Written By: - Date published: 10:54 am, February 13th, 2014 - 41 comments
Categories: benefits, child abuse, child welfare, employment, housing, Metiria Turei, news, paula bennett, poverty, spin, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: jacinda arden
The Salvation Army’s latest State of the Nation Report: “Striking a Better Balance” (2014) has been the subject of some intense debate from the right and from the left. On the surface, it just appears to be a different interpretation, and hard to tell which is the correct interpretation. It is necessary to go to the report itself to see where the spin is being applied.
The Salvation Army’s summary of the report, gives praise for some improvements,
In its annual report The Salvation Army gives the thumbs up to an improvement in Maori participation in early childhood education, a drop in infant mortality, reducing teenage pregnancy rates, a reduction in overall criminal offending, a drop in unemployment and a reduction in the per capita spend on gambling.
But the main focus of its conclusions is this:
But The Salvation Army remains deeply concerned at the lack of progress in reducing child poverty, family violence, the harmful use of alcohol, and the failure to address criminal re-offending and serious crime.
Metiria Turei questioned the Minister of Social Development on this yesterday in the House. Turei asked the questions directly, seriously, without rhetorical embellishment. She focused on the central cause for concern with respect to the lack of progress on child poverty. Bennett, in contrast, was all contained smirks and diversions.
Turei said the Salvation Army assessment of D on child poverty. Bennett said that must mean “Dotcom”, though this had no apparent connection with the poverty issue – just a dog whistle, a diversion.
Bennett largely focused on the aspects the Report praised, and denied and diverted from the main causes for concern as expressed in the Report. She blamed the GFC, and inverted some of the points the Report raised so as to shift the focus from the government’s failings.
Jacinda Ardern also questioned Bennett on the D for child poverty, and the C- assessment for child abuse and neglect. Bennett responded with the diversions and spin (eg on employment figures).
Bennett has provided a very skewed and inverted interpretation of the Salvation Army Report, shifting from the main concern with continuing child poverty and housing unaffordability to the secondary focus on improvements. Bennett uses the Report’s considered summary of community, parental, and government factors impacting on child poverty, as a smoke screen for the government failure to act decisively and sincerely on such deeply entrenched problems.
And today’s NZ Herald editorial repeats the Ministers inversions, diversions, and misrepresentations of the main emphasis in the Salvation Army report.
Some of the things it praises, like the drop in teenage pregnancies, are attributed to a collective community achievement. Government policies, such as getting tougher on solo mothers, are only credited with contributing a small part to a cultural change.
The Report mentions some of the levers that the government can use, pointing out that the choices made on which levers to pull indicate a government’s priorities. The report also puts a significant stress on the moral and spiritual framework of society, in its damning critique of neoliberalism’s focus on small government, market forces and materialistic individualism.
The neo-liberal paradigm that has been so dominant in New Zealand politics is convincing us that a society is little more than a collection of markets, that citizens are only consumers, and that governments have only a residual role in mediating all of this. The Salvation Army does not accept this view of humanity or of community life. We believe that there is a spiritual and moral aspect to life that demands we individually have a clear spiritual and moral framework to our lives—not just a framework that sees achievement in personal economic benefit. Similarly, New Zealand’s strength and achievement as a nation is not found in economic indicators alone but in indicators that show the strength
of our concern to deliver care, compassion and social justice to everyone.
It is The Salvation Army’s hope that this year’s State of the Nation report gives insights into where, as a country, our ambition has been underwhelming and our imagination stunted.
The Report gives praise where it’s due, but identifies deep causes for concern about the country’s future, as indicated by lack of progress on child poverty and affordable housing: labelling these as “time bomb issues”.
It argues that governments will only change their priorities and policies if there is significant pressure from the public. This only serves to reinforce just how much the government is stalling on acknowledging the need for real and fundamental changes in priorities.
Above all, we need to continue to exert community pressure, to circulate information about the real state of the nation in society, and highlight the smokescreens in the conservative media reports, for any real change to happen: change that will result in a more caring, collaborative and sustainable society.