Paradox and change – Aotearoa-New Zealand

Prepared by : Ian Hyslop


Lock-down in Aotearoa-New Zealand is multiplying the strains on the many children and families who don’t have the luxury of material security; warm homes, possessions, savings and middle-class social capital. Not that you would know this from watching the nauseating television features which seem to assume that the trials (and solutions) facing the inconvenienced well-off – with their over-flowing pantries, gleaming designer kitchens and endless technological aids for their beautiful and entitled children – have any meaning to the other New Zealand of bare floors, cold, damp, scarcity, trouble and anxiety.

I can only think that privileged people somehow really believe that the insulated bubbles of plenty presented in such ‘distraction television’ programmes represent a common reality – that the other reality does not exist. And, for many, I guess it doesn’t – middle class life and the burning questions of recipes and on-line exercise routines and educational software – is somehow perceived to be a shared narrative. The clever solutions to boredom are something we can all take pride in.

We don’t see the struggles of the other New Zealand on our TV screens – it is not what the ‘we are all in this together’ message is made of. We might get the odd flick to the tireless food-bank helpers boxing up parcels – but, of course, the working class people at the bottom of the neoliberal heap are disenfranchised in our social system and only get to be on TV in the form of shock and scandal bait.

Interestingly, although western liberal capitalist states are throwing what money they can at their faltering economies, there is little talk of the need for investment in social work and social services. Perhaps after thirty or forty years of instrumental management and narrow evidence-based practice with a focus on containing the threat posed by the socially disadvantaged, social work is not seen as a profession with something to offer. After all, it is 2020, not 1965. This is a wry paradox indeed. A much different social work is possible – and it needs to be different if it is to be relevant as social distress spreads beyond the boundaries of the underclass imagined in neoliberal orthodoxy.

In my view we need to reclaim and reassert the family, community and social support functions of social work in this time of crisis. This strange window also provides us with the opportunity to reimagine how a free and inclusive socialist society could be built. Anything less and we are fiddling while the future burns.

Image credit: Don Shrimpton – urban disturbance