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Hey Bill - Where's My Recovery?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Hey Bill English - where's my recovery? That's the question I'm asking right now given that we're officially in the midst of an economic recovery.

I don't doubt the indicatiors that are out there which suggest that something of a recovery is underway. Higher business confidence, small drops in the number of people claiming the dole, better property prices and improving retail sales have all recently been measured.

However, for many people, the recovery hasn't arrived yet. For those who have just been made redundant or seen their business fail, the statistics that are coming out seem to be from another world altogether.

Anecdotally, just taking a stroll down your local main street will illustrate just how tough things have been this year. As only I know from making the familiar trek down Dunedin's George Street shopping precinct, I have seen a newsagent's shop, that has been there for eons and weathered past recessions, close its doors. Just further along the street, two more shops have 'for lease' signs pasted onto their windows and these too are longstanding businesses. The ubiquitous sale signs still hang on retailers store windows too. However, there are fewer now than there were during Winter but they are still there.

Another indicator that this recovery will a slow and painful one comes from personal experience. I undertake casual, on-call work in order to make ends meet while studying and at the moment, clients aren't exactly flocking to provide work for the company I am employed by. While this is to be expected in the field I work within from time-to-time, the downturn in business could be prolonged and it could be another few weeks or so before I get any work again.

Furthermore, I have had another small job as a university tutor and while I have been fortunate enough to gain work this year, I don't know about next year. This is due to Bill English's determination to exercise fiscal probity in order to reduce the budget deficit that now stands at nearly $10 billion, a record. What this will mean for the tertiary sector is the activation of a sinking lid policy as real, inflation-adjusted spending on this vital area looks set to be reduced. At Otago University, this policy change has lead Vice Chancellor Professor Sir David Skegg to form a working party with the intention of reviewing departmental spending virtually line-by-line and asking for each department to make cuts in order to offset the project fall in revenue. Consequently (as is already becoming increasingly the case) more lay-offs are expected within the University and wider tertiary sector and these will be of both academic and administrative support staff. For this reason, I'm also fearing that the axe will fall on funding for tutors as we support lecturers in both the delivery of tutorials and the marking of essays. While tutorials will still be run, I now believe that fewer postgraduate students (like myself) will have the opportunity to undertake this work as funding becomes squeezed.

For these and other reasons, I believe that while we're coming out of recession, it will still be a long and bumpy road ahead. The number of unemployed is not forecast to peak until early next year and then it will take some time for numbers to fall back to their pre-recession levels. As economists keep telling us, unemployment is a lagging indicator as it is the last one to show any improvement following a downturn.

That's why, as I wrote in an earlier political blog on the guide2 site that no one will really believe that this recession is over until unemployment begins to fall significantly.

Only then will I believe that this recession is over. But Bill won't be finished with his attacks on public sector workers. For them, this recession has only just begun.



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