Just how big is the too-hard basket going to get?

By   /   December 10, 2013  /   14 Comments

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Paula Bennett actually said out loud that it was too difficult because children moved in and out of poverty on a daily or weekly basis.
Too many kids are too poor too often for us to figure out just how poor they are. What she means to say is this: The National Party don’t have or want a strategy to deal with poverty.


Poverty isn’t a gene. It’s a result.

And until this week, we didn’t have a real measure of what it looks like.

Just how deprived of dignity does a kid have to be before she or he is classed as living in poverty?

I mean, should we include the bilingual, brilliant kids I taught who showed their backbones through mildewed shirts, with nothing for lunch and certainly no breakfast, their refugee father stealing gas bottles from petrol stations to cook them rice once or twice a week? Yes? No? Not sure? The ones with sickening school sores that never got treated because all 12 occupants of the 3-bedroom house had school sores too and they’d all be reinfected anyway? Is it poverty surrounding the 5 year old who had so many head lice for so long he scratched his scalp to the skull, or something else? Is it real or fake poverty we can smell lingering among the 24 out of 28 kids who had to share their only pair of whole-soled shoes? The little ones who drank the dregs from beer cans before school because there wasn’t any food – were they savaged by poorness, or just born as tiny baby losers?

I could go on, and on. A quarter of our kids are now in poverty, a huge rise since the National Party took over (and it’s a much higher fraction than that in some areas of the country).

But they didn’t like the idea of measuring child poverty – they refused to because it was bothersome. Paula Bennett actually said out loud that it was too difficult because children moved in and out of poverty on a daily or weekly basis.

Too many kids are too poor too often for us to figure out just how poor they are.

What she means to say is this:

The National Party don’t have or want a strategy to deal with poverty.

Even the Herald on Sunday has expressed barely-concealed rage over the issue, running this scathing piece on our Minister for Social Development, her shoddy figures and poor analysis.

Paula Bennett is too terrified to admit the scale of the problem, and I don’t blame her. It is huge, it is horrifying, and when you truly understand what everyday poverty means for little kids, it breaks your head and it breaks your heart.

Luckily for this country, some people aren’t afraid. This brave and brilliant man, Dr Russell Wills, took it upon himself to secure funding for an independent investigation into child poverty (here is his report).

It is a tough report to read, and the predictable commentary from the public will be mainly outrage at the parents. Poor parenting – in both senses – has been shown to be a large contributing factor to child poverty, after all.

But it is never ever a child’s fault that they are covered in big scabby school sores, malnourished, or unable to shake sickness off because of the damp they live in. And I don’t actually give a damn what their parents did or didn’t do to get into poverty. The question really isn’t, Well, why did they have 8 children, those idiots? The question is: Why are those 8 children all in severe poverty when we have an allegedly first-world democratic government elected to look after us all?

Many responses towards calls to address poverty at the government level tend towards, What, so you want to reduce old people’s pensions and give my tax dollars money to poor kids instead?

It doesn’t have to be kids versus the elderly in a fist fight for our country’s funds – but let’s be honest: with this government it will be.

The responsibility-avoiding National Party, chronically blaming poverty on anything but policy, keeps rattling their teeth with the same lame reasons we always get from those who resent intrusion on their plans to prosper pecuniarily. They will continue to enact only the cost-neutral options among all the recommendations made by experts, instead of, oh, I don’t know, procuring funds by reversing excessive tax cuts for the biggest earners, or taxing the profits of mega-churches (who are supposed to give their billions to the poor anyway and clearly don’t, otherwise their communities wouldn’t be in such strife).

There’s a besides-which, too, and it goes like this: elderly personalities are fully formed, and much better off than our youth in general. A hungry, sick, poor, cold kid grows into an angry, resentful young adult, who is far more likely to prey on us all.

We don’t need an increase in the social ills that result from being permanently poor.

And when you know there is a huge, in-yer-face causal link, you wonder what is prompting this government to both sit on its hands and twiddle its thumbs so very hard.

Now that somebody has done the difficult research for them, surely we can eagerly await the announcement of what specific, evidence-based actions this minority government will take to address poverty, now they can measure it effectively.

They must at least try to address the human rights of the 25% of our kids living below the bread line, surely.

After all, a government exists essentially to help groups of hominid mammals live civilly alongside one another with their basic needs met.

A democratic, first-world government helps those at the bottom of the social ladder as well as those at the top.

And a decent government at least tries.

If they won’t even do that, then they quite simply have no business being in government.





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  1. Nitrium Nitrium says:

    Well that pretty much nails my own sentiments. Both the unnecessary poverty and this Government’s apparent unwillingness to address it in a meaningful (or indeed, ANY) manner.

  2. Dex says:

    And what is the solution?

    Money isn’t the answer, it’s a purely subjective mechanism with which to judge poverty, and when we know that it’s the spending choices of parents as opposed to a lack of funds available, pouring money at it will simply reduce the funds available elsewhere.

