Child poverty: Are we that heartless?

Written By: - Date published: 11:10 am, June 15th, 2013 - 33 comments
Categories: poverty - Tags:

New Zealand’s issue of child poverty has lingered around for the past thirty-odd years, and although the rate is lower than it was in the 1980′s, it is by no means at an encouraging level.

1 in 4 kiwi kids live below the threshold, that’s around 270,000, equivalent to filling Eden Park five and half times with impoverished kids (1).

Some argue that New Zealand doesn’t have a child poverty problem, rather childhood ‘hardships’ are the result of lazy and economically illiterate parents, who would rather spend their benefit money on alcohol and tobacco (2)(3).

This narrow minded approach relegates the family unit as totally separate from society, and neglects the structuralist-collectivist health model trumpeted by the World Health Organisation – WHO’s 10 social determinants of health clearly show how the socio-economic gradient is pivotal to the wellbeing of families. I agree that the prime responsibility for a child’s health is the role of their parents, but to leave it at that would not only be ignorant of the social ladder but also deny kids the right to grow up in a supportive social environment. Maybe there is no such thing as a ‘good Samaritan’ ethos in our kiwi culture, maybe in the Kingdom of Family First and the Conservative Party, Jesus doesn’t help kids in need.

Contrary to the individual health approach towards child poverty, the social avenue calls for greater awareness and action from outside the family unit. Viewing child poverty as a social problem postulates a ‘village’ mentality – namely that society is a federation of collective families that are interconnected by the socio-economic atmosphere of local politics; and the government forms the role of a ‘Chief’ in which as a steward of the people, uses the vested authority to help those most at risk. It seems that the ‘opponents’ to any government stewardship (in the form of food in schools) relish the micro approach of parental responsibility; calling any legislative help as the work of a Nanny State. The Expert Advisory Group (EAG) has recommended the following strategies to address child poverty immediately:

  1. Child support payments
  2. Warrant of Fitness for rental housing
  3. Micro-financing through private-public partnerships
  4. Food-in-schools
  5. Teen parents remaining in education
  6. Supporting community hubs
  7. Local government maintaining safe and welcoming public spaces (the priority identified by children) (4)

Obviously the debate as to whether child poverty is an individual responsibility or a social problem will continue to heat up, especially with the up and coming debate on The Vote next week – OUR KIDS: THE PROBLEM’S NOT POVERTY, IT’S PARENTING (5). What is certain though, is that the kids in poverty can’t afford to wait for New Zealand to make a meaningful stance on an issue that should not happen in a 1st world nation. At the end of the day, it’s about the wellbeing of kids. I surely would rather commit my tax to helping the less fortunate rather than bailing out failed finance tycoons or giving tax breaks to oil companies mining our waters. If we don’t invest in our kids, then we are setting our country up for a future of socio-economic turmoil – are we that heartless?

By T.K Lewis

33 comments on “Child poverty: Are we that heartless?”

  1. johnm 1

    Yep, we are that heartless. Profit, wealth creation, property capital gains speculation, atomisation,alienation, gated communities, class division a rejection of fellowship, tax cuts for those who don’t need them, contempt for the poor and beneficiaries even too the working poor,wealth worship grovelling these have replaced a once socially responsible attitude to the people of all New Zealand. 🙁

    • Paul 1.1

      And a society all too happy to be dumbed down and distracted by trivia such as sport, celebrities and reality tv.
      Depressing really.

  2. A recent New Zealand Government report indicated that 63% of all children who are most at risk of poverty and disadvantage were born to a mother under 20 years of age.

    Now without wanting to labour the point, that does suggest a problem with parenting. Your article talks about ‘families’, but in reality most child poverty takes place in the homes of State sponsored single parents, usually mothers. We can broaden the definition of family to make it fit people living in these circumstances, but these ‘families’ lack the stability and security of homes where both a mum and a dad are present.

    If we are looking for some ‘easy wins’ in the reduction of child poverty, why would we not focus upon reducing teenage motherhood first? If we want the State to do something, how about an advertising campaign with the simple message:

    “To avoid poverty for you and your child, defer having children until you are in a stable relationship in the nature of marriage, and are over 20 years of age.”

    Ok, it’s not affirming, it’s not supportive its not PC, but it might actually help solve the problem.

    • fatty 2.1

      For a second I’ll ignore such a simplistic and derogatory post and play along.

      but it might actually help solve the problem.

      How will that help the problem?
      Has an advertising campaign of that kind ever helped reduce teen pregnancy? If so, where and when.
      Is this your worst idea, or your best?

      Also, who were the authors of that report?…Bill English was the chairperson of the committee. Call me a skeptic, but Blinglish is the last person I would look to for recommendations on how to alleviate poverty.

