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September 28, 2014 | by  | in Being Well Opinion |
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Being Well – New Zealand’s Failure

New Zealand is in an inequality crisis, and that is not just – it is injustice personified by all of us, and it affects all of us. We are living in one of the worst countries in the world for inequality of wealth distribution and income distribution, and this directly contributes to our cultural inequalities, gender inequality, child abuse and child poverty, and the impact of these real-life experiences will/does affect us all: every single one of us. Economic inequality matters – it affects the health and the wellbeing of everyone living in this society! “High levels of … inequality dramatically increase what is known as psychosocial stress: the psychological and physical effects of comparing ourselves to others and feeling inferior” (Rashbrooke, 2013, p 12). The injustice of inequality can lead to feeling angry, humiliated and alienated, which undermines personal dignity, philosopher Nayef Al-Rodhan (2009) argues, and this can be the cause of civil unrest, as Bob Marley sang in his seminal ‘Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)’: “a hungry mob is an angry mob” (1974). Economic inequality is a very harmful form of inequality. Wilkinson and Pickett (2010) find that there is a correlation between health and social problems and income inequality, including issues such as anxiety, depression, chronic illness, and stress. The health and social outcomes for more unequal countries are substantially worse on every count, and New Zealand is at the most unequal end of the international scale.

So where to from here? This is a very hard issue to address, but you can contribute now!

The perception of how people are treated can be used to judge a society (Shaw, 2013). This extends to how the least-advantaged members of society are valued and supported, and how those in power view distribution of income and resources among society. You, as a leader and a privileged individual, because of your educational opportunity, have enormous potential to consider these factors and do something about them – you, the future leaders in business, economics, law, politics, health, policy, education, and as the thinkers of our nation’s future – you can contribute to everyone’s wellbeing by doing something to reduce inequality and injustice in New Zealand. Positive wellbeing is linked to human dignity which is linked to our sense of living in a just society. We all must make sure that there is dialogue promoting justice, engaging in debate which takes account of all the voices in our society, fair treatment for all, and accountability for decision-makers. New Zealand’s failure could be addressed by you, and by doing this, you will not only positively affect your personal wellbeing and that of your family, but you will positively affect the wellbeing of a nation! So, contribute to reducing the income gap between the poorest and the wealthiest in New Zealand, and be proud of what could be your most important contribution New Zealand’s wellbeing. “The future is what we choose to develop as well as what we choose to ignore” (Tuhiwai Smith, 2013, p 228).

Co-authored by:
Kent Smith, Counsellor, Student Counselling Service &
Kaitlyn Smith, BA Honours Student, Victoria University

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