Real reasons to fear Government’s new approach to child poverty



Now  I really am worried.  Selling state houses is bad enough but a taking a ‘social investment focus’ to deal with child poverty?

“The Treasury will issue a Request for Information inviting submissions from people who work with vulnerable New Zealanders as well as others whose input might help us invest to get better results.”

Apparently the government needs help to find:

  1. Effective ways of identifying and engaging the children and families most at risk of poor education, criminal justice and employment outcomes.
  2. How existing services or support could be improved to deliver better outcomes for the most at-risk children and their families.
  3. Issues not currently being addressed that affect at-risk children and their families.
  4. New interventions, services or arrangements that could deliver better outcomes.

For issues not currently addressed they could take a look at any number of reports, eg Our Children Our Choice.

It is like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff picking out only the children most seriously injured and ignoring the rest and ignoring the ones about to fall down the cliff.  Working for Families was very selective like that. Only some of the 230,000 poor children were deserving enough to be helped adequately.

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And don’t expect anything from the Government in the short-term.

“Information collected will be used to identify where existing government services can be improved, or where new localised or citizen-centred services can be trialled as part of Budget 2015. Initiatives could be funded through new spending or reprioritising existing expenditure.”

This is enough wriggle room to drive a bus through. Ominously trials, not real policy change are signalled. If there is any extra spending it will be only for the very poor, and most likely paid for by chopping off the meagre payments to those not quite so poor.  That is called ‘reprioritising’.

The targeting approach is being taken to absurd depths. Worryingly, the inclusive policy of free visits to the doctor for all under 13 is inconsistent with this approach.  Post-election, will a shrinking of the ‘budget surplus’ be blamed for a change of heart on this one? It would be nice to be wrong.


  1. It’s the inexorable creep towards privatisation of welfare. What more can be said. When those who claim to want to help invest in a corrupt corporate ideology to make a profit (tangible, social or political) , the people are better off on their own. Church…meet State… it’s like people who were never there are longing for 1814 based on the backward imaginings of what they see during an episode of Downton Abbey.

    Wake up do-gooders: Charity requires the guidance of a relationship with a God, not John Key or any other man, not your ego, not your humanist ideals. Otherwise it’s just philanthropy, prone to all it’s weaknesses and unintentional exacerbations of existing problems. Cry me a river of outrage. Better yet, admit your systems and beliefs are the problem and solve the problem at the root.

    • What is definitely not needed is the charity model. NZ is in danger of losing so much it is hard to know where to start. Those who understand that the role of the welfare state is to prevent, not just ameliorate poverty must speak out before it is too late. We are following the extremes of the UK and the US welfare approaches and can expect the same kind of deep social malaise and hunger to affect increasing numbers of formerly middle income families.

      • Hi Susan,
        I totally agree, but what are the solutions on the table?
        From my perspective I see is a viscous cycle where low paid, or no work and high costs of living force too many people to live in ways that do not sustain a decent standard of living. I’ve been there … Is there another way, a different model to alleviate the poverty cycle? If the costs of housing a family, however that is defined, is reduced; and ways of developing community interaction encouraged, can the cycle of poverty be broken?
        Our ¼ acre pavlova paradise has become a trap, paying exorbitant interest to banks for home ownership. Coupled to the neoliberalist rort of the last 30 years, has destroyed much of the social fabric of our society. Too many have absolutely no insulation against those policies of transference of wealth generated by neoliberalism. Privatisation, user pays, gst, the list I thought was at its end, what more could “they” do? But this regime has found more ways of returning to bite us, and it’s only been 3-4 weeks.
        Can I ignore for the moment … ‘this is not possible in the current climate’ … what if we restored low interest loans to low income people via the ‘state’. (Housing Corp loans of say 2-3%) State and Local Body funding to community workers (from the very community) to develop practical community involvement, community gardens, centres of learning – places where local people run all sorts of classes on things from gardening to weaving to well everything! (Shifting funding from ‘privatisation of welfare’ to community groups themselves). The use of local schools for health care and child support networks. (Wasn’t there a Green policy around this?) And maybe micro-funding of employment projects in communities, just like they do in 3rd world countries!
        Nothing new in these thoughts, there are solutions everywhere. I simply crave a ‘discussion of the possible’ as opposed to critique of the neolibs latest attacks. They haven’t changed in 30 years, but we need to, at the grass roots. Don’t we need a vision to work towards, things we can do now and things we can demand from government over time? Could you articulate that, or bring to attention those who are actively articulating such a vision? I know good stuff is happening everywhere, but governments seem incapable of the change needed to solve these problems of growing poverty in this land. But we can! Just how, how to ‘model’ a better future!
        Thanks Susan, I always look forward to your articles.

