A very weak week – doing Jacinda Ardern’s job for her



This has been a week of disbelief and dismay for followers of question time in the house.

Handed a pack of dynamite as a gift from heaven in election year what does the Opposition do with it?   They work very hard to make it a damp squib.  It beggars belief. Where are the political advisors?

So what happened that was of such monumental significance?

It wasn’t that the government knew about errors in child poverty figures before Christmas, and tried to cover them up. Duh

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And no, no, no Labour, it wasn’t that the error meant that poor children were “short-changed by over $1 billion”. Duh.  Bill English thought all his Christmases had come at once.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member clearly does not understand the measure if he thinks that families have been “short-changed”. A data error was made deep in the bowels of Statistics New Zealand by a statutorily independent agency, so it is nothing to do with the Government. Secondly, we have made sure that that miscalculation has made no difference to any entitlement of any New Zealand family or child, and that is the case. No New Zealand family or child is worse off because of that miscalculation.

And no Labour, the biggest thing is not that the numbers of children in poverty are now 285,000 rather than 265,000.

Jacinda Ardern: Knowing now that there are 285,000 children living in poverty, rather than 265,000, what does she plan to do differently in terms of tackling this issue?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we have seen is that the estimate was around 2 percent higher than what we advised. As the Minister said, actually it flat-lined and is now getting better than what it was in 2010. So what that says to us—

Hon Member: 20,000 more.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is. Well, in 2010, going by 60 percent of the median, after housing costs, it was supposedly 300,000. It is now 285,000, and in the last year it has been on 285,000 as well. So, as I say, it has gone down and then flat-lined. It is the responsibility of parents. It is the responsibility of families. It is the responsibility of communities. And, yes, the Government has a role to play. With that, we have made sure that welfare reforms—[Interruption] I can tell the member that there are 12,000 fewer children living in benefit-dependent households just in the last 12 months alone.

The issue was that hundreds of thousands of the poorest families in New Zealand have been portrayed to have much more income than they actually had. While the new figures push 20,000 below the poverty line and that is significant, the real issue is the other 265,000 children already below the 60% line.  Nearly all of them are further below the line and have endured a greater depth of poverty than the policymakers were lead to believe.

There are now 30,000 more children that we thought below the very stringent 50% line.  How many are below the 40% line if the correct figures are used?

The error was that the accommodation supplement was counted twice as income.  Once by Treasury and once by Statistics NZ.  Given that it is hard for families to know what they are actually getting, there is a separate calculation of how much Working for Families and the Accommodation Supplement each household is entitled to, based on gross wages, number of children, rents, whether on benefits and where they live.  For large low income families in Auckland, and sole parent with two or more children, the Accommodation Supplement might be as high as $225 a week. A typical payment for a sole parent it might be $80-120 a week.

So low income families might have had an extra $4000-$10,000 added to their actual net income.  A very significant over-statement indeed.

Any left politician worth their salt would have probed the figures and demanded an inquiry into low incomes in NZ.  Many families are experiencing a tragedy of gigantic proportions that may prove irreversible for them and society.  In fairness, David Cunliffe did make an impassioned speech on Tuesday for Children’s day, but it was followed by a lacklustre questions in the house, and by Wednesday the issue had disappeared.

Labour was rendered impotent because to ask the obvious questions would require that it acknowledge that its very own policies did not work in a recession.  Interestingly they were warned as early as  2007 by the MSD itself, who at that time found ‘pockets of significant hardship and poverty’ with some families falling under the 40% poverty line and warned of the need to revisit Working for Families policy. Seven years on it is just tragic to learn that these pockets have become so much larger and for the last 4 years we didn’t have the warning lights of the correct figures.

Now we know the true picture of unremitting child poverty in New Zealand surely the job of the politicians is to act decisively and with urgency.



  1. “Where are the political advisors?”
    Absolutely right – – -this is a question I have been asking for a long time. The recent gaffes by David Cunliffe have been preceeded by a cartload of incompetence on the part of those backroom operators known as the political research unit. They seem unable to seize upon real issues with question time in the House reduced to asking about petty newspaper articles. The National Party have been making mincemeat of them.
    I despair !

  2. I fear we have let the rot set in so deep that we no longer have any idea what to do to reverse the situation. It is all well and good coming up with this micro policy and that micro policy, but they all look more like bandaids on cancers to me.
    A fundamental shift is required and I am not sure (beyond the old tried and true method) what it is that will motivate us to pull together for a better world.
    For too long now we have been brainwashed by the whole neo-lib/free market agenda that we are unable to envisage anything else.
    It still may be the old tried and true method that does it in the end, but it hopefully, will not come in the form of warfare. Christchurch may give us a small window to look in and see what it can be like, how people roll up their sleeves and help each other in times of crisis.
    Crisis times are on the way, they will come in forms we have not truly seen before, climate change being one of them. It’s just it creeps up generally a little slower than an earthquake or warfare, although with some of the disastrous weather around the world at the moment….
    It will take more than jumping up and down about power prices getting to a point where some will indeed have to do without, it will take more than raising the minimum wage, it will take more than just about all of the ad hoc bits of policy here and there. It will take a sea change and I don’t think most people are ready to do that, in fact quite the opposite seems to be happening, from climate change and our part in it, deniers, to people who think it is okay for countries to be laying waste to what little rainforest there is left in the world and hunting large animals to extinction out of some attitude that we have dominion over them.
    It will take disaster to shift our mindset now I am afraid, I hope with all my heart I am wrong.
    My solution is to learn to live a smaller life to turn our backs on corporate control of our lives, and learn to live with less in terms of stuff and more in terms of our relationships with others

