Is our Prime Minister Asking the Right Questions?

Earlier this week Prime Minister Bill English made a comment about too many young unemployed people failing drug tests. Apparently, he has strong anecdotal evidence to back up his claim. 

The comment was in defence of New Zealand’s immigration policy – he was explaining why, in spite of many of our own young being unemployed, we need to import workers.

His response to the situation seems to be way off to me. I have not heard any discussion about why so many New Zealand youth are taking drugs in the first place. In the book The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors present evidence about the effects of income inequality on health, including the use of illicit drugs. The thesis running through the book is that the social cohesion of a society, the invisible fabric which binds us together formed by networks of individuals and the level of their engagement, is damaged by rising levels of income inequality.  Surely the widespread use of illicit drugs by unemployed youth requires some thoughtful inquiry. Why is this happening on such a wide scale? What can we do about it? Importing people to fill a gap and leaving young people on the scrapheap does not seem a very civilised response to a serious problem.

On Radio New Zealand there was positive discussion about ways of dealing with this issue. One employer, a plumber I think, offered young people another chance. He told them to come back when they were clean if they wanted the work. Some of them took up his offer and one of his best workers had originally failed a drug test.

So Mr. English – what are your plans to reduce income inequality in New Zealand?