        • Joanna
          A really thoughtful response. Let’s start with the rewrite of the Social Security Act promised for next year. Let’s not be sucked into continually complaining about the direction of current blinkered policies and set a new agenda. There are lots of ideas. But we need a set of new principles. Treating all low income children the same is one.
          CPAG is shortly publishing a report on the archaic use of relationship status in the welfare system. Lets imagine a different kind of world where women are not presumed dependent in a relationship and where no-one can be accused of relationship misrepresentation or fraud. Just two ideas. The left have got a lot of work to do….

          • Oh you have struck a chill through me, this government rewriting the Social Security Act. Thankyou for that connection to CPAG, and the article you wrote too. (Susan St John: Achilles heel of National’s welfare reform (2012)) So easy to forget that there are many groups doing absolutely wonderful work everywhere in the community in so many areas. And so easy to be depressed by the “direction of current blinkered policies”. I love the concept of setting a new agenda, and a discussion around principles of social security, work and income. I am part way through reading ‘Wellbeing Economics – Future Directions for New Zealand’ (Dalziel and Saunders) … probably need to read it a couple of times! From the back cover, enabling New Zealanders to live ‘the kinds of lives they value and have reason to value’ strikes me as essential in so many ways.
            Your second comment too … oh yes! Although “no-one can be accused of relationship misrepresentation or fraud” … do you deal with this somewhere? The left have spades of work to do … Sue Bradfords work toward a left wing think tank just seems so timely.

        • @ JoannaP .

          Yes . Yes , you are right and yes we do .

          The very peculiar thing that few seem to want to address is the oddity that is our ‘ spirit ‘ and ‘ soul ‘ . I don’t mean in some god bothering , organised religious gibberish kind of way . Churches and their silly old men usually , dressed up as Christmas Trees wobbling about on knee replacements from years of begging to an invisible flying wizard , and a cruel fucker at that and of their own creation while trying to claw back their innocence before they die in a sweaty pit of guilt .
          In the immortal words of the Dalai Lama . ” Yeah , nah . ”

          It’s that most intriguing and beguiling thing , the spirit and soul which gives rise to ‘ us ‘ .

          Those of us lucky enough to have been able to travel to ‘ Third World ‘ countries you write of usually come back to NZ lamenting that those ‘ Third Worlders ‘ are often indescribably financially poor yet are hugely rich in spirit and soul there fore they appear ‘ happy ‘ . An emotion that we’re steadily becoming less familiar with as the old , unfashionable wide screens take up ever more land fill space .

          The neoliberals are always trumpeting on about the sacrosanct ‘ job ‘ as if having a ‘ job ‘ is the absolute zenith of being human . It is not . Being happy is the absolute zenith of being human . If you are happy , you’ve made it . If one is happy , one has achieved great , great success in life . Happy people begat happy people who in turn begat happy people who in turn begat happy people . Chillingly , the opposite is equally true , as we are seeing .

          Like the nobel flea . Please allow me to introduce one of my favourite metaphors .

          “The Siphonaptera” is a nursery rhyme, sometimes referred to as Fleas.

          Big fleas have little fleas,
          Upon their backs to bite ’em,
          And little fleas have lesser fleas,
          and so, ad infinitum.

          And the great fleas, themselves, in turn
          Have greater fleas to go on;
          While these again have greater still,
          And greater still, and so on.

          ” Real reasons to fear Government’s new approach to child poverty ”

          The real reason to fear this government certainly , is that these soulless , mean spirited fuckers believe that money can buy happiness . If you don’t have money and as a consequence you’re unhappy then it’s your fault so get a job . Get a job that doesn’t exist and pay for the essential things you need that you used to own . Get a job and watch as the foreign owned Banks rort you of any and all discretionary income you might be left with after you pay for the services and amenities you used to own . After the cow , that’s spent it’s entire ‘ productive ‘ life shitting and pissing into your water gets trucked off , shot and sliced up , try and buy a slab of its flesh at the supermarket ?

