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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Co-Operative Farm Scheme. — Part I. — Chapter I. — Is There Poverty in New Zealand?

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Co-Operative Farm Scheme.

Part I.

Chapter I.

Is There Poverty in New Zealand?

A Gentleman writing from the Waikato in 1880 said a few years ago that the cost to the colony of relief to the unemployed was £80,000, and it only partly relieved the distress. It is impossible for charity aid to reach the wants of a large and growing community like that of New Zealand. During the distress of 1886 and 1887 £50,000 was placed on the estimates for relief of the unemployed in Wellington and £80,000 for a like purpose in Dunedin. What it cost for other parts I do not know.

Speaking in the House of Representatives in 1887, Sir George Grey said, "What I wish to impress upon the House is this: that there is a very large amount of distress prevailing in New Zealand at the present time. For instance, I am informed that in the City of Auckland 1,036 individuals are at the present moment receiving relief, and absolutely require that relief. Then, we have been told that a large number in Christchurch are in distress, and men were at relief works for 2s. 6d. per day." Mr. Taylor, M.H.R., speaking of the unemployed, said, "Then, I have only to repeat what was said by the honourable member for Christchurch South; and I may say that the number of cases of unemployed brought before the Government does not represent a tenth part of the people who have nothing to do. There are hundreds of people throughout the colony who do not know how to get their daily bread. It is not the few who come before the public in so prominent a manner who are suffering most at the present moment. There are a great many more who, rather than go to the Charitable Aid Board for work to support them, would spend their last sixpence and part with every stick of furniture so that they might retain their independence."

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Mr. Fish, M.H.R., said, "There can be no doubt as to what the last speaker has said being true. I believe it is a fact that, for even one who asks the Government for relief, there are dozens who suffer and make no complaint. It is also a fact that the very best of our bone and sinew are leaving the various ports of the colony by dozers and dozens every week. I do fear that the Government do not realise as they should do the vast amount of distress which exists] in the country at the present time, nor do they recognise as they should that the question of questions is to devise means to relive the distress which exists. It is a question which the Government should take up more seriously than they do at present." Mr. Seddon, M.H.R., whilst admitting the great amount of distress of the unemployed, thinks that "the great remedy is that something should be done in the way of commencing public works which would afford legitimate employment for this class of men. And, whilst admitting something must be done, it must not be done on a charitable-aid basis. There are always a great number who are unwilling or unable to work. It is one of the most difficult questions that can occupy the attention of any Government. I quite admit there is no doubt, as has been asserted during this discussion, that there are a large number of very deserving cases, and it must not be imagined for a moment that I have not sympathy with those cases. I merely wish to point out how extremely difficult it is for this or any other Government to meet and grapple with such a great and difficult problem."

I cannot but think that when honourable members have carefully perused my scheme they will be bound to acknowledge that it is the one and only true remedy that will at once and for ever set at rest that great and difficult problem, A Remedy for Poverty.

At an interview with the Hon. Mr. Richardson, Minister of Lands, in January, 1889, the Minister assured me that he did not think there was any poverty or any unemployed then existing in New Zealand. The bountiful crops and want of hands to gather them, and the great demand for our produce, and the prices realised, were a guarantee of the prosperity of New Zealand. On the face of the Minister's statement, in July of the same year, the Hon. Sir Harry Atkinson, then Premier, in his Financial Statement, acknowledged that the colony had suffered a loss in about two years to the number of 9,580 souls. An article which appeared in the Auckland Evening Star of the 14th March of the same year, about two months after the Minister's statement, headed "Why is there Poverty in New Zealand?" reads as follows: "We have shown by reliable statistics that the value of produce exported from this colony for the past twelve months exceeds that of previous years by more than a million sterling. All this is good, and it is as true as it is good; yet we find during the month of February of the same year there were 951 souls living on charity 115 were new cases: thus showing the Minister of Lands had very much erred in his judgment. It is quite possible that, at different page 3 parts in which the Minister had just travelled from Wellington to Auckland—through Hawera, Opunake, Normanby, Stratford and New Plymouth—crops may have been bountiful, and hands may have been wanted to gather it in; but who amongst the unemployed in Auckland, if they had £3 in their pocket, would risk the spending of it to go to either of these places, not knowing whether they would get employment or not?" But my scheme is not intended so much to benefit the strong able-bodied man as it is to aid the aged and needy, and those who, whilst able to earn barely sufficient for food and clothes, are not able to earn at the same time sufficient to support a home.

I think the reader will admit that the statements which I have called attention to prove beyond a doubt that a great amount of poverty has existed, does exist, and always will exist until some great reform by Government takes place.

As a further proof, Dr. Hodgkinson, M.H.R., speaking on the Hospitals and Charitable Aid Bill in 1888, said, "Within the last ten years, since abolition, £3,400,000 had been distributed from Wellington amongst the several local bodies, thus showing a cost of £340,000 a year." Oliver Mays, who ought to know something about the distress, speaking in October, 1889, at Devonport, on Colonial Pauperism, said the population regulated by the Auckland Hospital and Charitable Aid Board was about eighty-three thousand, and of that number thirteen hundred received charitable aid. If the same ratio existed over the colony there would be nine or ten thousand paupers, costing £90,000 or £100,000 a year. I ask, Is it not a shame that in so young and grand a country as New Zealand so much poverty should exist?