Written By: - Date published: 9:29 am, September 18th, 2013 - 43 comments
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Yesterday Paula Bennett introduced the First Reading of the Vulnerable Children Bill. There is no doubt action is needed to deal with New Zealand’s appalling record of violence against children. However, as opposition MPs argue, it needs to take into account the bigger picture of poverty, social context, and state agencies such as WINZ being in need of vast improvement.
It was hard to take Bennett’s expressed concern for anyone that is vulnerable, let alone children, following her ongoing attacks on beneficiaries.
Yesterday Sue Bradford’s post (Beneficiary ‘impact’ demonstrates reality of Nats’ war on the poor: but will Labour under Cunliffe do any better?) reported on last week’s AAAP, Impact advocacy action in New Lynn. She describes the desperate conditions in which many low income people are living, and the ways in which WINZ is not coping with pressing needs.
I met a number of sole mums living in horrendous conditions – overcrowded, cold and hungry, washing clothes by hand in the middle of winter and bunking down with their babies and young children in cramped, pest-infested accommodation not fit for humans. It is no wonder so many children – and their parents – suffer chronic major illness.
It is hard not to feel angry when you find Work and Income turning people down for desperately needed food, clothing or appliance grants; not informing people of their full entitlements; and leaving seriously ill or disabled people on worktested benefits.
Opposition parties will support the Bill to committee stage. As Green MP Jan Logie said in her First Reading speech, the Greens will be guided by the submissions in their decisions about whether to give any further support to the Bill. Logie argued that the Bill doesn’t look at the wider social environment, but focuses on individuals in isolation. She said there is a need to resource families and make it as easy as possible to get help, while inequalities distance people with the least from the mainstream. Logie also pointed to the problems of social workers being overloaded with cases.
In a press release, Hone Harawira says that
“Government wants to up the reporting of child abuse, even though Child Youth and Family admit that they haven’t even got the resources to deal with their current caseload” said Harawira.
“They’re talking about vetting hundreds of thousands of government workers, which is going to cost millions in itself, without even knowing if it will actually help protect our kids. “
And they want to sack anyone accused of offending against children – no investigation, no trial, no appeal – that’s a recipe for persecution if ever I heard one, and no guarantee that kids will be better protected. “
And all of that simply reinforces the belief that government is happy to take the stick to poor families, but won’t help them by increasing the minimum wage, or investing in job creation, or backing a feed the kids programme in schools, or even letting them stay in their state houses.
“I don’t doubt that the Minister is sincere in wanting to protect vulnerable children, but it all rings hollow when her government’s only measures are all punitive.
Jacinda Ardern’s press release says that,
“We still have major concerns around the risk predictor model and will confirm our position on the Vulnerable Children’s Bill following public submissions and the select committee process.
“We also believe more work needs to be done on the wider issues of child well-being, including child poverty.
This makes similar points to those given in her speech at yesterday’s First Reading.
Phil Twyford’s speech was particularly significant. He pointed out that the government speakers for the Bill were at pains to distance themselves from issues of poverty and inequality. Twyford argued that social context, poverty and income inequalities, while not specifically causing child abuse, were underlying risk factors.
Links between child abuse, poverty and inequality are shown in the UNICEF 2006 report on violence against children (pp.30-2). It explains that measures to counter violence against children should include the reduction of:
[…] social and economic inequalities. Governments should analyse the impact of public policies on the vulnerability of communities and their children to violence, and commit substantial investment to the implementation of social, housing, employment, and quality education policies and programmes. Priority should be given to approaches that focus on poverty and improving linkages, participation and social networks within and between different community groups, thereby fulfilling economic, social and cultural rights; …
Social and economic risk factors are also addressed in a submission to the UN, coordinated by UNICEF New Zealand.
The relationship between poverty and violence is associated with the increased stresses that arise out of poverty, with the social alienation that accompanies poverty, with reduced access to supportive services and with lack of information about personal rights and entitlements.
Addressing violence must include a focus on addressing socio-economic disadvantage.
Green MP Catherine Delahunty’s speech, in talking about vulnerable children in a “holistic way”, focused on our violent society. She also pointed out the links between violence against children and domestic violence against women. She is critical that the Bill does not address the issue of poverty and extra vulnerabilities of many women and children trying to escape from an abusive partner/father.
Delahunty’s argument is supported by domestic violence statistics as reported by NZ Women’s Refuges.The UNICEF NZ submission to the UN, also reported on the link between “domestic (or partner) violence and violence to children”:
Violence to children is closely linked to interpersonal violence between adults.
There is a need to scrutinise the progress of this Bill carefully and critically, so that the government does not get away with separating vulnerable children from issues of poverty and income inequalities. Furthermore there needs to be on-going pressure to improve the capabilities of agencies such as WINZ.