          And how do they , the Banks , know how much discretionary income you have ? Do you use those insidious ‘ loyalty cards ‘ ? The One Card ? Fly buys ? AA ? Credit card ? Debit card ? All those cards supply your personal information to the Banks .
          The cards may not necessarily give them your name , date of birth , job status , blood type , ethnic identity , personal wealth against income , address , known associates …yet . But they fucking could if they needed such detail .
          But really ? All they need to know at this point is where you shop , what you buy and how much you pay . There goes your discretionary income as increases in bank charges , increase in vehicle re licensing fees , increases in housing , transportation , medical , insurance’s all get ratcheted up because they have you dancing to their tune .
          Then what happens ? Your wee kids cop it , huge stresses build within the whanau / family , people split up thus the single parent family is born. Those kids then grow up angry , afraid and anxious and we all know what happens next don’t we ? Self destruction . Societal decay . Drug addictions . Alcohol abuse . Poor mental and physical health . Low self esteem . But most dreadful ? Unhappiness . A long , low life of being unhappy . In Gods own Mate .

          What to do ?

          Get rid of the Banks . Use cash . Know your enemy . Might sound a bit Mad Max but really , it’s getting closer to that fiction than further away you must admit .

          • Hi
            I love the nursery rhyme! So good to be a flea, and part of a “movement of fleas”!
            Always enjoy reading your comments, we shall prevail!

    • ” Never do business with a religious son-of-a-bitch . But if you do , get it in writing . Never trust someone with God on their side to tell them how to fuck you on the deal . ”

      William S Burroughs .

    • What do you mean ‘just philanthropy’? Do you even know what the word means? It mean love of mankind. What can possibly be wrong with that, regardless of whether or not the person expressing it has some religious belief? Your attitude is, frankly, anything but charitable.

  2. So that chart shows around 30K kids in poverty in 2001 compared to 25K now. That’s a decrease of say around 17%. Meanwhile the population has grown from just over 3.7m in the 2001 census to just over 4.2m in the 2013 census. Call that 13.5% population growth.

    So that’s effectively a 30% reduction in real terms in the number of children in poverty.

    No wonder it’s hard to cultivate a sense of crisis when the figures are in fact incrementally improving.

    • Oh no, no, no, you don’t get away with that BS remark, “Brutus”. The graph shows no such thing.

      For one thing, the graph doesn’t indicates individual numbers, it shows percentages. Hence, it’s irrelevant if the population increased since 2001, because we’re looking at the percentage of the population.

      Secondly, yes, there was a drop from around 2000 (?) to 2008 (?) which coincides with the introduction of Working for Families and increased spending on various social services. But you seem to have over-looked that it has risen since 2008 (?) from around 22% to 25%, and then ‘flat-lined’.

      So child poverty has increased not decreased.

      No wonder the country is in the crapper when right wingers willfully mis-represent data.

      • Thank you Frank
        Brutus has no idea of what child poverty means, Take a look at hospital stats for third world crippling diseases or the local food bank for sheer desperation among families.
        Successive governments left the worst off kids out of Working for Families– poverty rates fell only for those in families with work.
        The graph does not show the depth of poverty of those below the line.

  3. This latest crop of Politicians were born with silver spoons in their mouths…To them , Poverty does not exist , Jobs a plentiful and the economy is soaring!!

    So , who`s playbook are they reading ……( Ignore everything and it will go away scenario )

    • Did you notice how many of those cited ‘student loans’ as a contributing factor to their present day indebtedness?

      Why did we go along with the shift to unaffordable education in this low-population country at a time when the jobs so many of us used to top up our bursary payments and pay our way through the ‘free’ ‘varsity education were vanishing?

  4. I wrote a jokey piece several years ago about the advantages to the Right of bringing back the workhouse and the chain gang. I remember talking with people in the UK in the 1980s about what Thatcher and Co would privatise next and joking that they’d privatise water. it seemed utterly impossible that the most fundamental necessity of life would be sold off to people to make a profit from – and that you would not even be able to gather rainwater without paying the water company for the privilege.

    But of course it used to be the case that fire services in England were funded by insurance companies – houses had plaques to indicate they were insured – no plaque and you were left to burn. Not so different from EQC cover in NZ – no private buildings insurance, no state earthquake cover.

    Welcome to the future.

    We have the fast food chains in NZ using zero hours contracts and plans afoot to privatise prisons and convict labour and it seems that the plan is to fund (mainly religious) charities to deliver social services. The agenda continues to be the privatisation of the social state, with the objective of emptying the public purse into private pockets.