      This idea has already been ripped to shreds overseas.
      You think your idea is logical because you fail to see that the rhetoric around teen pregnancy is just a moral panic. Its based on greed, blame, ignorance and selfishness. Hang your head in shame.

      Universal child allowance, more support to single mothers, and less stigma will solve the issue. But that would mean doing the opposite of what your dead, cold heart is telling your brain

    • AsleepWhileWalking 2.2

      And by “deferring” I guess you mean either abstaining from sex because all teenagers are good at that OR making abortion for economic reasons legal in NZ because you should know IT IS ILLEGAL.

      Unless of course you naively think that contraception is always available to teens. Or that adoption won’t rip the heart out of some young mother.

      And FYI the state “sponsors” most parents in NZ through free education, free or subsidised healthcare including dental for all children under 18, plus various tax credits, and often accommodation supplement which is now a matter of course because of rampant rental prices. You clearly have little to no understanding of the system at all.

      • fatty 2.2.1


        For me, the worst part of brendan’s post was where he started a paragraph with Now without wanting to labour the point before giving his own narrow and offensive understanding of ‘family’.
        You can’t preemptively silencing everyone, and then define a concept on your own terms, and then expect your post to be taken seriously.

    • karol 2.3

      It’s only been a recent thing in western societies that “families” have been narrrowed to 2-generation “nuclear families”.

      In the past extended families, with 3 generations and cousins/aunts in the same household. And in those days, women had children from fairly young ages too. Back then, they had a wider family-community support network.

      • AmaKiwi 2.3.1

        We need to break dependence on extended families so we can freely re-locate “worker units” to wherever they will be most profitably utilized for “economic growth.”

    • bad12 2.4

      To give a reply to your comments that match the thoughts they engender upon reading them would be to invite upon myself a severe spanking from the moderators, so i won’t bother,

      Successive Governments, first in the abandonment post-war social consensus of employment for all have aided and abetted building a level of poverty in New Zealand which now need be urgently addressed,

      After the abandonment of the ‘full employment’ social consensus the same successive Governments have attacked the social welfare provisions with an ongoing series of cuts to remuneration and services designed so they said to encourage people into the workforce,

      You may not understand the abject stupidity,(insert f**k), inherent in Governments taking these actions but the most objective view you will gain is to compare the numbers of those receiving welfare benefits against population growth over the previous 30 years,

      Doing so will aquaint you with the not unsubstantial fact that nothing, and i mean NOTHING that these Governments have brought forward has made the slightest bit of difference to the number of beneficiaries as a % of the population,

      Obviously the beneficiaries of 2013 are not the same people as the beneficiaries of 1985,1991,or 2002, this different generation tho is forced to survive upon much the same amount of money as if they were, therein lies child poverty a careful construct of successive stupid Governments…

    • rosy 2.5

      “Now without wanting to labour the point, that does suggest a problem with parenting.”

      Now without wanting to labour the point the thought in that sentence does seem rather ill-informed.

      Is the problem with parenting with the parenting of teens? or the teen parents? AFAIK people can parent quite well even if young, although judgemental attitudes and societal exclusion can affect on how well they do and how poor they are.

      How about a advocating for a real attempt to reduce family violence, dysfunction and poverty in the first place to reduce teen pregnancy?

      According to a 2004 study, one-third of teenage pregnancies could be prevented by eliminating exposure to abuse, violence, and family strife. The researchers note that “family dysfunction has enduring and unfavorable health consequences for women during the adolescent years, the childbearing years, and beyond.” When the family environment does not include adverse childhood experiences, becoming pregnant as an adolescent does not appear to raise the likelihood of long-term, negative psychosocial consequences. Studies have also found that boys raised in homes with a battered mother, or who experienced physical violence directly, were significantly more likely to impregnate a girl.

      And btw, a fair proportion of teen girls who become pregnant are impregnated by adults (not teens). How about we run an advertising campaign telling men to leave the girls (not women) alone, or stick around when the baby arrives? Too hard?

      Why don’t you do a bit of reading about which people are likely to be teen parents, and then think a little around why that may be so… it’s easy enough. The above quote is wikipedia. Just follow the links for more before suggesting where the problem(s) might lie.

  3. Pendennis 3

    On the other hand my wife and I made a conscious decision not to bring any children into the world on the grounds that the global population was already well beyond what the ecosystem could properly support – and because I foresee a grim future I could not in all conscience bequeath to anyone. Just see the panel >.

    So apart from the purely self-interested desire to stop young people going feral and preying on me, why should I be expected to support parents who are too lazy to consider the consequences of having sex, or too lazy to bother with contraceptives even if they do know that’s how babies are made, and why should I be expected to accept any responsibility for their progeny?

