Budget 2017: Social security begins at home

23 May 2017
Head and shoulders portrait on a white background. Allen has a high forehead, with thick short greying hair, moustache and beard (the latter of which comes to a point). He is wearing a dark collared shirt. He appears to be smiling, though only the very corners of his mouth are turned up.
Dr Allen Bartley

This is Budget week, and we have asked six experts at the University of Auckland and Victoria University to tell us what they think should be included. Today, the University of Auckland's Dr Allen Bartley gives his views.

This would be a good Budget if it facilitated policies that made secure housing for all an actual target, with measurable accountabilities.

The evidence is clear that insecure and/or unhealthy housing are barriers to wellbeing and undermine positive investments in other areas. In other words, investment and innovations in education, health, mental health, child wellbeing, etc. are rendered less effective if people are living in unhealthy, overcrowded homes – or worse, if whānau/families are caught in the trap of incipient homelessness. The recent Government announcement of a plan to build an additional 5200 state and social houses (after replacing the 8300 slated for demolition), as well as 4300 ‘affordable’ houses (under $650,000) is positive but hopelessly inadequate when the affordability of even the most basic rental accommodation is so difficult for thousands of households.

A return to the ‘ownership society’ may be a positive aspiration for social stability and strengthening of whānau/families and communities; it certainly was during the mid-to-late 20th century in Aotearoa New Zealand. But home ownership, especially in Auckland, is simply out of reach for too many – even of the relatively few ‘affordable’ homes, if indeed we imagine that prices of up to $650,000 are affordable to households at or below the average household income.  

Structural changes need to occur in the economy (in the labour market, housing market, or both) before home ownership is an attainable goal for many thousands of families, in Auckland and across the country. Given this fact, the budget must prioritise the building of many, many more state and social houses to address immediate need before we can begin to consider the aspirational goal of greater levels of home ownership.

We have seen in the past how budgets can propel structural changes in the economy and in society. The sharp cuts to welfare spending in Ruth Richardson’s 1991 ‘Mother of All Budgets’ and the insertion of a market logic into so many areas of social life precipitated growing inequality. They set structural conditions (reinforced in subsequent budgets) that have led to greater social insecurity and made dangerously wide the distance between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.

We need a Budget that will have at least as great a structural impact in the other direction, one inspired by a vision of enhanced social security for all.

 

Dr Allen Bartley is head of the School for Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Used with permission from NewsroomBudget 2017: Social security begins at home published on Tuesday 23 May 2017.