Prue Hyman Sees Hope Amid The COVID Gloom

Prue Hyman says it’s a year since she wrote her usual monthly column but it’s been a complicated year.

Prue Hyman

She says: ‘Half of it I spent in the UK with my partner who was too sick when COVID 19 struck to fly to New Zealand.

So WhatsApp is getting to be a daily event.

I’ve found it hard to get back to writing anything: I subscribe to Bryce Edwards’ NZ Politics Daily and so many people are already writing so much stuff, much of which I either agree with or violently object to!

“Do I need to add to it? Probably not!

The voices wanting change

But it’s important to be part of the voices wanting the virus emergency to be used to effect real change.

It’s resulted in some paradoxically good things – including communities helping their less able members and getting to know neighbours, emission cuts from the huge reduction in use of cars, and the discovery that working from home has its advantages.

‘Resist business as usual’

We absolutely have to resist the push to restore business as usual, but instead build on the good things from the lockdown.

We don’t need to restore GDP to its growth path: better to share out more fairly the paid and unpaid work and make sure everyone has enough to live on. 

Couldn’t we manage with say half the amount of car usage and international flights that we had before?

Zoom calls aren’t perfect but much business, conference and community business can be transacted on them.

That would generate a large proportion of the emissions savings we need: combine it with Kiwi ingenuity demonstrated during lockdown in agriculture, energy, and transport and we’d be well on our way to our share of saving the planet.

An amazingly quick response to the COVID crisis

It was amazing how fast we responded to the virus, which showed what can be done as against our feeble prior responses to climate change. 

There is plenty of important sustainable work to be done to improve New Zealand and prevent the degradation of our natural resources.

Such work could provide new employment opportunities for those losing their jobs in tourist industries and elsewhere.

Kevin Hague of Forest and Bird for example suggested saving the 4000 species in trouble, getting rid of pests, cleaning up and protecting freshwater, and transforming farming, forestry, tourism and fishing into industries that are genuinely sustainable.

Another important response is to translate the wonderful appreciation of essential workers during lockdown, in supermarkets, deliveries, cleaning and of course the health services into paying them properly.

The Living Wage would be a good start

The living wage would be a good start. As usual, a majority of those in this essential work are women, who bear the bulk of the burden of combining such work with keeping the household together.

Unpaid work had no focus in the Budget while women’s groups were rebuffed from appearing at the Epidemic Response Committee.

The Budget disappointment

The recent Budget is a disappointment. Of course the government is trying to respond to the clamour of voices and needs, but spraying money about to most of the demands, especially those from business, is not an inspiring response.

And those inevitably rising numbers dependent on social welfare had little or nothing done to improve their situation.

The Child Poverty Action Group have pointed out that the increasing number of children in low-income or benefit dependent families will be pushed even further into poverty.

Government removed the need to satisfy the hours test for the In Work Tax Credit (IWTC), but only for ‘working’ families not in receipt of a main benefit, with some level of employment income each week or the wage subsidy. 

This creates a contrast between the deserving and undeserving unemployed: those whose children retain the IWTC and those who don’t, another layer of discrimination.

But finishing with optimism

I feel the urge to finish with some optimism.

Some commentators, like Rutger Bregman (at genuinely believe that neoliberalism is gasping its last breath and that the time has come for ideas that seemed impossible just months ago.

His article includes: “If there was one dogma that defined neoliberalism, it’s that most people are selfish.

“And it’s from that cynical view of human nature that all the rest followed – the privatisation, the growing inequality, and the erosion of the public sphere.

“Now a space has opened up for a different, more realistic view of human nature: that humankind has evolved to cooperate.

“It’s from that conviction that all the rest can follow – a government based on trust, a tax system rooted in solidarity, and the sustainable investments needed to secure our future.”

Let’s hope we can make this happen.


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