Monday, March 14, 2011

On the achievements of the first Labour government

Elsewhere in the book, Sutch is sharply critical of both Fraser and Nash, but he doesn’t refrain from lauding some of the achievements of the first Labour government. To wit:

Labour had taken office at the end of the worst depression in the twentieth century. It had provided housing, hospital treatment, and social security at a level which for a time led the world; it had protected the farmer by guaranteed prices and centralized marketing; it had built into the economy the means of providing jobs for all. It had made the economic system work and provided increasing profits to private enterprise. But, above all, it had produced in colonial New Zealand the Western world's nearest approach to economic and social equality; the first experiment in making the average income typical income. [364]

Before Labour took office there had been no payments for childless widows, invalidity, sickness, orphanhood, or other emergencies, nor free hospital, mental hospital, and maternity attention. By March 1940 all these were in existence and New Zealand was well ahead of any other English-speaking country, and, indeed, of almost all other countries, in the provision of social security and health benefits. Excluding war pensions, health and unemployment benefits, the monetary benefits paid out increased over fourfold. The number of widows assisted was more than doubled, as was the number of persons receiving age benefits. These dry statistics meant more dignity and serenity in old age, less anxiety and suffering during working life, less pinching and scraping and undernourishment, more freedom and humanity in family relationships, and, to the individual person, greater opportunity for self-expression. [237]

W.B. Sutch. The Quest for Security in New Zealand, 1940 to 1966. Wellington: Oxford University Press, 1966.

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