    Part of the problem is that too many people have no grasp of REAL history; they simply do not understand how brief that moment in history was – those few glorious years when working people and those who could not work enjoyed RELATIVE prosperity and freedom from fear.

  5. Poverty is critically important to NZ’s economic performance. It is the key economic tool used by successive governments to control inflation and ensure wage growth – in particular – is stabilised. Roger Douglas, Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark all ensured this Treasury and Business community requirement was met no matter what their conscience told them. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is Working For Families which deliberately excludes tax rebates to the very poor – those working less then 20 hours a week. For more details on this search for documentary “In a Land of Plenty”.

    • Peter. Indeed. How pathetic we are to allow policies that require fixed hours of work every week in order to qualify for tax funded anti poverty tax credits for families. As work gets more casualsed, more zero hours contracts, increased automation the result is hours for working tax credits of 20 a week for a sole parent and 30 for a couple are not met some weeks so children miss out. I am so tired of stating the obvious but we get the rates and depth of child poverty we deserve. Government is hell bent on taking its targeting polices even further.

      • If you watch the documentary “In a Land of Plenty” you’ll see why this approach has been taken and why it continues.
        There are two key points 1. you need a moderate level of unemployment to ensure fear among workers that it is a real prospect for them and 2. the consequences of unemployment must be dire thus the necessity for poverty and stigma.
        These settings are maintained, primarily, by the Reserve Bank raising interest rates but cutting back on public sector workers is another tool the government can use. The result for the past 30 years has been stagnant real wage growth and an average level of about 100,000 unemployed kiwi’s at any one time.
        The benefit to our economy from low inflation generally, and low wage inflation in particular, is that investors can more reliably predict production costs and profit growth.
        This is what helps to attract investment and job creation in the NZ economy something we all depend on for our lifestyle’s regardless of political leaning. The price for this is payed by the poorest in NZ whose purpose is to serve a greater economic good by acting as the stick to capitalism’s golden carrot.
        What makes me angriest of all is when these poorest are blamed for their circumstance and the culture for this in middle class NZ is a deep and wide river of ignorance That is the reason we choose to accept things as they are and no political party – Mana and maybe the Greens aside – dares to suggest real solutions to poverty.
        Watch “In a Land of Plenty” it will blow you mind and make you seethe with rage. It has a lot of economic jibber jabber so I had to watch it a couple of times to understand the points being made.
        A lot of it reminded me of Noami Kleins “The Shock Doctrine” – scare the voting public with fears of a financial crisis then ram through extreme right wing economic policy to “avert” the crisis.

  6. “And don’t expect anything from the Government in the short-term” Agree that is hard to come up with something in short term and planning is essential. However, what will be done for the children now? Charity is not enough; I think the government has to work in a short and long-term action plan.

  7. Hi
    I put a post thru last night but it hasn’t appeared. There was a message when I edited saying it had gone to spam. Anyway it made the link between this and the Producticvity Commission paper on the ‘market in social care’.

    Jan, I checked the Spam Folder (and Trash) and found nothing. Not sure what happened there as I cannot recall a post from you. Can you re-post it, and I’ll look at it. – ScarletMod

  8. Hi, thanks for that.

    The government appears to have jumped its own gun with this initiative. Its working concurrently on a wide-ranging review of social services (defined widely to include education including tertiary education, hospitals, ACC and much else as well as social development services).

    The report More Effective Public Services is the work of the Productivity Commission which has used the expression the ‘market in social care to describe its approach lest you should have thought this was really about identifying which model works best for NZ and New Zealanders. Also the remit specifically excludes consideration of whether the public sector is already effective in delivering services.

    I’ve written about the wider context for changes to service delivery (cuts to overall spending, impact of trade agreements, a ‘dragons den’ approach for choosing between tenders, social impact bonds)

    and there is a bit more about the report.


  9. Once upon a time, when you were decently poor – not desperately poor – there were ways and means to get by.

    Cheaper cuts of meat. Bread and dripping. Having an account at the local dairy. Shoes and clothes that didn’t fall to bits within days of being bought. The district nurse, if the doctor was unaffordable. Nearby shops or, if you were rural, somewhere to keep chooks, grow vegies, go down the river eeling, or go into the bush and go hunting.

    Now? It is so hard to scrape by. Modern life seems to have removed all those safety nets and replaced them with ‘aspirations’ and other flimsies.

    Poor is almost bearable. Not being wanted. Being surplus. Being without hope or seeing any decent way out – that’s the hardest.

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