Written By: - Date published: 7:06 am, January 21st, 2016 - 164 comments
Categories: accountability, capitalism, class war, equality, poverty - Tags: inequality, list, look over there!, measurement, poverty
Hot on the heals of the (re)publication of Jamie White’s nonsense (there is no poverty in NZ), yesterday we had right-wing “think-tank” (i.e. lobbyist group) The New Zealand Initiaitve burst into print with a more sophisticated attempt to minimise the significance of poverty:
Truth on poverty lies amid wealth of statistics
There is no poverty in New Zealand because the poor are not living in slums. Some people in so-called poverty even have cars and ovens.
Wrong right out of the gate – more below.
Whether you agree or disagree with the above statement, you are right. And with that same kind of reasoning, Jamie Whyte’s recent opinion piece – that there is no poverty in New Zealand – is not wrong.
Not technically, anyway. Poverty in New Zealand can mean nearly anything the commentator wants it to mean. After all, there is no formal definition (though international organisations and agencies have advocated their own). …
And away we go into a discussion of different measures of poverty and how terribly confusing it all is. While acknowledging that there is some real poverty here the overall message is that it is minimal, largely a matter of definitions, and that “poverty campaigners” are “screaming” hyperbolicly.
Well OK then. Wrong on many counts. While we don’t have big and obvious slums in NZ (yet), we do have slum conditions:
Housing NZ to look into slum claims
The slums of Jebson Pl
Slum warning over Auckland CBD
Minister vows to hold slumlords to account
Anger over ‘slum landlord’ Government
Research finds pockets of extreme poverty
And we also have the problems associated with “third world” poverty:
Third world diseases affecting NZ children, says doctor
Findings on disease rate ‘a disgrace’
Shock look at NZ’s child poverty
Poverty blamed for leap in infectious disease admissions
Disease figures a national ’embarrassment’
Auckland homelessness: Rough sleepers tally doubles
Demand high at Auckland City Mission
Hamilton plan to ban rough sleeping
and so on and on and on.
The measurement of poverty is an interesting issue to be sure – see for example this discussion on absolute and relative poverty, this on why median incomes are used in relative measures. And we do have absolute measures such as the deprivation index (e.g. here, here) and the European measure mentioned here.
But the debate over definitions is also a distraction. We’re arguing over what poverty is instead of getting on and doing something about it. By an amazing coincidence this happens to suit the Nats perfectly. They have repeatedly refused to introduce an official measure of poverty so that they can’t be held to account over it. They are well aware of measures of inequality (relative) and hardship (absolute). And they are well aware of the importance of monitoring and goals for effecting change, e.g. when it comes to beneficiary bashing:
Mr English said the valuation [of benefit costs] was an important “performance tool” and would change the behaviour of the Government by forcing it to confront the long-term issue rather than accepting it was an unavoidable cost. … “When you take a long-term model, there’s no place to hide.”
If measures leave you no place to hide, then avoid inconvenient measures:
Yesterday Prime Minister John Key also ruled out new legislation which would set out an official measure of child poverty and require the Government to set a target to reduce it. That legislation was considered a critical “first step” by the Children’s Commissioner Expert Advisory Panel.
Anyway, long story short, the Nats refuse to set up an official measure of poverty because (1) they don’t want to be held account for making no progress, and (2) the obvious solution to poverty doesn’t suit them at all:
Giving cash to the poor is the best way to fix poverty
“Unconditional Cash Transfers work better than almost anyone would have expected. They dent the stereotype of poor people as inherently feckless and ignorant”.
Consequently Key, English, Bennett and the rest will be pretty pleased if we the people waste heaps of time arguing about definitions of poverty instead of putting pressure on them to, you know, get their fingers out and actually do something about it.