Is it possible to solve child poverty? For a long time now the Green Party has said we can. And as we nudge closer to the election, we will be saying we must. We’ll be comparing National’s approach that it’s impossible, and even wrong to ensure all children have enough to live decent lives, with our vastly more positive message that every child has the right to the means to live a decent life.
“Throwing money at poor people” as Paula Bennett sneeringly said last week, is absolutely the way to solve child poverty. As is ensuring that kids get access to the education they need to reach their full potential.
Over the last three months Metiria and I have been visiting low decile schools as part of the Greens “Children at the Heart” school hubs tour. It has been sobering and inspiring. Seeing children having to ask for food and hearing school principals’ stories of the extreme transience of families suffering sustained deprivation was sobering. As was hearing from one Principal of his struggle to get some teachers to understand that a child who was late to school, but who managed to get her younger siblings to class was a hero not a failure.
It shames me that in our wealthy country some kids holiday overseas every year while others watch their parents break down under the strain of empty cupboards and electricity disconnection.
These are the families which the Government refuses to support through “Working for Families” . These are the children who miss out on birthday parties or new shoes let alone an iPad.
Meeting these bright and beautiful children reminded me that we are responsible for the current situation. We are not powerless, we can choose to change these conditions for them.
Many low decile schools inspire me because they are prepared to do so much more than teach. They respond to the needs of children from food to transport to medical appointments.
They are doing what they can to reduce the impact of inequality. But should teachers have to do this?
We need teachers to teach. That’s what they’re good at.
They should not have to try and fix the catastrophe of social inequality that free market capitalism has visited upon our communities.
Some schools are opening their doors and strengthening relationships with communities as a great mitigation strategy in the face of Government denial that poverty affects education.
Schools such as Victory, Karori West, and Epuni have highly developed hubs which use the community skills to make schools so much more than classrooms.
They have nurses, social workers, volunteers, adult educators, cooks and gardeners alongside parents and kids building powerful school communities. They uphold Te Reo Maori and cultural inclusion. Some schools are magnets for special needs because they prioritise the needs of these children at the expense of new buildings and extra resources. Schools like Thames South, Merivale Primary and Sunset Primary show extraordinary leadership and dedication to culture as well as achievement in what are sometimes harsh contexts where intergeneration poverty has cut deep.
The Greens will build on that work, though our policy to create onsite community hubs on every low decile New Zealand primary school.
We’ll employ a coordinator to run the hub, plus provide free nutritious lunches, free after school and holiday care and a full time dedicated nurse in every school.
The coordinator will work with their community on what other opportunities they want to include, these could include Moroccan cooking, ESOL, or parenting programmes.
The key is to engage parents in their kids’ education and provide the opportunities for them to get ahead too.
These strategies have been welcomed by the inspiring leaders of low decile schools. Teachers want to teach and want children to be well and ready to learn. They want parents to engage with the schools and feel like school belongs to whanau and family.
We’ll also build 20 new early childhood centres on school grounds to help participation and transition to school. We won’t fund private providers to do this because we reject the privatisation of education.
The current Government is happy to leave the mitigation of child poverty to the vagaries of charity while refusing to increase wages and benefits, create jobs or address the housing crisis. They are entrenching inequality in education.
We cannot wait another three years to turn the tide for our children. As a nation we can do so much better if we face the truth about child poverty and work with our schools and communities for an end to inequality as the key goal in education. Children are worth it.
Catherine Delahunty is a Green MP from the Hauraki/ Coromandel. She was brought up to be an activist in a left wing Wellington family and works on social and environmental justice from a Te Tiriti o Waitangi perspective. Catherine is education spokesperson for the Greens.