TV Review: The Vote – Blame the parents for poverty debate



When I heard what the topic was this month, I have to be honest I threw up a little into the back of my throat. With the culture of beneficiary bashing fostered by a corporate mainstream media who play to the worst of our angels for ratings, the moot that it is bad parenting and not poverty that is to blame for hungry children was always going to produce a result that would make Mississippi pre-abolition of slavery look progressive.

How a bunch of religious fanatics managed to be the face of good parenting is in itself simply too much suspension of disbelief for me to sustain without a full frontal lobotomy. People who push for the legislative right to bash their kids have no moral high ground to comment on parenting.

Blaming the parent ignores the reality of poverty. Poverty crushes the spirit – the stress of it helps make violence happen. That’s not justifying the abuse, it’s explaining it. Yes there are plenty of good parents in poverty who make it, but there are also plenty who don’t. Feeling superior by blaming parents only punishes those children further.

Middle class NZ is in poverty denial so they can wash their hands of responsibility by blaming the parents. In a success driven consumer culture, the middle classes need to thank themselves for their success while blaming those who fail for theirs.

The invisible privilege that permeates so much success is never acknowledged, to do so limits an individuals sense of personal achievement. I succeed due to my hard work, yay for me. You fail because you don’t try hard enough. Boo for you. In this user pays vacuum there is no recognition of social hierarchy, no recognition of structural hegemony, no acceptance of generational poverty.

What never get’s mentioned is that benefits were set under Ruth Richardson below the weekly nutritional minimum as an INCENTIVE for hungry beneficiaries to get a job. The idea to keep any NZer hungry to force them to behave a certain way isn’t welfare, it’s social policy as cruelty.

What’s being displayed in this debate is the gated culture of the middle classes wrapped in their pretence of egalitarianism.

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Let them eat Weet-Bix isn’t a solution to child poverty.

‘Poverty is a choice’ only cements those 270000 children trapped in it and allows those who have money to be guilt free. Apparently we can’t afford $100m per year on Feed the Kids, but we can afford $400m per year on tax cuts for the rich.

We should be ashamed that this is accepted without a shrug.

Sadly in the end, a TV shouting match of heat sheds no light. I love how the fate of over quarter of a million kids in poverty is entertainment fodder for a gladiatorial TV debate – this is part of the problem!

If The Vote was around during universal suffrage it would have revealed a similar petty bigotry. Political courage means standing up to ignorance and the worst elements of our selfishness and championing those without the economic or cultural power to defend themselves.

It’s called the tyranny of the majority for a reason.

Ultimately brothers & sisters, even if you want to blame the parents, it’s not the fault of those children for having crap Mums & Dads. Their hunger and their poverty is still the responsibility of a decent, egalitarian country.

I am my brothers keeper, and I am my neighbors baby-sitter. It takes a community to feed a kid.


  1. And 63% of the votes supported the moot.
    Depressing and predictable.
    The highlight was the impassioned speech by Celia Lashley who noted that blaming poor parenting for the problem let middle New Zealand off the hook.
    Which of course explains the 63% vote.
    First they came for the poor..and I was not poor….
    Some people will only realise what’s going on when it’s them that are directly affected.

    • “The highlight was the impassioned speech by Celia Lashley who noted that blaming poor parenting for the problem let middle New Zealand off the hook.”
      That absolutely nailed it for me too. What was also never adequately explained is how the CONSTANT shortage of money, and I mean long term shortage of money is supposed to allow the provision of food, housing, transport to and from often multiple low paid jobs, etc.
      Those multiple long term jobs also mean an extremely long working day for many – so how such parents are expected to have (what the Rankins et al) would call ‘quality time’ is beyond me. Perhaps those smug middle class ‘its bad parenting’ folk might help out with child minding! I’m picking not.

  2. The real victims of The Vote were those of us who enjoy a higher standard of public discourse.

    (Oh no wait, the real victims are the poor bloody kids who aren’t getting the help they need because the “Moral Majority” would rather persecute them than help them).

    That being said, the “poverty” team absolutely presented the better arguments, based in hard data and lived experienced. All the “Blame the Parents” team had was platitudes, Weetbix, blankets, Weetbix, “Human spirit and life skills,” Weetbix, and Weetbix.

    …slowly starting to hate Weetbix a little.

    • You don’t think Hone Harawira lost it when he stated his wife and him were better parents when they had nothing living in Northland than when they had more of an income later and were living in Auckland?

  3. Agree Bomber – appalling to use child poverty as entertainment and to think it can be determined by a yes/no vote parenting/poverty.

  4. If you can’t afford a TV, don’t have internet access and need to spend the 37 cents* on the kid’s breakfast instead of sending a text on your emergency telecommunication cellphone, you could only expect the voting to go one way – bashing you again! Just the usual sickening shit thinking of our mega mental masturbatory main stream media. Now lets hear it for the Cabinet and Solid Energy that paid $48k (almost 700 000 breakfasts) for spin doctors to massage the truth at a select committee hearing, one the few remaining fora of democratic accountability in our increasingly fascist society.

    *Christine Rankin’s cost estimate of the cost of a substantial child-size breakfast.

  5. I earn just above the minimum wage and have gone the past seven days without money for food (just managed to cover my mortgage) so I totally get how hard (nigh on impossible) it is for a lot of families to make ends meet. One good things about it is that I feel empathy with those people in a way that otherwise I might not.

    On a slight sidebar, one group that is increasingly finding it hard to make ends as well are a good number of 65 to 75 year olds who grew up and lived most of their lives at a time when there was increasing wealth in New Zealand (post the Great Depression). They are unprepared for the mental (and lifestyle) shock that they will spend their retirement in increasing deprivation. The Seniors travel Gold Card is the only thing that is allowing a lot of them to get out of their homes (especially those in cities).

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