Written By: - Date published: 10:26 am, February 19th, 2014 - 80 comments
Categories: benefits, child welfare, class war, education, equality, greens, housing, labour, mana, poverty, radio, same old national, tv - Tags:
Just when it looks like the right wing smoke and mirror spin in the media is getting even stronger, there are a couple of bright spots in this week’s mainstream. A documentary and a Radio Live interview focus on poverty and inequality. Evidence shows that child poverty and income inequality have increased in NZ since the “neoliberal” revolution that began in the mid 1980s. Good government policies addressing poverty and inequality are necessary. Such policies need to be based on an understanding of the importance of collective responsibility, that we all benefit when we are all safe, secure, well-fed, well-housed, well-educated, and can access good jobs, health care and social security.
Tonight on TV3 at 8.30 pm is a repeat of Bryan Bruce’s documentary, “Mind the Gap: Inequality in New Zealand” – this is a relatively late change to TV3’s schedule.
… the veteran investigative journalist is back with MIND THE GAP in which he reveals why inequality is bad (even for the rich) and what we can do about it.
“I’m not an economist” Bruce explains, “but by the time I’d finished my documentary on Child Poverty I wanted to know what the hell had gone so wrong with our economy that a lot of our children are turning up to school hungry, and charities are having to supply raincoats and shoes for them, because it never used to be that way.”
Last Sunday, UNICEF’S national advocacy manager, Deborah Morris-Travers was interviewed on Radio Live. The interview focused on child poverty and began with reference to the Salvation Army’s recent State of the Nation on social trends. Morris-Travers outlined the problem and the way forward, stressing the importance of government policies.
She said that one in four New Zealand children (25%) live in relative poverty: this means probably living in cold and damp homes, missing out on good nutrition, and going without food, maybe missing visits to the doctor, and fewer educational opportunities. Such children are more likely to catch infectious diseases, and
they’ll have chronic ill health, which means they don’t participate in early childhood education and will arrive at school not ready to learn.
This all costs the country about $6-8 billion a year. She said that the situation is damning of successive governments. In the 1980s, 12-14% of children in poverty – a much lower proportion of children than today.
This changed noticeably in the 1990s, as a result of the opening of our economy to the (allegedly) free market. There was also the Employment Contracts Act of 1990, and at the same time benefits were cut significantly, while there were also big changes to state housing. When such policies were brought in, there was no consideration of what the policies would mean to children.
According to Morris-Travers, child-focused policies in New Zealand are “very haphazard”. Many policies are developed and implemented with little consideration of children’s needs and rights. She stressed that good government policies can lessen poverty and address underlying causes.
Morris-Travers then said that the National led government’s policies to combat poverty were “really just tinkering around the edges”. She welcomes “Weetbix and milk in schools as a start”, but much more is needed. She was critical of the way NZ still supported the idea of individual responsibility. We need to get back to collective responsibility, with a range of policies for children. We will all benefit from less poverty and a lower level of inequality.
Morris-Travers was critical of the government’s welfare reforms, which are likely to have negative impacts on children. It’s good that parents are required to see doctors and Plunket nurses. However, welfare sanctions being applied to parents with young children have a negative impact on the children.
Furthermore, there is a problem of inter-generational poverty. Morris-Travers emphasised that the
vast majority of parents want to do the best for their children, and they will do that within the resources they’ve got available to them.
Children of well educated parents do well, so parent education is important. Large numbers of Auckland parents have low levels of literacy and numeracy. A good approach to countering this is to bring them into the schools. There’s excellent work being done in Auckland by the Auckland Council owned company, Comet. They are working with schools and universities.
Other related policies are those addressing housing quality and affordability. This needs to be part of national infrastructure plan, so that children grow up in healthy homes.
All opposition parties have policies addressing the inequality gap and poverty, especially child poverty.
Green Party: Mind the Gap – includes: Fair Tax; Addressing Energy Poverty; Income Support; Housing.
Mana Party: Raft of policies and priorities, including on Health, Livelihood, Economic Justice, Education, Early Childhood, Schooling, Tertiary Education, Housing, Social Wellbeing, Welfare, Children, CYFS, Disability Issues.