Lockdown reality for the ‘other’ NZ

There are numerous uncertainties surrounding these days of Covid-19 in Aotearoa-New Zealand and across the globe.

From a social work perspective, it is hard to know where to begin, with the burdens carried by social workers in the present, or with the possibilities facing the planet in the longer run.

Whichever we chose, there is one certainty and that is social suffering.

It’s the stock-in-trade of social work and an assured outcome of a crisis like this that we know will impact unevenly in structurally unequal societies like ours.

What might this mean now and into the future?

Already, lockdown 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 that seem to assume that the trials (and solutions) facing the inconvenienced well-off – with their over-flowing pantries, gleaming designer kitchen islands 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 actually 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 online 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, those 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.

However, social work is the occupation that walks – sometimes without invitation – into the homes of disenfranchised citizens every day.

The inadequacy of greed-based economics is exposed in this encounter, although pushing the problem back up the chain to where it originates – in the flaws inherent to liberal capitalism – has been carefully erased from most social work job descriptions over the last 30 years.

These are demanding times for social work in so many ways.

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.

This takes me to the bigger picture.

I would not want to appear disloyal in this period of high-stakes national emergency.

This is clearly a time for unity and the Ardern coalition government has done a very impressive job to date, saving lives by going hard, going early and going carefully.

Ego has not got in the way of medical advice about how to combat rampant infectious disease. I think readers will have little trouble thinking of world leaders who have been less effective.

In Aotearoa-New Zealand and the wider world there are some fascinating questions in the medium- to long-term. Continue reading


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