Friday, May 17, 2013

Budget 2013: equity through whiteware

If Budget 2012 is remembered chiefly for taxing paperboys, then Budget 2013 will be remembered (we predict) not so much for penny-pinching austerity but for the government's attempts to alleviate child poverty, socioeconomic inequality and possibly Auckland's housing crisis by enabling the poorest among us to purchase (drum roll...) whiteware!

This bold move, calculated no doubt to fob off thankless detractors who would suggest the budget amounts to little more than another step in the privatisation of public services, is carefully hidden in the budget so as not to attract the attention it undoubtedly deserves: such a shame because here, under "Better Public Services" it specifically states the budget includes "A whiteware procurement programme to enable beneficiaries to purchase new appliances under warranty using Ministry of Social Development repayable grants." There's no costing but of course it's not going to cost the government anything because the money has to be repaid. By people on benefits. Who probably move a lot.  Or are homeless.

A grateful beneficiary checks the stain of poverty has gone
OK, so it's possible some of the technical aspects haven't been thought through terribly well, but the point is this: addressing inequality means giving all citizens the same opportunity to purchase dishwashers and clothes dryers as their peers. Equity through whiteware!

There can be no doubt this brave vision has confused the government's enemies, obsessed as they are with raising living standards for those at the bottom by improving incomes and providing decent job opportunities (see CPAG's budget assessment here). Because who could argue with the concept of whiteware for all? 

It's not at all clear why enabling beneficiaries to borrow money to purchase whiteware is a better public service but much about this policy is mysterious. Like, for example, why on earth does anyone think this a practical measure to tackle poverty? Is this just a bone for Fisher and Paykel? Is Bill English really determined to share the love, even if beneficiaries have to borrow against their meagre incomes to do so? We're sure there's a greater social and economic vision at work here, but at the moment this budget item seems as pointless as that blinking button on the washing machine.