The National government’s announcement today of its “tough” stance on child abuse is 100% pure distraction. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she feels a “deep sense of responsibility” for New Zealand’s high rates of child abuse (and so she should) but then announces a series of “look busy” measures which will have precious little impact on New Zealand’s horrendous levels of child abuse.
Like National’s “get tough on crime”, her various proposals are a series of policy adjustments which ignore the root causes of the issue. There are NEVER any excuses for child abuse but there are REASONS why it happens at such horrific levels and those reasons are being willfully ignored by National – and by the Labour Party.
Poverty in a land of plenty is the key factor in child abuse and arises from unemployment, alienation, unliveable benefits, demonisation of beneficiaries, poverty wages, insecure hours of work, huge income inequality and cynical scapegoating of the victims of economic policy. In this environment a grim, desperate culture develops in parts of our low-income communities and add in the plethora of social problems which arise from poverty – drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence – and the recipe for high levels of child abuse is complete.
But the most pathetic aspect of the announcement was the reaction of the Labour Party.
Fresh from the 1980s Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Annette King never mentioned poverty or the causes of child abuse. Here’s how she was report by Fairfax:
“Labour’s acting Social Development spokesperson Annette King said all New Zealanders wanted to see child abuse stopped and National’s proposals provided the opportunity to look at the best ways to do that.
“For the sake of our kids, it is important to open up this discussion,” she said.
“Let’s look at the evidence, hear the experts who work in the field, and let the public have their say.
“We need to hear the evidence and be assured the proposals will work.”
A number of the proposals were “worthwhile”, including legislating to make Government departments accountable for protecting children as well as screening and vetting processes for Government employees working with children.”
Contrast that with the thoughtful, intelligent comments from the Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei. Fairfax reported:
“Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the Government had “totally ignored” advice about the impact of poverty on households and vulnerable children.
“If the National Government really wanted to keep kids safe it would support a higher minimum wage and, at the very least, restore benefit rates to the level they were before it slashed them in the 1990s,” she said.
“That would make a real difference to the lives of a generation of Kiwi kids.
“Instead it’s putting families under more pressure through its benefit reforms, and driving women into unsafe relationships for financial reasons.”
A Government which ignored such an important contributor to child abuse was “failing those children”, she said.
Turei said a Child Poverty Action Group review of 25 years worth of child abuse cases found poor parents were more stressed and depressed, could feel useless, or under siege from authorities, and were often absent from the home as they worked long hours in order to make ends meet.”
I heard a visitor (Robert Wade?) recently reported as saying that the Labour Party in Britain had an unwritten policy that they would happily talk about poverty but would never mention inequality. It’s a modern version of the saying that a person who helps the poor is a humanitarian but a person who asks “why are people poor?” is a dangerous revolutionary.
Our Labour Party is reluctant even to talk about poverty – let alone inequality.
The party remains firmly in the grip of its 1980s MPs who were loyal followers of policies which created economic and social devastation.
I know in a blog about child abuse it’s not the most appropriate thing to say but Labour needs a boot up the backside.