There is no poverty in New Zealand. Misery, depravity, hopelessness, yes; but no poverty.
The poorest in New Zealand are the unemployed. They receive free medical care, free education for their children and enough cash to pay for basic food, clothing and (subsidised) housing. Most have televisions, refrigerators and ovens. Many even own cars. That isn’t poverty.
Why then do we keep hearing that more than 20 per cent of New Zealand children live in poverty? Those who tell us this do not mean by “poverty” what most people do. They have a statistical definition: you live in poverty if your household’s income is less than 50 per cent of the national median (after tax and housing costs, and adjusted for the number of adults and children in the household).
It is a relative rather than absolute measure of poverty. Being an American pauper means having half the income of the average American. Being an Indonesian pauper means having half the income of the average Indonesian. Never mind that an American “pauper” may be richer than the average Indonesian.
David Farrar also talks about this all the time. ‘Why is poverty relative? Why not have an absolute measure of poverty?’ Well, the reason is that poverty is an intrinsically relative measure. It’s like ‘warmth’ or ‘tallness’. Yeah, you can say that if you compare New Zealand poverty to Indonesian poverty, say, then there is no poverty in New Zealand. But you could also just as validly compare us to the residents of Mayfair or the Île Saint-Louis or East Hampton, compared to whom pretty much all of us live in abject poverty. Because those are both stupid things to do we don’t actually do that and there’s an official measure of poverty which has broad political consensus.
If these guys can get that consensus changed so that only people whose living standards are comparable with homeless people living in the slums of Jakarta then yeah, great, there will be no ‘poverty’ in New Zealand any more. But there will be a big group of people who used to be classified as living in poverty, who have poor health and poor educational outcomes and higher rates of crime and unemployment and plenty of other metrics that strongly correlate with our current definition of poverty.