10 things you could do instead of a sugar tax

It’s sugar tax season again, when leftwing politicians hem and haw about increasing the costs of food they don’t like in order to coerce people to be healthier. Are you excited? I’m excited.


But I wonder if there’s maybe another way to do things. A way which isn’t punitive, judgemental, or unsubtly sending a message to fat people that their lives are worthless. Maybe it might look something like this.

10 things you could campaign on instead of a sugar tax

Raising wages. Guess what the major obstacle to eating a varied diet high in fruit, vegetables, and tasty protein is? Food costs money! People don’t have much money! Make sure they have more money! Rocket science.

Community gardens, school gardens, and fruit trees on berms. Just put the fresh food out there. Give kids and adults the tools and space to develop skills, provide for themselves, and develop a stronger relationship with where their food comes from.

Good school lunches. Give kids access to a wide range of fresh locally-made food and let them figure out what makes them feel good and full of energy. Bonus: local jobs and opportunities for young/unemployed people to learn skills and contribute to their communities.

Make school sports free. Like, really? I’m not even a parent and I’m hearing about schools charging up to hundreds of dollars, per kid, per team they’re on, per term.

Pools, playgrounds, skate parks, basketball courts. Outside of school, create safe local places for kids and adults to get out and be active.

Raising wages. You know what else makes people reach for convenient pre-packaged highly-processed “junk” foods? Working two or three jobs because they can’t afford to pay the rent, much less be at home every evening to cook a meal from scratch, or go out to the park to play frisbee.

Break up the supermarket duopoly. Two companies control most of our supermarkets, which pushes prices up. Encourage local farmers’ markets especially in urban centres, make it easier for small grocers to get started, crack down on price-fixing and supplier bullying.

Reverse the government’s $1.7 billion cuts to health and then some. Build a health system focused on prevention (of actual diseases, not existence-of-fat-people-itis)

Adopt a Health at Every Size approach. It may sound terrifying, but trufax – when you stop focusing entirely on people’s weight and promote actual physical and mental health, you get happier healthier people. End sizeist policies which exclude fat people from healthcare, and get medical staff looking beyond body size.

RAISING WAGES. Like, seriously. You know what causes a hell of a lot more damage to people’s health than having a fat ass? Stress. Not all the kale in the world is going to save your life if you’re barely sleeping from worry and overwork, never getting any natural light, or constantly fretting about unexpected costs or keeping up appearances despite being skint.

The ironic thing is, many of these policies are already in the political picture. But time and again we get distracted by the policy equivalent of the South Beach Diet- it’s quick! It’s easy! It might damage your health in the long term but you’ll do it anyway because there’s literally nothing worse than being fat!

Our distaste for the huge corporations who sell the packaged/processed/unrecognisable/cheap/nasty food we label as “junk” distracts us from the reality that they are only able to profit because far too many people do not have the luxury of picking and choosing a perfect organic macronutrient-balanced meal plan every week.

I get it. Those guys suck. But ultimately, a sugar tax does nothing but make the cheapest food available more expensive, in an environment where many people cannot make ends meet anyway. Those people won’t find magical quinoa salad under the mattress in the boot of their car if a bag of potato chips costs 50c more.

There are so many other things we can do – so many things that would improve people’s lives without marching into their homes and telling them what’s good for them. A more positive, supportive approach which says people have free will and good hearts, which trusts them to make the right choices for themselves and their whānau. Which is what we’re meant to be about, isn’t it?

Earworm for the day: for Helen Kelly

When I was helping to organise the inaugural conference of E tū earlier this year, we knew we wanted to make Helen Kelly the first life member of our new union. But what song to sing for her? She had very decided opinions about some classic union songs; there was a lot of careful consultation to be done, without letting her in on the surprise.

We settled on “Bread and Roses”, which I have to admit isn’t my favourite – I’m a metal girl, I like something you can bang your head to.

This one didn’t make the shortlist. It probably felt a little on the nose. But Helen had a great sense of humour; I think she would have appreciated the black comedy.

Here’s to her, and here’s to the union.

There is no surplus

Radio NZ reports:

Tax cuts could soon be on the way with the Government opening up its books today revealing Crown accounts are tracking along nicely.

“We’ve always said, if economic and fiscal conditions allow, we will begin to reduce income taxes,” Finance Minister Bill English said.

In Year Eight of this National government, the idea of a budget surplus is a joke (and not just because it’s been completely engineered by the catastrophic Auckland housing bubble). They’ve promised it for nearly a decade. They’ve fiddled the books to make the numbers come out OK. They even declared a surplus in the middle of the financial year – that’s how desperate Bill English has been to pretend that everything’s going along just fine in New Zealand.

The truth is, there is no surplus.

When Housing New Zealand says it simply cannot build the houses we need for families who are living on the street and in their cars, how can we have a surplus?

When District Health Boards insist that they cannot afford to deliver safer rosters for junior doctors, or new equipment, or decent pay rises for support staff, how can we have a surplus?

When public schools, built on the promise of free education for every Kiwi kid, have to demand “voluntary donations” from parents in order to keep operating, how can we have a surplus?

When sick people have to run public campaigns ask for donations to fund the medicine they need, because Pharmac has to prioritise which life-saving treatments it subsidises, how can we have a surplus?

When the people who clean the ministerial toilets in the Beehive aren’t paid a living wage, how can we have a surplus?

If you aren’t providing the services you are contracted to do – in this case, maintaining the public services and promoting the welfare of New Zealanders – and declaring a profit, you’re not running a successful business. You’re running a Ponzi scheme.

