Wednesday 25 February 2015

Neighbour's Day 2015

Neighbour's Day is coming up in just over 4 weeks: Saturday March 28th - Sunday March 29th.  If you want to get to know your neighbours, this is your chance!
  • Read about Neighbour's Day here;
  • Get resources (ideas, posters, editable invitations etc.) here;
  • Register your Neighbour's Day event here!
We've really enjoyed Neighbour's Day in the past, so I encourage you to give it a go!  It can be as simple as inviting some near neighbours over for a cuppa or as full-on as throwing a party for your whole street: whatever works for you :-)

Neighbour's Day in our street, 2013

Sunday 22 February 2015

Silvereyes in the Elderberry

When we moved here, we planted an elderberry just to one side of my bedroom window.  We wanted it mostly to make cordial from the flowers, but this year we got more flowers than we needed so we have had a lot of berries, too.

I've eaten some, but the best way to enjoy them is to watch the silvereyes eating them.  Here's two that visited today :-)

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Social support for the elderly vs. social support for the infirm

In recent days I've had cause to spend some time on the WINZ website.  Whilst there, I was confronted with something I've been shocked by before:
  1. A married couple who both have health conditions that render them permanently unable to work, but who happen to be under the age of 65, will be given $558.26 to live on by the government;
  2. A married couple who are fit and healthy but happen to be aged 65 or older, will be given $638.46 per week to live on.
Around $80 a week is a big difference.

If the older couple have health problems of their own, the discrepancy becomes greater:
  1. A married couple who both have health conditions that render them permanently unable to work, but who happen to be under the age of 65, will be given $558.26 to live on;
  2. A married couple who both have health conditions that render them permanently incapacitated, but who happen to be aged 65 or over, will be given up to $761.22 to live on.
Around $200 a week is a huge difference!

Similarly, if the two couples needed assistance with housing costs, the help offered to the older couple would be a lot more generous than that offered to the infirm couple.

The data I'm working from is all on this pdf.
Note that benefits for people with permanent health conditions are known as "Supported Living Payments" these days, not Invalids Benefits).

This seems to me blatantly unjust.  I'm OK with the unemployment benefit (known these days as "Jobseeker Support") being at a lower rate than Superannuation: you're not expected to be unemployed for the rest of your life so it's not so important that it's at a long-term liveable rate.  But I'm not OK with those who are unable to work being treated worse than those who are simply old.  After all, the only reason we give financial support to older people is because we consider them too old to be able to work!

What would I like to see done?

I'd like these Superannuation and Supported Living Payments to be set at the same level.  People who won't be able to work again for the rest of their lives and people who are too old to work again have the same needs and so should receive the same support.  I don't hugely mind which level the two benefits are set at (i.e. at the current rate of Super, the current rate of the Supported Living Allowance or somewhere in between), but I strongly feel the rate should be the same.

If it's considered politically impossible to lower the rate of Super then this proposal would increase the government's costs.  In that case, I'd propose raising the age of entitlement to Super to 70 (in order to make the change fiscally neutral) but with one proviso.  Anyone aged between 65 and 70 who was assessed as unfit to work due to their physical or mental health, and who is assessed as being likely to stay that way for at least 6 months, would receive a Supported Living Payment.  Once assessed as eligible, they would remain eligible until they turned 70, without periodic reviews.  This would mean that, in effect, between the ages of 65 and 70 Super would be needs-assessed, and from the age of 70 it would be a universal entitlement.

Why?  With increasing life expectancies, many people are staying healthy and able to work well past 65.  It makes sense to me to increase the age at which we say that you are probably no longer fit to work in order to give money to those who have actually been assessed unfit to work.  However, some people (e.g. people who've done physical work like shearing or people who just have bad genes) get 'old' at a much younger age.  It seems harsh to force those people to either continue trying to work or to perpetually prove their incapacity once they've demonstrated their working days are done.  Not requiring regular reviews would also save money, and I doubt it would result in many people fraudulently receiving this special Supported Living Allowance at any time as you could only receive it for a maximum of 5 years anyway.

If life expectancy continues to increase, I'd want to periodically increase the cut-offs for eligibility both for Super and for this special Supported Living Allowance.

I'm not sure what to do with my idea.  Does anyone know?  I know that John Key has emphatically stated that he's not going to increase the age of entitlement to Super so long as he's Prime Minister, plus his government has really tightened up entitlement to other benefits, so it's probably not worth talking to him.  I guess that means I should try and lobby Labour or the Greens, but I don't know how to go about getting their attention on an issue that's not one of current debate.  Any ideas (or any feedback on my solution to the current unjust system) would be appreciated!

Thursday 12 February 2015

Fair trade knickers!!

The other day, I was delighted to receive my first ever fair trade knickers!  They come from PACT, one of only two companies I've found that do fair trade underwear (the other is Pants to Poverty, sold in Australia by Etiko).
Why was this so exciting?  It means that I'm able to buy more of my clothing from higher in our buying hierarchy.

