The Welfare of Society

We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people. Metiria Turei, Green Party Co-Leader

Poverty is in the news again as the Green Party puts out their Mending the Safety Net policy and throws a gauntlet down before the other parties. The bottom line is that everyone should have enough for their families to flourish, no ifs, no buts, and no government sanctions to penalise those who are failing. I gave an inward cheer that at last the unspeakable was being spoken: our society is broken and needs fixing in a radical way.

social-welfare-cartoon

Then I started reading the comments section of the media coverage, and my heart sank again at the mean-spirited, self-righteous, I’m all right Jacks, who seek to perpetuate the punishing of poverty, and the stigmatising of the poor.

I’ve had a pretty privileged life, but there was a time when I had three children under five, and was pregnant with my fourth. My husband had just been sectioned under the Mental Health Act to a psychiatric hospital after nearly a year of erratic behaviour and even more erratic financial management. In those days, the bank account was in his name, it was the early 1980s and I was dependent on him financially, not having embarked on a career before the family began. In that year, I was really grateful to receive what was then a universal child allowance of $6 per child, it was the only independent money I had, and was usually enough to buy the children essentials like a pair of shoes.

It was a week before Christmas, I had nothing, literally, other than some food in the pantry, but certainly not enough to last, and nothing to cover the needs of babes and toddlers still in nappies. The Public Trust, which stepped in to manage the finances of mental patients while they were under the MHA, was closed for the year and would not be able to take any action to release funds to me until mid January.

Sunnyside Hospital 1977
The feeling of utter helplessness was overwhelming, but at the same time I had some pride and was reluctant to ask my parents for help (loving though I knew they were, and would do anything for me). I was still in shock from the brutal sectioning of my man, which had involved the police forcibly subduing him, followed by his hospitalisation in the then Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital. I cried myself to sleep every night, and for many of my waking hours trembled with tension and heartbreak. Not knowing what was going to happen, or how I was going to cope, haunted my every thought.

I was lucky, I was surrounded by a caring rural community and had people calling by with meals and offers to baby-sit. My parents also rallied as soon as they realised my dire situation, and came to stay over Christmas and New Year, bearing gifts.

Without that support, I can’t even begin to think what I would have done to survive and care for my littlies. And yet, this is what so many women have to go through for periods much longer than I. They have to struggle for years to make the meagre government handouts stretch. They have to live with the abuse and name-calling that the uncaring in society inflict on them: “dole bludgers, parasites”. So often in commentaries you read the view that the poor shouldn’t have children, or go on having children if they can’t support them. There is no empathy, no sympathy, only judgment and belittling.

But I know that circumstances can change in a life, the unforeseen does sometimes happen, and a comfortable life can be overturned. No one is exempt, and only the truly hard-hearted, or foolish, can say that “it can’t happen to me”.

iu-2

To those who say it is irresponsible to have children if your circumstances can’t afford it, we chose to have no more children when my husband was better and back home with us. I had a tubal ligation. It failed, I was one of 3%, or whatever the failure percentage is, and within a few months of my operation I was pregnant again.

You see, sometimes life just throws us a curved ball and you have no say on where it will land. Most of the time we can’t change our situation, no matter how much we try. A truly caring and progressive society sees value in everyone and is prepared to pay the price of picking up those who stumble and need a helping hand.

iu-1

To those small-minded naysayers who make accusations of socialism as if it were something to be ashamed of, I say I’m proud to support the Green Party that has such a conscience and is prepared to draw a line in the sand against the policies of privilege and selfish individualism.

I always loved the song by the Hollies: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.  We are all on this road of life together, and it is easier for us all, if we extend a helping hand, ungrudging, to those less fortunate, for we never know when it might be our turn for a hand up.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother