equal pay laws),

While (some) parties do acknowledge the pay gap and have publicised their policies and plans (or existing efforts) to address it, it’s worth noting that almost none of the parties acknowledge the intersection between gender, ethnicity, disability or other factors that intersect to form these wide-ranging income inequalities. Over time, the gender gap is largely analysed or presented as one comparing men, and women, with the rare acknowledgement that the situation is worse for minority ethnicities.

This misses that Maori and Pacific peoples, especially women, are over-represented in low-wage sectors – and often face additional, racist, barriers or attitudes than others when seeking employment or upward trajectory. A focus on employees as victims of unequal pay also fails to acknowledge that employers themselves must themselves become more flexible around non-work commitments and parental leave, for all men and women.

The Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill and its critiques

Currently in the Select Committee stage before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, National’s Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill would repeal the Equal Pay Act and the Government Service Equal Pay Act, and amend the Employment Relations Act.

This would introduce a system for determining those whose salaries it is fair to compare pay with – so that people attempting to make an equal pay claim must first look at others employed by their employer, and only if they can find no appropriate comparator, can they look to others within the same industry.

The inability to compare with other industries is seen as a major problem. It also contradicts our Court of Appeal’s decision in Terranova v Bartlett where the court was clear that comparators did not need to be confined to the employer and sector of the employees bringing the claim. It would also remove the ability to ask for back pay, and apply this retrospectively to existing claims.

As an aside, if you feel like this is important to you – whether you agree or not with this bill’s methods or rules – make a submission! Select Committee submissions close 1 November.

Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that Labour would scrap this bill and ‘start again’ if Labour is elected to government and, in particular, that Labour would alter the bill’s restrictions to bringing a claim.

Earlier this year, Green MP Jan Logie’s members’ bill, which would have required businesses to report their gender pay gap to MBIE, was voted down (60 votes for, 59 against). This sought to ‘to increase the amount of information publicly available so that cases where this discrimination persists can be clearly identified, with the object to improve the likelihood of successful cases to be taken under the Equal Pay Act 1972 to seek remedies when such discrimination exists.’ It would have compelled employers to disclose the aggregated data showing the pay and gender for all employees doing the same kind of work, and would have drastically increased the penalties for a breach of the Equal Pay Act 1972 (from $400 to $5,000 for an individual or from $1,000 to $10,000 for a company or other corporation).

This was opposed by National, Act and United Future on the grounds that it would be too great a burden on businesses and compromise privacy.

It seems likely that whatever the outcome of the election, equal pay legislation is on the horizon. What matters is what values underpin it – how claims should be made, what assumptions we should make (e.g. equivalent Australian legislation does not rely on discrimination as the foundation of inequity, but has adopted the framework and assumption of ‘undervaluation’) [2], and how relative burdens should be shared.

Going forward?

As CEVEP notes, it will take much more than pay equity to remedy the inequalities in the labour market and its permeations into the education, justice, and other sectors.

However, if our currently triumphant narrative of continual economic growth and success is to be a believable one, it must show for all those working in Aotearoa. Everyone deserves a piece of the pie – and currently – some deserve a second helping before others.

Maanya Tandon completed her LLB/BA at the University of Auckland, and her LLM at NYU, and has recently returned to Aotearoa after studying and working abroad. She is excited by the prospect of one day earning as much as her male counterparts will.

[1] Prue Hyman, “Is Active Intervention Still Needed to Improve the Position of Women in the New Zealand Labour Market? If so, what can be done?” in Policy Quarterly, Volume 11, Issue 1, February 2015, p 7.

[2] Heap, L. ‘Point of View’. Working Life: The PSA Journal June 2015: Wellington, PSA. P 20, available: https://www.psa.org.nz/assets/Working-Life…/Working-Life-June-2015-SCREEN.pdf

A Policy A Day: Youth Sexuality Education

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is by Erin Donohue

The Problem
The facts don’t lie. One in three girls in New Zealand will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience before the age of 16. One in five New Zealand women experience a serious sexual assault in their lifetime – for Māori women and girls, these odds are twice as high. One in seven boys may be sexually assaulted by adulthood. In 2014, The Lancet, a British medical journal, found New Zealand to have the third highest sexual assault rate in the world, equal with Australia. In 2016, 20 – 24-year-old women had the highest abortion rate of any other age group. One in 10 females in New Zealand suffer from endometriosis and there is an international 8-year delay in the diagnosis of this debilitating condition.

