On a Sunday stroll down our street, we met one of our neighbors whose house had been robbed the previous night while the 7 inhabitants slept. No one was harmed, and no one even awoke during the intruder’s visit. The burglar took only a wallet and even at that left the wallet and most of the contents on the property. They found the wallet later in the day in a clump of bushes, along with a wallet belonging to someone they did not know, also with most of the contents inside.
The above incident says to me that we are coming into harder times and some people are in grave trouble around here. The homeowner was dismayed at the intrusion, as he was used to leaving his doors unlocked, the Waiheke way. When I remarked that the crime suggested to me someone who was in need, just targeting cash and leaving the rest, the swift reply was that, “Those people get lots of money”. I left it at that because it was obvious the person was upset, but it has been haunting me, this illusion that just because I myself might not be in want right now, that everyone else must doing so well. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, ‘those people’ do not have enough to live on, whether they are on a benefit or working to get by. And ‘those people’ include, for me at least, some of my dearest friends and relatives.
My step son Ben is 20 years old, just starting out, and making his own way in this world. He has had a good public education, in England and New Zealand, he is intelligent and well read, and widely respected among his peers and wider community for his integrity. He has willingly worked at jobs that were not ideal, and even so, he was unable to find enough work. Part time and on-demand labour with no security or benefits is the order of the day for young people. Although this young man proved himself reliable and in every way a good employee, he was not given the increased hours he asked for. He was also denied advancement in the various companies he worked for, no matter how long he worked for them, through no fault of his own. He cannot make enough money to live in what most people would call ‘normal circumstances’, no matter how hard he has tried.
What do young people do when faced with these realities? Many more are staying in tertiary education, where they can receive some support while they work on gaining more skills. In Ben’s case he has made a political statement of the injustice. This is a societal problem and he deals with it creatively by working in Community Gardens and many other cooperative ventures.
These days there is no way to get ahead by simply showing up to work and following the rules as we’ve all been taught. If you are not already ahead of the wave then you are likely getting caught in the undertow. Ben has been a Fregan and has various methods for obtaining food for free. The minute I wrote that statement I felt compelled to add, “but he does it legally”. The notion that Ben is free to starve disturbs me greatly. This is really at the heart of it- no free education- no free lunch- no free anything. These are the cornerstones of our current political climate. I guess this seems fair to most people, but it is not just. The story people tell of having made it on their own is a fairy tale. I never made it on my own. I had a LOT of help, and I made mistakes which would have eliminated all hope for my future, had I not received assistance at those times.
The story that Anyone Can Make It, and If You’re Not Doing Well It’s Your Own Fault , are favorite bedtime fables for members of the silver democracy, of which I am a reluctant member. The Silver Democracy are the people in their 50’s and above for whom the policies in this and other countries are geared to serve best. A Silver Democracy is a democracy by and for the older generation, brought about by the decades of voting for those policies which serve their own interests at the expense of other generations. The men in Parliament right now, some of whom are advocating cutting benefits and increasing education fees, were the recipients of all of those benefits themselves. Free education and public assistance were the order of the day when they were starting out.
New Zealand is failing its youth and vulnerable populations, so now is the time for compassion, not recrimination. It would be to our benefit on Waiheke to aggressively pursue an alternate story line- food and shelter for people, not for profit. Lets get back to the attitude of previous generations of looking out for everyone, because when we don’t, it only hurts our own community. Deal with it now in a positive way, or we will surely be dealing with it later more dramatically, as the cycle of crime and punishment increases.