In New Zealand, the rich are getting richer, according to the latest statistics.Well, perhaps there's no problem with that. Certainly, if you listened to our Prime Minister's speech to the National Party in Christchurch today, you'd be forgiven for thinking that everything is fine. According to John Key, "incomes are rising" and he's "proud that National's team is making a positive difference to the lives of New Zealanders".
A press release from Statistics NZ on a Tuesday morning isn't the most exciting thing in the world, and it doesn't come with all the fanfare and self-congratulation of a political party convention. Last Tuesday's release from the government statisticians quietly informed us that "for the year ended June 2015, the top 10 percent [of individuals in New Zealand] owned around 60 percent of total net worth." That's a lot of wealth, in the hands of a small number of people.
In fact, the wealthiest 10% have seen their wealth increase by 5% in just the last 5 years. I guess that's a "positive difference to New Zealanders" – but only to some New Zealanders, certainly not to all New Zealanders. The statisticians point out, "in contrast, the bottom 40 percent held 3 percent of total wealth."
ONE News ran a brief story about this on Wednesday. It contained this graphic, which bothered me because rich and poor are shown as having the same sized money-bag!
So, I made a graphic that actually shows what that statistic means:
I hope you find that as outrageous as I do! What's most concerning is that, according to Statistics NZ's Diane Ramsay, “around 5 percent of households had negative net worth, which means they owe more than they own.”
I suppose there's no ideal level of inequality. Geoff Simmons reckons, "some inequality [...] is to be expected if we want to live in a society where people are rewarded for hard work and good ideas." (It's worth reading this blog post he wrote last year.) But we have to decide what level of inequality we're comfortable with as a society, and realise that government policies have a direct impact on these statistics.
I know I'm not alone in thinking that it's offensive to be living in a society where some people have more than they can possibly need while others have less than nothing.