    The alternative is an intrusive form of government assistance, with measures aimed at directly assisting children, such as healthy food vouchers, coupled with things such as mandatory parenting classes for ‘at risk’ beneficiary parents as well as drug & alcohol testing, with financial rewards for clean parents.

    That is the only reality that will make a difference.

    • fambo says:

      When you are poor you don’t have “spending choices”. You just try to make ends met. And if you can’t make ends meet you can’t go to the dentist and it just gets worse from there. Only those who have been there understand what it is like.

    • Dex, your quasi-Libertarian approach isn’t a solution – it’s part of the growing problem.

      For you to suggest that “money isn’t a solution” is like saying that giving medication to a sick person isn’t the answer.

      Well if that’s the case, why did National give billions of tax-money to the top 10% in 2009 and 2010?!

      If money isn’t a solution, why do the top 1% want so much of it?

      And if money isn’t the solution – feel free to give me half your income each week.

      It’s not a matter of “spending choices of parents”. That is utter self-serving, denialist, crap.

      There is no choice when the rent consume 60% of your meagre pay and the power and phone take up the rest.

      The only thing I got from your little exercise in self-righteous judgementalism is that you haven’t a clue. Your statement,

      “The alternative is an intrusive form of government assistance, with measures aimed at directly assisting children, such as healthy food vouchers, coupled with things such as mandatory parenting classes for ‘at risk’ beneficiary parents as well as drug & alcohol testing, with financial rewards for clean parents.”

      – is proof of that.

      The irony is that you probably don’t know of any people from the poorest part of our society (you’ll probably say that you do – and I’m guessing that’ll be a bald-faced lie to attempt to justify your prejudice). You’re simply repeating the mindless, cliched pap that the right wing spew so that they don’t have to take responsibility for 30 years of failed economic policy.

      As for suggesting that “pouring money at it will simply reduce the funds available elsewhere” – do you actually consider this rubbish before writing it?!

      Where will it “simply reduce the funds available elsewhere”? Warner Bros? Rio Tinto? Parliamentary travel perks? Yachting races? MediaWorks?

      Or is it that after the 2009 and 2010 tax cuts (plus four tax cuts prior to that), successive governments have wilfully reduced their tax revenue and either cut social services or increased the cost of said services?

      We could alleviate child poverty, poor housing, low wages in this country. The Scandinavians have achieved many of these outcomes. Our Aussie cuzzies are better paid (despite 6 tax cuts here!) And we used to have a fairer society as well once upon a time.

      That’s before a bunch of greedy shits decided to cut taxes and social services and promise that we’d all be better of with “trickle down” wealth.

      That was a lie.

      And you, my sad little fellow Kiwi, are part of that lie.

      No wonder you blame the poor for being poor. It means you (and others like you) can avoid responsibility for the state that we find ourselves in, after 30 years of failed neo-liberal dogma.

      The irony is that the poor don’t control this country or it’s economic policies. Think of that for one moment before you launch your next moralistic crap.

      • Danyl Strype says:

        >> There is no choice when the rent consume 60% of your meagre pay and the power and phone take up the rest. <<

        If you can even afford a phone.

      • Dex says:

        The irony of your post is that it patently shows that you have absolutely no experience of the life children in real poverty actually suffer. You think that money is a band aid, and you can simply hand more of it out to make problems go away. Wrong.

        There are a significant number of beneficiaries whose children are achieving at school, and who do adequately cloth, feed and give them the resources they need to achieve. Are they poor? undeniably yes, but you would be extremely arrogant to characterize their children as living in poverty based on a subjective monetary figure such as income, that ignores the sacrifices these parents make.

        And if you get past the childish emotional rhetoric, the funds available, especially for those with children, are adequate enough to achieve this, providing children are prioritised in the weekly budget.

        For those that are living in poverty, the same factors that lead to long term benefit dependence, i.e broken relationships & single parenthood, domestic violence, lack of education, lack of support and/or alcohol/drug abuse, are the same factors that result in children not being adequately clothed, fed or educated. It’s often not willful ill-treatment, however as many studies have shown the parents of such children do not make the same spending choices as working parents on similar incomes. Throwing additional money at them won’t alleviate the problems, as very little of it will be prioritized to achieving better outcomes for children.

        Now you invest that same money in upgrading HNZ homes, increasing funding for low decile schools while giving them the resources to feed and cloth at risk children, including after school programs so they can keep up educationally, and actual outcomes will begin to change.

    • Stuart Munro says:

      Housing would make a good start.

    • Andrea says:

      You’re right! Money isn’t the answer because every time there’s an income lift at the bottom those who profit from those at the bottom raise the prices.

      And before anyone leaps to their feet to cry, ‘Neo-Liberal!’ please, if you remember so far, think on the cartoons around the time of year for state sector workers to get back pay. Hordes of shopkeepers at the shop doors waiting for the dollars to come in from people who had, for many many months been left behind the tide of rising prices and had now caught up. Temporarily.