Unfortunately, these illnesses and assaults will always occur to some degree, but the best way to get the rate of occurrence down is awareness, education, and conversation. If students were taught about consent, about contraception, and about their own bodies, then these statistics potentially wouldn’t be as bad. They would know more about what was right, wrong, and normal. They would be more likely to get help.

The Policy
The Greens have a Youth Affairs policy which contains several sections and subsections. Many of these sections require significant and immediate attention, including youth mental health, suicide rates among LBGTQ+ teens, and work and income support for young people. Under the health and wellbeing section, they have specific points on sexuality education:

  • Ensure the inclusion of comprehensive health, sex, and drug education at intermediate and secondary levels, and improve access to family planning and sexual health services to young people, in particular young women.
  • Ensure the gender-appropriate teaching of self-esteem, self-defence, and sexual health to 10 to 14-year olds.
  • Require the Education Review Office to audit implementation of the health education curriculum.

After my experience of sexual education at high school, this would be a much-needed change. Children and young adults have access to so much information via the internet, some of it uninformed, wrong, and potentially damaging. Therefore, a comprehensive, implemented, inclusive, and diverse sexuality education programme is more important now than ever before.

In 2009, I was taught health and sexual education in a six-week crash course where we learnt mostly about drugs, alcohol, and bullying. We were taught, in a distant and clumsy way, about reproductive organs and briefly about safe sex and STDs. The key message was this: sex will result in pregnancy and/or an STD. Then we were done. So, of course, this policy sounds like a long overdue update to a tired sexuality education system.

The Point
However, this is already happening. In 2013, the Ministry of Education updated its guidelines for teaching sexuality education – the first update since 2002. In the new and improved guidelines, advice included how to broach issues of consent, coercion, and how to keep yourself safe. It reminded schools to be aware of the diversity of students they’re teaching and to consider this when teaching sexuality education. In the New Zealand Curriculum, sexuality education is listed as one of the seven key areas in the health and physical education learning section. Therefore, schools must teach it through all school years. There are sets of achievement objectives that must be met.

The objectives are detailed and are broken into levels and sections. The following ideals should be developed:

  • Knowledge, understandings, and skills relating to sexual health and development: physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual
  • Knowledge, understandings, and skills to enhance their sexual and reproductive health, for example, knowledge about the process of conception, contraception, and the skills to make decisions that maintain and enhance their sexual health and experiences
  • Understandings and skills to enhance relationships, for example in relation to friendships, intimate relationships, love, families, and parenting
  • Critical thinking, reflection, and social-action skills related to issues of equity, gender, body image, sexualisation, risk, and safety.
  • Personal and interpersonal skills and related attitudes, including:
    • personal rights and responsibilities, including consent
    • the skills needed to examine people’s attitudes, values, beliefs, rights, and responsibilities
    • attitudes of respect for themselves and other people
    • attitudes of care and concern for themselves and other people
    • ethical values
    • effective communication skills, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

What needs to be achieved and taught at various levels of education is pretty comprehensive and well-rounded. Level one targets students in early primary school through to level eight, aimed at senior high school students. The Greens saying they’ll ensure a comprehensive sexual education programme is a simple check-of-a-box. It already exists and is currently being implemented in schools. The statement that they will ‘require the Education Review Office to audit implementation of the health education curriculum’ is already legally required.

Looking Forward
There are still areas in which to improve. School boards are free to decide how to teach sexuality education – enabling schools to have one-off lecture-style lessons or a full six-week course in which questions are welcome and the environment is more inclusive and supportive. Consultation with the community is required but that may come in many forms and with varying degrees of input. Programmes are available to enable teachers to deliver sexuality education in a clear and factual manner but these are not compulsory.

The Education Review Office concluded schools that spent 12 – 15 hours a year on sexuality education had the most effective programmes. Surely, at least 12 – 15 hours is needed to cover all of the required material in a way that is informative and effective for students. There is no point teaching it if it will not make any difference.

The Greens have no action or plan behind the statements made in their policy. They are empty words. There are still ways in which positive change can be made to sexuality education teaching, including the way in which it’s taught and the training required for teachers.