  3. True.
    Labour has bought into the demonisation of the poor as an ‘underclass’. Even the children it seems are worth no more than a bit of moral outrage. But their heart is not in it, for the reason that you point out.
    They are complicit in not restoring the Richardson cuts because they are frightened they will lose the middle vote of ‘taxpayers’ who think their taxes pay the wages of the poor.
    Labour needs to get rid of this divisive bullshit once and for all and turn WFF into a UBI as an inflation proofed living wage for all.
    ‘Labour’ is a misnomer for a party that has abandoned full employment and social security as its twin pillars of faith.

  4. Perhaps Jacinda Ardern also needs Labour to back her up with policies that she can be proud of?
    Jacinda comes across as awkward and desperate on TV, and its really hard to watch. I’m not sure exactly what it is. She bobs her head around and tries to be funny or attack National, but it always falls flat. She attempts to convey a relaxed and caring personality, but it doesn’t work.
    I think Jacinda’s main problem is that she doesn’t possess the ability to execute stinging put-downs, whereas many other politicians do (another way to say that is to highlight how Jacinda is not a dick-head). So all Jacinda has to fall back on is Labour’s policies…good luck with that!
    Paula owned Jacinda over the last few years and its good to see Jacinda move out of that role, but to be fair, who could possibly have beaten Paula under those circumstances? Paula was popular because of her dear leader, and meanwhile Jacinda was trying to sell Labour’s welfare policies. If I was Jicinda, there would have been no way I’d have tried to sell those policies, and I hope Moroney is saying that to Cunliffe now.
    Being Labour’s (neoliberal) human face has taken its toll, because let’s be honest, Labour’s human face is as repulsive and ugly as National’s. Putting a human face on a neoliberal beast won’t change the fact that it’s still a beast. How can someone go on TV and pretend they are the voice of the oppressed, while their policies will do little more than perpetuate oppression.
    Jacinda needs to get her confidence back because her appearances on TV have been cringe worthy.
    Perhaps lay off the coffee before interviews or some more media training?
    Some decent policies would be useful too

  5. Get rid of the dead wood.They are so lazy they cant even be bothered to investigate the stats. They are not interested, they sit on their arse all day taking home their undeserved salaries and continue to uninspire. The 30 plus need to go now. They know who they are. They are as talentless as they are irrelevant. One or two fired up rants a year are not impressing anyone. Labour is very close to being dead, like its senior members.

  6. Labour can’t draw blood on social security issues because they begin with the same philosophy as National, that people are poor through lack of effort. Seeing it as an individual failing is to lose the battle, whereas to see it as a structural failing means they would have to go back and reevaluate their filthy part in installing neoliberalism. A young and relatively aesthetic spokesperson who giggles rather than a vile specimen who can spit venom more effectively than a pit viper doesn’t help when the policies are basically the same.

  7. this article probably makes a good point, but after reading it, im not sure what it is. it should have been said up front. so the issue is … ‘govt has double counted the benefit/WFF part of peoples income, making it seem that poverty was not as bad as it is?

  8. Where is Sue Moroney, where is Louisa Wall, where are the voices of the “spokespersons” on social security in Labour. I am afraid, mostly nowhere to be heard, that is in Parliament and Question Time at least.

    It makes me furious also, and I have been close to despair, knowing that Labour members have been presented other damning information they could use to hammer Bennett and this ruthless government, but they do not use it.

    This only creates nothing but disbelief, suspicion, mistrust, resignation and depression amongst the many affected. And very many beneficiaries will traditionally not bother to vote.

    Labour are ignoring a significant number of the 800,000 they claim they want to motivate to go to the polling booths.

    I suspect they are not raising welfare, as surveys have shown, welfare is not a priority issue amongst the wider public (that is primarily the “middle class”). And yet child poverty is still linked to welfare, one way or another.

    We are now into March, almost half way through, and all we get is discussion about Cunliffe’s true direction, questions about where he stands, and about some issues with donations into trusts. It is election year, for damned sake.

    Clear all up questions that need tidying up, and focus on what is necessary, dear Labourites, or you will betray the very 285,000 children in poverty (and others), for another 3 years. Can you bear that responsibility?

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