I’m often reminded of that Friends episode where the friends have an argument because some of them have money and some of them don’t. Ross says to Rachel “I guess I just never think about money.” And she goes “That’s because you have it.” It’s possibly the most useful exchange those two ever had.
I think about money a lot. Well, more to the point, I think about the fact that I don’t have it.
March marks the end of the tax year, and as a self-employed person I’m required to file my return. Of course, I don’t get a return – I get a bill. And last year I earned just enough to hit the student loan repayment threshold as well – lucky me! Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to pay tax. It just feels like another way in which it’s very difficult for people on low incomes to make any headway. I work because I love my work – what I can manage to do with my physical limitations – but obviously, I also work to try and supplement the benefit. What I earn goes towards things like paying my medical bills.
Now I have to spend a good chunk of that paying my student loan and tax. And yes, I know this is the case for everyone. And I also know that many self-employed people will put aside a certain percent of their earnings every month so that bill doesn’t hit so hard. But that isn’t possible for me because if I save money, WINZ counts that as an asset and it will effect my benefit. These bills are not due until the end of the financial year, so I can pay them off. It is still a stress in the back of my mind.
A couple of months ago I also discovered, almost by accident, that I owe my ACC levy. When you’re self-employed you have to pay your own levies. I got an automated email that ACC had set up a new online portal for viewing your account. I almost ignored it, but then I figured I should log in. When I did, I saw I had an outstanding bill – in bold red numbers – from August last year. ACC didn’t have my correct physical address on file. Rather than trying my phone number or email, they just kept posting letters I never received. Again, luckily, they are allowing me to pay the balance off in monthly installments.
I’m well aware that these situations are not unique. I’m not writing for sympathy. I’m writing to highlight the issues that can arise for people at the low end of the income spectrum.
With all of this in my mind, I was pretty hopeful about Budget 2018. I was thinking about the intimations the government had made around raising benefits, and increasing income thresholds so that people can earn more without it cutting into their benefit – the sorts of things that might allow people to shift themselves out of poverty.
…None of that is there.
There’s definitely things in the budget that will help to alleviate certain situations, and I do believe this government cares about the issues of child poverty and homelessness. But I don’t want to read another word about a fucking surplus. Any smug glee about that is revolting.
If we do have to make it about fiscal responsibility (and I do not believe we do), then… should we not look after people so that they are happy and healthy and can take part in the economy? If we have to base our goals on capitalist measures of success, then we should be looking to ensure that every member of society is well enough to be an active member of that society. We should be helping those at the bottom become those in the middle. I don’t choose to look at New Zealand this way, but it makes (pretty gross) sense.
The only thing in this Budget that will make any difference to me and many people like me is the reduction in GP costs (that’s not insignificant for me, considering I’m at the doctor every couple of weeks) and the extended criteria for the community services card. These things don’t go anywhere near addressing the mental health crisis.
Labour feels to me like the overworked parent who promises to be home for dinner but is never there.
I’m happy to be balanced about this. I know they’re a coalition government, I know there’s responsibilities, I know they have to prioritise. I know I know I know.
But I’ve been waiting and hoping for change in these areas for many many years, and so have many people who are far worse off than me. I am lucky – I still have some capacity to work. I have fought for and won my entitlements from WINZ. I’m white and educated and know how to put pressure on the wrecked system in order to get what i need to survive. Many others don’t have that luxury.
People who work for Labour have told me that there’s plans. I don’t want to hear about plans. Plans behind the scenes are promises that never come to fruition. I want to hear public announcements of action.
And where’s that list of commitments by the Greens? Nowhere that I can see.
It’s easy not to think about money when you have it. That was me, in a past life. I’d like to not think about it ever again.
In the meantime, we’ll keep watching, and waiting, for change.