It comes back to the statistics. Obviously, we can do better. The Greens have it right in that we should focus on the education programme to fix the larger problem. Currently though, there’s no up-to-date statement of what they’ll do or how they’ll do it. And that’s just as bad as not saying anything.

Erin Donohue is a Wellington-based writer, with a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Whitireia. Her debut young adults novel, Because Everything Is Right but Everything Is Wrong, is coming out soon!

A Policy A Day: Relationship Testing for Benefits

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is written by Charlotte Austin

Last year, I wrote a dissertation on social welfare fraud for the honours component of my law degree. When I first talked to people about it, quite often the response I got was one of mild bemusement. Why was I spending time researching social welfare, when I could be spending my time researching more exciting or worthwhile things? [By which I think people usually meant things that would lead to a career where I would earn more money]. It seemed the level of interest in talking about social welfare was pretty low. Now, Metiria Turei has changed that. All of a sudden, in this election, everyone cares about welfare fraud, and by extension, welfare itself. Everyone has an opinion about whether Metiria is a hero or a villain. Social welfare suddenly matters to a much broader portion of New Zealanders than it did just some short weeks ago.

I don’t want to talk about Metiria’s story specifically. I don’t even want to talk about welfare fraud here. What I do want to do is to look at an element of the Green’s welfare policy that was being announced when Metiria decided to share her story, because I think some of the policy detail got lost in the subsequent media frenzy. Whatever your thoughts about her actions, let’s take the sudden interest in social welfare and use that productively and actually look at one of the things the Greens are proposing to do – change the “relationship in the nature of marriage” (RINM) test for benefit entitlement eligibility.

The proposed policy
The Green Party are proposing to scrap the RINM test, and instead, bring relationship testing in line with other areas of law. Instead of a subjective, confusing, and ultimately harmful test, the Greens are suggesting that a single parent receiving Sole Parent Support (SPS) would be entitled to remain on the SPS until they have been in a de-facto relationship for three years. This would be consistent with how de-facto relationships are treated under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976. I’ll explain why this is important soon.

Wait, what is the relationship in the nature of marriage test?
Well, first of all, it’s probably worth giving a broad overview of how benefit entitlements work for those who have been fortunate enough not to have experienced the system themselves. Benefit entitlement is governed by the Social Security Act 1964. It’s a very messy Act, thanks to 50+ years of amendments, and navigating it can be quite difficult. Essentially, when it comes to determining someone’s benefit entitlement or the rate at which the benefit will be paid, the “conjugal status” of the applicant needs to be determined. Section 63 of the Act provides the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) with the power to treat an applicant who is legally married or in a civil union, but living apart from their partner, as being single. Additionally and more relevantly for this policy, the Chief Executive can treat two people as being married, even if they are not in a legal marriage or civil union, as long as they have entered into “a relationship in the nature of marriage”. Obviously, this may seem rather broad and subjective, but as a result of this determination, the applicant’s benefit entitlement or the rate at which the benefit is paid can be altered. The likely outcome is that if someone is determined to be in a RINM, then their benefit will probably at the very least be reduced, if not cut entirely (depending on the financial status of their partner).

“Relationship in the nature of marriage” is not defined in the Social Security Act. This has meant that the Courts have been tasked with defining the parameters of the RINM test, and as a result, the test for determining whether a relationship meets the RINM standard has undergone some change over time. Prior to 1997, the determination was made in accordance with a “checklist” of factors (see Excell v Department of Social Welfare and Thompson v Department of Social Welfare), however, since 1997 the case of Ruka v Department of Social Welfare has been the leading case. The Court of Appeal in Ruka removed the checklist of factors to be considered, instead preferring a two-stage enquiry: emotional commitment and financial interdependence.