In general, Martin and I try to buy clothes (and other textiles) in the following order of preference:
  1. Second-hand.  Second-hand goods don't require the use of any new resources, so they're a gift to people whose lives are endangered by resource extraction/forest clearance for farming etc.  Practically all my outer clothes are second hand, as is much of our linen.  Much fewer of Martins' clothes are, though - it seems that guys are more likely to keep wearing their stuff till it's worn out :-)
  2. Fair Trade (ideally certified fair trade, but also goods from companies that make a plausible claim to be 'under fair trade conditions').  The people who make these goods work under decent conditions and there's no slavery/indentured labour or child labour (both of which are very common in Uzebikistan in particular).  And it's not just the people in the factories who get good jobs: to be fair trade certified, everyone in the production chain (farmers, spinners, dye-ers etc.) has to be working in fair trade conditions.  By buying fair trade and encouraging others to do so, we're expanding the pool of good jobs available in the Majority World.  In practise, though, I've actually bought very little fair trade clothing for myself (as I've only needed to buy underclothes and socks new, and I couldn't find those) and Martin's only bought a few T-shirts and one cotton shirt.  Fair trade clothing for adults is hard to find in NZ, although I've earlier listed a few online options here.
  3. Organic cotton or alternate fibres, made in the Majority World.  I don't like buying 'conventional' cotton.  There's a lot of evidence that the conventional cotton industry forces Indian cotton farmers into such crushing debt that it's estimated 270,000 of them have killed themselves in the last 20 years.  They also often have little choice but to use pesticides without proper protective clothing, leading to poisoning from chemical exposure.  By buying organic cotton, I'm expanding the number of farmers who can farm more safely.  If I can't do this, I'll choose alternative fibres: either synthetics or other natural fibres like wool, bamboo or hemp.  Martin has a great sturdy hemp T-shirt and I love my snuggly warm rabbit/wool blend socks :-)
  4. Anything else made in the Majority World.  If it doesn't say it wasn't made in a sweatshop, I assume that it was.  I'd rather buy clothing made in a sweatshop than clothing made in New Zealand.  In the vast majority of cases, people are working in sweatshops because it's the best option available to them.  Take, for example, the story of Shumi and Minu, two sisters in Bangladesh making T-shirts for the Western market.  They (along with Minu's husband) live in a single room with a concrete floor, cook on a single gas ring outside and work crazy hours at a not-wonderfully-safe factory.  They're so happy to be doing so!  The factory has gotten them away from cooking over a smoky open fire in a mud hut back in the village, where the hours were just as crazy, safety was also poor and everyone else had a say in their business to boot!  I don't want to take that option away from women like Shumi and Minu just because their sweatshop conditions don't look great to me.
  5. Clothing made in the West, whatever it's made of.  I'm conscious that, in leaving this to last, I'm doing a woman in my church out of a job.  She's in her late 50s or early 60s and trained as a seamstress.  She's a great seamstress and loves the work, but she's recently had to retrain because there aren't many jobs in dress-making any more.  It makes me sad because I know how hard this has been for her and I know that my choices contribute to her situation  But I'm not going to change my choices.  After all, she's been able to retrain and get another decent job (even if she doesn't much like it).  But if all the work at Bangladeshi sweatshops dried up, there's nothing else that Shumi and Minu could train to do: they'd have to return to the village and lose all the advantages their sweatshop jobs have brought them.
How high in this hierarchy we buy depends on what we can afford as well as what we can find in the time we have available to look for it.  I'm delighted to have been able to buy knickers from higher up than we've previously managed.  They're also super-soft and comfortable :-)

PACT is based in the US, and shipping to NZ starts at US$25 (or get a US friend to onship them for you - shipping within the US is free if you spend more than $25).  Pants to Poverty ships to NZ for £25 (although they offered to halve that for me if I bought 5 pairs or more).  If you buy their products from Etiko, shipping starts at Aust$18 and is free if you spend Aust $200 or more.

If you intend to buy anything from PACT, could you let me know before you do?  They'll give me a reward for having referred a friend :-)  Thanks!

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Bleeding heart vine

I'd like to share something that's making me smile.

For Christmas, my 'almost family' gave me a bleeding heart vine.  I'd never seen one before - turns out it's native to West Africa but can grow here as a house plant.

When it arrived, it was covered with red and white flowers, like this:

I never took a photo - image from here  

Dramatic and lovely.

When we returned from holiday, all the flowers had died.  I trimmed most of them off (hoping to encourage more), but left a few by mistake.

I noticed the other day that this had happened:

As I was trimming off the dead flowers, I'd noticed a green 'knob' in the base of some of them.  In the flowers I'd left on the plant these had burst open, revealing a shiny black seed coated with orangey-red powder.  Two of the remaining flowers have these and I think they're stunning!

It also has deeply veined leaves that look beautiful with the light behind them.

All round a delightful plant :-)