      We don’t need vouchers, for sure. Too much like ‘the company store’ where only a few providers get to clip the ticket.

      But we do need more wise and well-paid feet on the ground such as district health nurses and health visitors. And a lot less PC ‘don’t touch!’ for kids with nits. In my mum’s day there was a health nurse who came around the schools (they had a bazillion kids per class then) and she used to delouse the kids with a nit comb – plus having stern words with parents without fear of being labelled ‘racist’, or ‘condescending’. And ‘a #1’ is a hair style with a reason for being, after all.

      Not too long ago, here in NZ, kids who stunk were pounced on by teachers and whisked home at lunchtime for a bath and re-clothing from the Lost and Found box. How dreadfully un-PC.

      Refugee fathers heading out to nick gas bottles to cook the rice – where the hell was his case worker and coach???!!! What happened to his ongoing support?

      Money is worth bugger all without the supporting people and the care and the services that are accessible/affordable without the stupid stupid rules and sanctions.

      My immigrant family came here from cold stark places, from violence and hunger, and they did not tolerate dirt and hungry kids no matter what else they went without and had to save for. There’s no reason for it to be different here.

      Anyone would think we’d had a whole cohort of older women die off before they could teach their daughters the basics of how to cope on bugger all. But they haven’t died off. Just pushed away until grandma gets the kids to raise on no help at all.

      Most cash-squeezed families aren’t gormless or drunkards or wastrels. They’re not. Full stop – NOT. And what would help enormously are measures to keep the basic costs of life affordable, even if the niceties have to be saved for.

      Can you, fellow kiwis, keep pushing for this basics affordability for all? The battlers would have a chance to get off the canvas and make progress if you could.

      It’s not money. That just eases things – it doesn’t fill the real gaps.

  3. As for Dr Wills. I don’t expect the Nats to be re-employing him, should the unthinkable happens and they win a third term in office.

  4. Stuart Munro says:

    This nonsense has only just begun in NZ – but Key is as thick as thieves with Cameron – which means this heap of crap http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-report/
    will be coming if National ever get power again.

    Time to take the battle to the enemies of the poor, and give them a bloody good lesson.

  5. Marc says:

    Check these links out, to the questions asked to Paula Bennett during Question Time in Parliament on Tuesday, 10 Dec. 2013:

    Question 1 by Russell Norman, Greens:

    Question 5 by Jacinda Ardern, Labour:

    And from 05 Dec., by Jacinda Ardern to Bennett:

    It is incredible how Paula “Beneshit” gets away with such answers to questions, but she does.

    Nothing of substance, wishy washy drivel, fluffy nothingness galore, that is what comes out of her mouth, when asked about measuring child poverty and measures to address it.

  6. Danyl Strype says:

    I share your concerns here BoT. What I keep coming back to is that poverty is a lack of access to a fair share of abundant resources. I presume we have enough housing in NZ for everybody to have one. I see enough edible food in supermarket dumpsters to know there’s no shortage of that. I don’t see why would should have a shortage of doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers etc. The main thing people seem to lack to get access to their fair share of all this is money. But money doesn’t even exist!

    As David Graeber points out in ‘Debt: The First 5000 Years’, money is nothing but a social agreement whose power we all implicitly shore up every time we pay in cash, or accept a bank transfer. Property is also a social agreement that certain people have an exclusive right to certain things. When the way these agreements work is causing the horrifying social conditions you describe above, and leading us towards the prison-industrial complex the Conservatives champion, maybe it’s time to start negotiating a new set of social agreements about how the Earth’s resources are shared?

  7. DRDOLITTLE says:

    There exists a cohort of intergenerational beneficiares in NZ, I dont know exactly how big it is but it exists. My view is that to break the cycle we really need to attend to the needs of the children in these situation, teach them” give a man some food and he will eat for a day, teach him how to farm and you will feed him for life.” ( something like that )

    Education needs to be improved, and more emphasis on life skills and coaching. Contraception is a very important issue, make it free for all. As for medical care many GP practices are funded to provide free consultations for under sixes, and the prescriptions are free also, just hunt around for those high needs clinics and you will find that this is true, there is no financial excuse for untreated school sores in this country, admittedly logistics can be a challenge esp if you have a large no of kids to organize.

    This is a complex problem, and I think some sensible interventions are needed, these people need help, they were never taught to do the things that are needed to stand on their own two feet. If nothing new is tried then I guarantee you things won’t change.

    Just have to say this, also give the kids some breakfast you wouldn’t let your own kids go hungry would you? Weetbix doesn’t cost that much, taxpayer or fonterra , just get it done, it will get the kids to school and we will know that they have eaten something.

Authorised by Martyn Bradbury, The Editor, TheDailyBlog, 5 Victoria St East/Queen St, CBD, Auckland, New Zealand.