The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services has released its annual Vulnerability Report. Due to rising unemployment, 219,000 children now live in households whose main income is a benefit- up 20,000 in the past year – and one in six newborns are born into a benefit dependent home.
These children growing up in poverty-ridden houses are missing out on the opportunities the rest of us take for granted. For the vast bulk of them, it will be the beginning of a life-time at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. Worse educational outcomes, higher likelihood of becoming involved in gangs and crime, worse health outcomes, lower employment and lower wages. These are all the long-term consequences of growing up in poverty and rising unemployment is making that the fate of ever more New Zealand children.
It’s not sufficent to say ‘recession’s over, move on’ because it’s actually over for anyone who was really exposed to it in the first place. If you’re in a well paying job or own a business, things are looking up, the value of your house and your shares are recovering well. At the other end, if you’re in the spectrum of society at risk of slipping below the poverty line, things aren’t looking so flash. Unemployment will keep rising for another year and will only slowly decrease thereafter. Wages will be stagnant, falling in real terms for even longer, not helped by the Government’s reluctance to increase the minimum wage.
That’s shaping the opportunities for the children, and the lives they will live in the decades to come. We are seeing that as the children of Ruthanasia are entering now young adulthood in South Auckland.
Key might dismiss still rising unemployment as a “lagging indicator” but it is much more than that. Unemployment has a devastating effect on families both now (wait for the crime stats out in a few weeks) and far into the future. It’s not good enough for him to shrug his shoulders.