This surplus isn’t a success for our government. It is a sign of their failure. It shows they do not understand what their job is: to look after the people of this country. To govern us – not bean-count. It shows they do not understand what success looks like, because success should never be measured on a spreadsheet while children are dying of preventable diseases in mold-ridden houses.

There is no surplus – not if you care about people more than money.

Defending social services and fighting the real enemy

A really interesting article on the government’s proposed changes to child protection legislation at Re-Imagining Social Work, looking specifically at the political context and the especially damaging impacts they could have on Māori families:

The current new and more sophisticated push for public sector privatisation (pushing the market onward to fresh feeding grounds) is premised upon the logic of independent reports, such as Better Public Services, which are, in fact, saturated with political bias.

There is an undertone that public services are failing – particularly for the most vulnerable among us (how particularly sad). In part, this is a spin on one of the oldest privatisation gambits – if you run public services down enough, predictions of failure become self-fulfilling.  Alleged failure is linked to the assertion that we don’t know enough about the drivers of poor outcomes. I wonder what it is that we don’t know, but I am guessing the fact that poverty is directly related to the unfair distribution of wealth and opportunity in our society is something which the Commission would prefer us not to think about. The argument is that social services are expected to solve social problems. If they don’t, social services are at fault.  So … disadvantaged New Zealanders are disadvantaged because of under-performing social services. Are you with me so far?  The answer lies, of course, in innovative flexible capitalism.

There’s been some recent comment on the left about the people who work in this environment. And like I said in Don’t despair, I get the temptation to go for the soft targets – in this case, the people who work on the frontlines. It’s easier to swear at the person on the other end of the phone, giving you the bad news about your allowance or demanding more pointless paperwork, than the convoluted system of politicians and processes and decision-making which got you and them here.

But they aren’t formulating these brutal policies, they aren’t deciding where the funding is spent or cut, they aren’t setting the narratives which enable and encourage a punitive culture instead of a supportive one.

In fact, all we do when we attack the public servants at the coalface is play into the government’s hands and make it only easier for them to review, restructure and privatise our important social services into nonexistence.

Again, like I said in that previous post:

We have to remember that a defining part of being on the left and being progressive and believing in social justice is that we have faith in people. We know people are fundamentally good. We know humans are social animals who form communities and friendships and look out for each other, when they’re not being hammered every day with rightwing narratives about bludgers and self-interest and YOUR taxpayer dollars being wasted on those parasites.

I know that the people working in our public services want to do a good job. They want to ensure people get the support they need. Of course they want kids to eat, of course they want families to have homes.

But when this government decides people needing support don’t have consistent case managers who know their background, they deliberately made it harder for people with complex needs to get all their entitlements. When this government chooses to load people up with debt because they need emergency housing and the only thing available is a hotel – because a previous version of this government decided to sell off our state houses – they make it impossible for people to ever get out of a shitty situation. When this government decides to classify solo parents and people with chronic illnesses as “Jobseekers” regardless of their circumstances, they deliberately prop the door open to errors and mishandling and ridiculous amounts of paperwork.

When this government cuts and cuts and cuts and applies “sinking lid” policies to staff numbers even when there’s an economic crisis going on and more people than ever need to access public services, there is only so much the people on the frontline can do. They are working damned hard often for bloody low pay and they’ve got all the worries about rent and the power bill and school “donations” and getting through the week, same as the rest of us.

Let’s focus our anger where it needs to be: on the government which sets the course, and on the rightwing propaganda which justifies it.


No apologies for this one – I was a teen of the 90s and a WWE Smackdown fan during the glorious Vicki Guerrero/LayCool era.

He said/she said: Aaron Smith

Part one of a probably-eternal series where Rob and Stephanie each share their thoughts on a topical, annoying issue.

[Content note: discussion of assault and non-consent]

Rob says:

Oh for god’s sake rugby union. You just don’t get it do you? It’s not sex that’s the issue – even airport toilet sex – it’s misusing power and ignoring non-consent.

If anything this business with Aaron Smith shows you haven’t learned a thing. Regardless of how Jersey Shore consensual sex in an airport toilet is, it’s consensual.

And disciplining a consenting adult for having sex with another consenting adult is ridiculous.

Honestly, mistaking feminist (actually humanist) concern for abuse of power (ie what happened with the Chiefs) for some kind of Victorian prudishness only shows how dangerously out of touch and unqualified to provide role models to young men like my son, you are.

Maybe you should take a deep breath and have a cup of tea:

Stephanie says:

I started off yesterday, hearing about the Aaron Smith incident, rolling my eyes. Of course NZ Rugby was going to respond far more immediately and drastically to a dude having consensual sex in a public bathroom than they ever would to a group of players being accused of outright assault against a stripper.

But, you know. “Obviously it was silly of him to do that, what was he thinking?”

By the end of the day? I was saying “you have all the bathroom sex you like, mate.”

Because the headlines – WHAT THE WITNESS SAW! SMITH’S PARTNER ASKS FOR PRIVACY, HERE’S A PHOTO OF HER ON OUR FRONT PAGE! OUR CAMERAS INVESTIGATE THE TOILET IN QUESTION! HAVE YOU HEARD FAMOUS PEOPLE HAVING SEX? CONTACT OUR NEWSDESK – were so prurient and predatory that I felt like I’d been transported directly into the pages of the defunct News of the World.

Yes, it’s incredibly shit to misuse accommodations provided for people with disabilities. And if Smith were cheating on his partner at the time, it’s awful for her to have this played out in the media.

But you know what? As a nation, we’ve completely lost the right to cast aspersions on anyone else’s lack of judgement.