John Minto: What Right Has John Key To Lecture The Poor

To The Front! is a column by political commentator and activist, John Minto.

To The Front! John Key Lectures The Poor.

The rich have always been good at lecturing the poor on how they should budget, pay their bills, improve their skills and move out of poverty.

In the 1990s Prime Minister Jenny Shipley told poor families to get their priorities right, stop smoking and drinking, sell the TV and budget to get by. She said there was no need for food banks – they simply “created demand” for their services. School mistress Shipley gave homilies on how the poor could and should live on a miserable income – including some advice on recipes – but she baulked at challenges to live for just a week on a beneficiary income. She said the poor should just pull themselves out of their moral lassitude and take on the values of “successful” people.

(The Wikileaks cables show the US Ambassador to New Zealand in 1997, Josiah Beeman, told Washington Shipley believed in “a soft heart and a hard head”. In practice she had the adjectives the other way round)

Prime Minister John Key is the latest preacher to the poor, telling us

“.it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills.”And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”

Like Shipley Key believes there’s no need for food banks. He thinks rising demand for food parcels is just a measure of how hopeless poor people are at managing their money.

Polite disdain would best describe John Key’s attitude to the poor.

He was keen to exploit deprived communities to get at Labour however. When Key visited Auckland’s McGeehan Close in 2007 and spoke with low-income families Labour had left behind he gained great kudos – almost a man of the people rather than a man of the markets. The Labour Party leadership was apoplectic. But Key was right, 100% correct. Labour had long ago left those families to struggle without support and even when Working for Families provided relief for some, Labour left the children of the poorest well behind.

Key cunningly exploited Labour’s weakness but he had no intention of making any difference for the families of McGeehan Close. After two years as Prime Minister, John Key has overseen policies which have accelerated the gap between rich and poor. National couldn’t care less and Labour is only slightly embarrassed about its track record.

However Key’s comments find ready resonance in the parallel universe of talkback radio where ignorance and prejudice intersect and contempt for the poor abounds.

I’d have more respect for the argument that the poor should look after themselves if it wasn’t for deliberate policy choices by successive governments which have given billions in welfare for the wealthy while putting extra barriers ahead of the poor.

The government last year found $1.7 billion to bailout well-off shareholders in South Canterbury Finance but just this week Health Minister Tony Ryall suggests the government will legislate to prevent caregivers being paid the minimum wage when they stay overnight to look after disabled people. “It would cost $500 million and we can’t afford it” says Ryall.

Meanwhile back in the real world successive governments have overseen the unregulated rise of the parasites on poverty where low-income areas have been infested with pokie machines, loan sharks and bottle stores. These are deliberate government decisions which are crippling families and whole low-income communities.

If I thought it would do some good I’d suggest Key spend a week working at a food bank in Mangere. But what self-respecting family in our poorest electorate should have to put up with Key’s condescending lack of empathy or compassion when they seek help to put food on the table?



  1. jazmin murray, 18. February 2011, 11:51

    i like the fact that you have confronted the facts of the poor. statistically i will agree with the fact that it is not right to treat the poor with less values then what you do to the wealthy.

  2. David, 18. February 2011, 12:08

    Jenny Shipley, isn’t she the one who started the leaky home fiasco, now costing billions? Effectively she has created a new poor.

  3. john mayer? | People Q&A ! (Pingback), 18. February 2011, 12:31

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  4. mark, 18. February 2011, 13:07

    Good Response John.

    Key and his mate, Shipley come from the school of thought, where they believe that ……..” Starvation is Gods way of punishing those who have little or no faith in Capitalism”.

    His arrogance reminds me of the comments made by French Queen, Marie Antoinette;
    if the poor have no bread…let them eat cake ( ..if they can afford it).

    Like Jim Anderton said in Parliament recently—in the 80s & 90s, Key was working for his fund manager buddies, helping destroy the NZ Dollar…and I guess that is where he has made his money from.

  5. donna, 18. February 2011, 13:42

    It is outrageous that on the one hand we have a multi-millionaire currency speculator telling the less fortunate their financial problems are simply ones of ‘poor choices’, while on the other his government is about to change the law to ensure that those who are among the lowest paid stay that way.
    We now have a situation where sole parent beneficiaries are deemed ‘dependent’ and told they need to work while at the same time the caregiving work many might reasonably expect to take up effectively pays less than the minimum wage.
    This has nothing to do with improving productivity, lifting families out of poverty or any of the other slogans used to market these policies. This is about creating a low-income, desperate workforce with ever diminishing options to advance themselves. If the entire caregiving workforce walked off the job in disgust at this treatment it’s hard to see who could hold it against them.

  6. Stuart Munro, 18. February 2011, 14:17

    If Key ran a food bank he’d be charging interest.

