It is not often you hear about an event sponsored by such a wide range of organisations – from the Treasury to the Salvation Army, from the Greater Wellington Regional Council to the Children’s’ Commissioner. But it happened in Wellington, at Te Papa, on 27 July and I was there.
The purpose of the forum was to bring government, non-government and community organisations together to discuss ideas and action on how to create a more inclusive New Zealand. There were talks by international experts – Stephen Jenkins from the London School of Economics and Miles Corak from the University of Ottawa. There were contributions from local speakers, including leaders of charities and interest groups and primary school principals. But the greater part of the day was devoted to conversations based on table groups, allowing circulation from session to session. The participants – about 200 people – mirrored the range of sectors who set up the day.
The final session asked us what we had learned from the day and one of the significant things for me (and others) was how to peel off “stickies” to prevent them from curling up when stuck on the wall. Why was this important, I hear you ask? Arising from their discussions, participants wrote down issues and ideas from the presentations – answering the what and how questions about inclusivity – and stuck their very condensed, contributions on large sheets of stiff paper. They results were to inform high level discussions subsequently and we await the findings.
So what about a more inclusive New Zealand and what has this to do with older people? Firstly, what does inclusion mean? How do we know whether we are becoming more or less inclusive? Is it just a question of reducing income inequality (as if that was easy)? Miles Corak, a labour economist, listed his recipe for building a more inclusive society:
* Ensure that all children have the opportunities and capabilities to make choices and be all they can be.
* Eliminate child poverty.
* Address income inequalities, especially intergenerational transfers – the extent to which affluence or poverty is passed on.
* Make sure that policy settings encourage social mobility and widen life chances.
There was a lot of focus on children and how child poverty has become a top concern among New Zealand voters – 27% of children in New Zealand live in poverty (increased from 14% in 1982). This does not foster greater social and economic inclusion. Investment in children will not only enhance their life chances, but also has deep economic implications – talent shortages constrain economic growth, needed to sustain social services and income support.
The exclusion of certain groups can be a cost not only to individuals but also to the whole of society. 60% of people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed. Families forced into poor housing make high demands on health services. And remember that there is exclusion at the top of society as well as at the bottom. Rich people have access to exclusive
health, education services and often live in geographically exclusive areas. How much of a cost to society is this? And what, if anything, should be done about it?
So what was suggested? Here are just a few ideas:
* Better quality rental housing
* Address poverty traps, including indebtedness
* Focus educational budgets on what kids need rather that buildings and hardware
* Make resources available at the community level, with less red tape
* Flexible employment conditions and assistance with training
* Letting go of our fixation on risk and blame, avoiding scapegoating – an inclusive society needs compassion.
Two primary school principals provided case studies of inclusiveness in the context of social diversity. Their slogans – “Learn, Create, Share”; “Everyone has a right to belong, to be welcome”; “Cultural appreciation, not tolerance.”
I hope that by now you see what all this has to do with older people – I can leave it to you to work out.