It is worth quoting directly from Ruka to show the criteria for a RINM, at least for the purposes of the Social Security Act:

“In our view a relationship in the nature of marriage for the purpose of the Social Security Act is one in which an essential element is that there is an acceptance by one partner that (to take the stereotypical role) he will support the other partner and any child or children of the relationship if she has no income of her own or to the extent that it is or becomes inadequate. The commitment must go beyond mere sharing of living expenses, as platonic flatmates or siblings living together may do; it must amount to a willingness to support, if the need exists. There must be at least that degree of financial engagement or understanding between the couple…

Where financial support is available nevertheless there will not be a RINM for this purpose unless that support is accompanied by sufficient features evidencing a continuing emotional commitment not arising from a blood relationship. Of these, the sharing of the same roof and of a sexual relationship (especially if it produces offspring) are likely to be the most significant indicators. But, since the amendment to s 63 in 1978, the sharing of a household is not essential. And, particularly in the case of older couples. The absence of sexual activity will not in itself deprive the relationship of the character of marriage.”

From this, we can draw out a few key points. Firstly, the two requirements for a RINM to exist are that there is both financial interdependence, and emotional commitment. Secondly, it is not necessary that the couple are actually living together for a RINM to exist. Thirdly, financial interdependence can be demonstrated by a willingness to support if needed and is not limited to actual present financial support.

Ruka represented a shift in the way RINM should be interpreted and applied, and accordingly to a shift in beneficiaries eligibility. However, despite this shift in the legal test, a report released in 2001 criticised the Department of Social Welfare for failing to implement the changes to the RINM test in the four years following the Court of Appeal’s judgment. The issue now is not so much that MSD are still failing to apply the correct legal test, but rather the effect of the legal test on benefit entitlement and how this affects people’s lives.

So what’s the problem?
Even when the Ruka test for a RINM is applied correctly, whether a relationship meets the standard of a RINM still fundamentally comes down to a subjective determination by a Ministry official – something MSD has recognised can cause “differences of opinion as to the correct outcome or decision”. This decision has a huge impact on beneficiaries’ lives, as whether a relationship is a RINM or not can drastically alter how much money they will receive, or if they will receive any at all.  In a 2014 report, Child Poverty Action Group noted that the RINM inquiry is “inconsistent and iniquitous” and “it has been a contributing factor to increased income poverty, and to gender inequality.” The threshold for a RINM is not always applied equally, and in many cases is set too low. This means that a relationship that entails something like (to use Work and Income phrasing) “liv[ing] separately but stay[ing] overnight at each other’s place a few nights a week” is sufficient to constitute a RINM and therefore result in a benefit entitlement cut.

The negative impact of the way the RINM standard is used also disproportionately affects women, and can have a particularly negative impact on people experiencing domestic violence. Women are prosecuted for benefit fraud on the basis of not disclosing a RINM at more than twice the rate of men. Even if the relationship is declared, a person receiving a benefit is held liable for an overpayment if their partner earns more than expected, and this also disproportionately negatively affects women. In the case of an abusive relationship, as the Child Poverty Action Group report points out:

“When a mother has an abusive relationship, a Sole Parent Support benefit can represent the only means of security for her and her children. Her ‘partner’ may even force her to apply for it. Her failure to declare her relationship status is seen as an act of dishonesty on her part rather than an act of survival.”

Additionally, the RINM standard is also problematic because it still fundamentally reflects the outdated and sexist gender presumptions that the welfare system was originally founded on from the original Social Security Act 1938. The system was built upon the assumption that male husbands should be financially responsible for their wives, and that wives would not have independent financial means. While the gendered language is no longer included in our current legislation, the gendered assumptions are still present, and the RINM test fails to take into account the fact that women (and well, everyone) has a right to be recognised as individuals, separate and independent from our relationships.

So basically, the current test is subjective, confusing, based on outdated gender norms, it disproportionally negatively affects women, and is particularly damaging if someone is the victim of domestic violence. Replacing the RINM test with the ability to still remain on SPS until you have been in a de-facto relationship for 3 years would not only be consistent with other areas of our law, but it would allow for more independence for beneficiaries, and go some way towards reducing New Zealand’s depressing poverty rates by providing families on a benefit with more resources. Our welfare system as it stands is punitive and degrading. Replacing the RINM test wouldn’t solve it completely, but it definitely would be a step in the right direction.

Charlotte Austin is in her final year of a Bachelor of Laws with Honours and Bachelor of Arts conjoint degree at Victoria University of Wellington. She joined the Green Party in the wake of Metiria’s confession. For what it’s worth, Charlotte is very grateful that Metiria was brave enough to share her story, in order to shine a light on the reality of the welfare system.