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Poverty myth-busting

The way the Western world views poverty, the poor, and welfare is changing. New studies show that successive generations are less supportive of the redistribution of wealth, and have less conviction that the government is responsible for ensuring a decent standard of living for the unemployed. Poverty in New Zealand is often seen as a non-issue, and it is not uncommon to overhear someone state that “poverty doesn’t really exist here.” 

But is this a fair assumption?  It is a viewpoint that is easy to understand when we compare the images on our screens of starving refugees and extreme poverty throughout the developing world to the state housing blocks that we drive past here. This assumption is revealed in a recent paper from the Ministry of Social Development that found that 60% of respondents believed that people were poor because of “laziness or lack of willpower.”  

Recently in the UK, the New Statesman released a publication focused on debunking misconceptions around poverty, called “Busting the poverty myths.” This report highlighted a similarly-focused publication released by a group of churches, entitled “The lies we tell ourselves.” Both of these  reports offer accounts of what they see as poverty myths and proceed to outline what they believe the reality is. They address questions like: are people living in poverty just because they are “lazy and just don’t want to work”; does work get people out of poverty; are the poor only poor because of money mismanagement?. On reading these publications, we must ask what relevance these stories and statistics have for us here in New Zealand.

Is it time to re-evaluate our own perceptions around poverty and how we respond to those in need in our own communities?

Ashleigh is a 2013 Semester Intern at Maxim Institute. 

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