  7. tony, 18. February 2011, 15:42

    “it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills”

    That quote shows how incredibly out of touch Key and no doubt many other politicial leaders are. My income is far above those on a benefit and I’m struggling to pay my bills. My wife and I have even considered (after budgeting properly) selling our house and moving out of Auckland which means moving our boys out of school, breaking their friendships, selling our house and getting a new job (but there aren’t many on offer). The cost of mortgages/ rent is a killer. Not much you can do about that unless you move and that usually means to where where there are fewer jobs or it costs more to get to a job. And of course for people on a benefit doing these things would be much more difficult (if not impossible, unless they budgeted properly, apparently).

    For some on the benefit, it might be about choice. But for children that live in poverty its not them who are making choices yet suffer nonetheless and dont do as well in education and health and all those other things that will help them make a decent living in the future. If political action is taken to address their poverty our govt is simply perpetuating the hideous poverty cycle, and deepening it and broadening it which means our whole society becomes poorer.


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  9. Amanda, 18. February 2011, 23:28

    Key promised not to touch the benefits when he was elected. What did he do?

    Did away with the Training Incentive Allowance for above level 4 and also ended the Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

    How the hell are ppl in his “underclass” supposed to get ahead if they don’t have the opportunities to do so?

    The man is a fake, up with the rich down with the poor, after all they need their working class to build their business assets!

  10. Steve, 19. February 2011, 11:40

    Maybe Tony your just not very good at budgeting

  11. Tony, 19. February 2011, 13:12

    ha ha! You’re probably right, Steve. The point is though that for beneficiares (which I have been but before kids) simply budgetting properly isn’t going to get them out of poverty or out of the s*it when it hits the fan. Its hard enough paying the bills on a decent wage. There are “lifestyle choices” on a benefit? Get real, Key. And who was that guy trying to say being a beneficiary was a legitimate lifestyle choice? It should be a social safety net, nothig more.

  12. Paul, 19. February 2011, 15:22

    Key is correct. If only the poor would make better decisions when buying and selling derivatives and in currency trading then they would be able to have things they currently lack – milk, bread, warm houses and the like.

  13. Jonathon Shane Crawford (Manurewa), 19. February 2011, 20:17

    John Key & Jenny Shipley are Hippocrates, what would they know? The amount of unemployed people alone ou weight the amount of jobs available. however, it is NOT a “Life Style” choice, even when a company goes in to receivership, those people have NOT choice but to apply for the unemployment benefit.
    John Key and all of the rich should look at them selves first before complaining about beneficiaries (Matthew 7:1-5). Plenty of jobs? Bar Hum bug! Unless one is qualified, has experience and own transport, how can we find work? What about people with medical disabilities? Stokes, Mental illness’s Huh, It is their fault? No.

  14. Cam, 20. February 2011, 16:34

    Poors need to take initiative! What has welfare ever done for anyone – all it is is an opiate!

  15. mike e, 21. February 2011, 17:22

    countries with a good welfare system have lower unemployment than than countries that have poor or no welfare system look at the U.S.

  16. Angie, 21. February 2011, 20:25

    Society, communities and environments increasingly suffer under brtual one-eyed successors to Piggy Muldoon – we had ‘Jennycide’ in the 90s and now ‘Keydoon’ is arrogantly wrecking our country.

  17. Jimmy, 27. February 2011, 21:51

    What do you think John Key has to say about the food banks in Christchurch?

  18. g bruno, 28. February 2011, 9:33

    Poor Choices
    In Christchurch, people are walking into WINZ/welfare and being giving money because THEY NEED IT.

    This is seriously radical. (Wasn’t there a C19 author who proposed “to each according to his need”?)

    Modest Proposal: Let us adopt the philosophy of our dear leader, El-Supremo-Money-Changer John:

    “The poor are poor because they made poor choices”

    So, the poor in ChCh are poor because they made poor choices in the face of Seismic.
    The poor in Auckland are poor because they made poor choices in the face of Capital.

    It is widely known that of 1024 forex-dealers, after 10 all-or-nothing trades 1023 will be broke, and leave to get honest work.
    One will remain with the firm conviction that his luck is in fact skill.
    There is a tiny probability that he does in fact have the skill to profit from the misery of various peoples, as their money is devalued. But face it, its really just chance.

    So let us propose that WINZ should apply the same harsh, vindictive, mean-spirited, sub-lethal force to Seismic survivors and Capital survivors. They made the wrong choices (where to live, what positions to take). Let us turn our faces away, leave them to result of their wrong choices.

    The alternative is far too radical to contemplate … from each according to his ability ,,, etc etc

    (relax people, winz are only givng $160, shouldnt mean too much of a tax-hike)

  19. The City is Ours, 5. March 2011, 21:45

    Can anyone go to John Key’s house with a parcel from the foodbank and show him the contents please?

  20. Katie Dun, 3. April 2011, 3:25

    I have been checking out some of your articles and i must say clever stuff. I will surely bookmark your blog.

  21. samuel welsh, 9. February 2012, 19:50

    he will make us all poorer