Thanks to all our members who supported the PSA’s Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment during the election campaign. We’ll be continuing this campaign for a commitment to universal basic services.
Here’s why writer and campaigner Max Harris believes universalism is so important.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been full of cries, the world over, that “we’re all in this together”. But so far the pandemic hasn’t produced the turn towards greater collective solidarity that some anticipated.
In particular, the election campaign in New Zealand revealed a striking lack of commitment to universalism in the policy offerings of the major parties.
Labour committed to free trades training and the Greens proposed extending ACC to long-term sickness.
But Labour’s free school meals policy focused on schools “with the highest disadvantage”. National’s ‘First 1000 Days’ policy proposed means-testing those with “additional need”. No party backed a plan for free dental care for all.
It was up to the PSA to call for a collection of universal basic services through its Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment campaign. It called for greater universality in healthcare, housing, education, income support, transport, and internet. FIRST union also reiterated its support for the extension of universal services.
A SIMPLE IDEA
Universal basic services is a simple idea. Services like healthcare or education should be publicly owned and delivered, comprehensive and free-at-the-point-of-use, and funded by general taxation.
It’s the idea that underpins our health system, even if it is full of gaps. It involves raising the floor of our basic rights – expanding what we can expect from life. Examples include free public transport and free broadband.
It recognises that means-testing is costly and stigmatising. It reflects the political reality that more people will support the provision of a service if it is provided to everyone.
Universal social policy has had its problems in the past. It’s often excluded migrants, or conflicted with Te Tiriti o Waitangi. These lessons must be learned in the future.
INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE
A greater commitment to universalism will require not just political will. We also have to push back on the myth that the government needs to be cautious during the pandemic.
With relatively low government debt by international standards and low interest rates, now’s the time for New Zealand to invest in services and infrastructure.
Privatisation and outsourcing has dented government. We need to rebuild its capacity, and extend government provision into new areas.
Tackling challenges like public housing, under-funded health services, and public transport could even pay for itself over time, as we wouldn’t be spending so much to fix the consequences of under-investment, such as poverty, poor health and environmental damage.
We also need a 21st century vision of political leadership in Aotearoa, with Crown kawanatanga in one sphere and tino rangatiratanga in another.
Building on the Aotearoa Wellbeing Commitment, and strengthening the call for universal basic services, will be crucial if we want to live up to rhetorical claims that “we’re all in this together”.
The right to work is a fundamental human right - but people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) continue to experience discrimination in workplaces which can sometimes force them to leave.