Urgent need to alter NZ's wealth

Gill Caradoc-Davies makes the case for a Universal Basic Income and criticises the way the term ''child poverty'' is used.

Words are powerful. The right choice of words can set the context for the desired emotional response in the targeted audience.

Add the word ''Aramoana'' to a report on an incident near Port Chalmers, and there will be a flood of complaints about mental health services and police failures.

We tend to forget, in this era of social media, that we are emotional creatures with differing psychodynamic responses to text alone.

The written word lacks the non-verbal clues which could help mould deeper meanings from an actual, live encounter.

Emoticons were created to address this, but are inadequate.

A little more is gleaned from TV, but often these soundbites are too brief to convey much.

In ''dog-whistle politics'' certain phrases are cynically used to trigger a desired psychological response in a targeted audience, but are not ''heard'' by others, like the high-pitched dog whistle is not heard by the human ear.

We are often played for fools (or dogs?) by spin-doctors writing for politicians.

The right words need to be chosen responsibly as they shape our society's hearts, thoughts and attitudes, mould our ethos and direct our emotional inner political world; the place we will vote from.

The words ''child poverty'' are being bandied about in the media at present, clearly as an emotive platform for election year.

These words describe a vitally important issue, but the words themselves are being used in different ways by various people, and assumptions are made with resulting widely differing responses.

Firstly, the term ''poverty'' is distancing. That word suggests that what happens to these people ''out there'' is different, somehow remote, and we would rather not have anything to do with them.

We are not involved intimately with them. Images of emaciated African children loom up; flies play an important role.

''That sort of thing doesn't really happen in New Zealand, of course.''

It can, but the flies-and-all-that scenarios are rare. New Zealand is a rich country.

Yet, many people here live lives of desperation, unable to provide secure shelter for their families, to feed them nourishing, rather than fill-'em-up, food, children who can't play sport or go on school trips.

Their parents are not reading this; they can't afford the ODT.

They are, because of their lack of income, excluded from the ordinary living patterns and customs of what is accepted as being what it means to be a New Zealander.

Some children have never had the chance to learn to swim, let alone go to a beach. That is poverty.

Secondly, the term ''Child Poverty'' suggests that one can focus on the child - swing the camera on to a cute but grubby tyke - but that doesn't work.

A solely child-focused intervention may elevate a few in the short term but it does not improve the general lot of children in the long term. You can't fix this with school milk.

There is no such thing as a ''child'', to paraphrase Winnicott, a child psychiatrist.

Children are by their very nature, by their vulnerability, embedded emotionally and physically in their ''family'', whatever form that takes, good or bad.

I once sat by the bedside of an inconsolable little boy who cried and cried for his mother. She has deliberately burnt him with a cigarette in more than 100 places.

Other deceiving words are ''a living wage''. There are not enough jobs for all who need them, and not everyone can do the jobs that are offered.

Another phrase to be wary of is ''tax-payer funded''.

Those in poverty are often blamed for the situation they find themselves in, yet they pay more tax proportionally than the wealthy.

The inclusive, societal words to use for this so-called problem that is coming to the fore is Wealth and Income Inequality.

The gap is widening between the few rich and the many poor, and we all play a role in this.

We have to take our share of responsibility for the economic situation before we can find the political will to change.

Ideally, all political parties should work together for urgent fiscal and economic change. We live in a community, not an economy.

A guaranteed Universal Basic Income (UBI, or Citizen's Dividend) for all would go a long way to relieving the situation. Yes, people will continue to work; they already do.

Many of them are unpaid women. One in four do volunteer work.

When the words ''funding costs'' and ''taxes'' are mentioned, expressions change to hopelessness.

Give me the back of an envelope, a pencil and an unbiased ear for half an hour and I will show you how easily a UBI can be afforded right now with very little change to income tax, and at twice the sum suggested by Gareth Morgan.

If we are to remain feeling like New Zealanders, with everyone-having-a-fair-go mateship, she'll-be-right confidence, sure-I'll-help trust, No8 wire-and-a-bit-of-2x4 resourcefulness again, we need to stop trying to be money-obsessed, survival-of-the fittest financiers.

We cannot afford not to implement a UBI soon, because we risk losing our self esteem as a nation, and we might never recover psychologically.

Dr Gill Caradoc-Davies is a retired consultant psychiatrist and retired senior psychotherapist, trainer and supervisor.

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