New Zealand’s issue of child poverty has lingered around for the past thirty-odd years, and although the rate is lower than it was in the 1980′s, it is by no means at an encouraging level.
1 in 4 kiwi kids live below the threshold, that’s around 270,000, equivalent to filling Eden Park five and half times with impoverished kids (1).
Some argue that New Zealand doesn’t have a child poverty problem, rather childhood ‘hardships’ are the result of lazy and economically illiterate parents, who would rather spend their benefit money on alcohol and tobacco (2)(3).
This narrow minded approach relegates the family unit as totally separate from society, and neglects the structuralist-collectivist health model trumpeted by the World Health Organisation – WHO’s 10 social determinants of health clearly show how the socio-economic gradient is pivotal to the wellbeing of families. I agree that the prime responsibility for a child’s health is the role of their parents, but to leave it at that would not only be ignorant of the social ladder but also deny kids the right to grow up in a supportive social environment. Maybe there is no such thing as a ‘good Samaritan’ ethos in our kiwi culture, maybe in the Kingdom of Family First and the Conservative Party, Jesus doesn’t help kids in need.
Contrary to the individual health approach towards child poverty, the social avenue calls for greater awareness and action from outside the family unit. Viewing child poverty as a social problem postulates a ‘village’ mentality – namely that society is a federation of collective families that are interconnected by the socio-economic atmosphere of local politics; and the government forms the role of a ‘Chief’ in which as a steward of the people, uses the vested authority to help those most at risk. It seems that the ‘opponents’ to any government stewardship (in the form of food in schools) relish the micro approach of parental responsibility; calling any legislative help as the work of a Nanny State. The Expert Advisory Group (EAG) has recommended the following strategies to address child poverty immediately:
Obviously the debate as to whether child poverty is an individual responsibility or a social problem will continue to heat up, especially with the up and coming debate on The Vote next week – OUR KIDS: THE PROBLEM’S NOT POVERTY, IT’S PARENTING (5). What is certain though, is that the kids in poverty can’t afford to wait for New Zealand to make a meaningful stance on an issue that should not happen in a 1st world nation. At the end of the day, it’s about the wellbeing of kids. I surely would rather commit my tax to helping the less fortunate rather than bailing out failed finance tycoons or giving tax breaks to oil companies mining our waters. If we don’t invest in our kids, then we are setting our country up for a future of socio-economic turmoil – are we that heartless?
By T.K Lewis