    • Descendant Of Sssmith 3.1


      I dunno. Why should my children bother to serve you in shops, look after you in your rest home, build your house, repair your roads, make sure your sewerage works…?

      Apparently your shit doesn’t stink.

      If you could wear a sign saying “I don’t need other people’s children so please just take no notice of me and leave me to fend for myself” it would help my kids know that you are not desirous of any of their skills or abilities or of the things they produce.


      You’re too complacent and not fearful enough. Of course you’ll likely only be fearful when enough poverty threatens your existence, services, lifestyle. Then you’ll likely retreat to a gated community or be desirous of a police or army state to keep the poor at bay.

      At the moment the neo-libs play on your fear of your own self, your fear of needing others, your fear of dependancy.


      Because unless you want the society you live in to become more dysfunctional then giving these kids food, warm housing and clothing is the best approach to take. Decent paid jobs for parents is the next best thing. The price you pay for low wages and few jobs in this society is people on benefit. Taking the benefit off people won’t help increase the number of jobs one iota.

      4. Cause those kids will be paying your super which no doubt you will collect.

      5. It’s the right thing to do.

      6. Because normal human beings have compassion for others.

      7. Because other than by accident of birth you could have been one of them.

    • karol 3.2

      Because the children are the future for our society. They bring renewal and new energies. Children have always been a significant part of communities.

      I’m childless and happy for my taxes to go to other people’s children’s services and resources.

      We need the Children of (Wo)Men.

    • AsleepWhileWalking 3.3

      Well, if you pay taxes in NZ then you already do pay. Feel free to exercise your right to permanently relocate to another country that doesn’t have welfare as we do, it isn’t that hard.

      Unless you’re all talk.

  4. Contrary to the individual health approach towards child poverty, the social avenue calls for greater awareness and action from outside the family unit. Viewing child poverty as a social problem postulates a ‘village’ mentality – namely that society is a federation of collective families that are interconnected by the socio-economic atmosphere of local politics; and the government forms the role of a ‘Chief’ in which as a steward of the people, uses the vested authority to help those most at risk.

    My God, you’re right! Instead of the individualist, libertarian approach we’ve been taking for decades, the government should step in immediately and set up a comprehensive social welfare system, a public health system and a public education system – that should fix the problem!

    • Pasupial 4.1

      @ Psycho Milt

      Instead of the increasingly individualist, neo-libertarian approach we’ve been taking for decades, the government should step in immediately and re-establish: A comprehensive social welfare system, a truly public health system (including revamping ACC to actually pay out on claims without further harassing the afflicted), and support a public education system that is one of the best in the world (rather than implementing; National Standards league tables pitting teacher against teacher, ACT’s doomed charter schools nonsense, and gifting millions to the existing private schools that MPs children attend).


  5. cricklewood 5

    I’m thinking the state needs to take a far more intensive approach with the kids who have for various reasons have ended up at the bottom of the tree. To my mind the only way up is through education not only at school but at home. Where the ‘home’ aspect is lacking (again not worth playing a blame game) I would be getting these kids into schools who have say an 8 till 6 day 3 meals per day. I see these as state run not charter and would help catch the kids who are badly disadvantaged early on by the time they hit highschool it is imho to late the kids

    • This might well improve things for some of the individuals involved, but experience to date suggests that the more we settle for just forking out to take over the raising of kids whose parents don’t give a shit, the more kids we get with parents who don’t give a shit. Throwing money at the problem kids we have now without addressing the production end of the problem will just make things both worse and more expensive for us over the long term.

      • Descendant Of Sssmith 5.1.1

        You predicate on the premise that (most, many, a majority, a large amount, significant numbers ) of parents in families hit by poverty don’t give a shit.

        In fact the vast majority of the parents do care.

        Lift the majority out of poverty then the concerted effort can go into the more highly dysfunctional ones.

        I’m unsure why it is in your interests to keep promoting the notion that people are poor cause they are bad but it’s simply as untrue today as it was in the Victorian times or the 30’s or the 60’s.

        The reversion to a time when we have large numbers of poor and ever increasing numbers when as a country we are producing more wealth than previously is as a result of both government and private sector policies especially an increased individualistic, more divisive and less socialist approach.

        • Psycho Milt

          You predicate on the premise that (most, many, a majority, a large amount, significant numbers ) of parents in families hit by poverty don’t give a shit.

          In the context of this comment (ie, response to cricklewood above), we’re talking about kids who might benefit from an 8-hour school day in which the school takes over all three meals to see that they actually get fed. And in that context, yes we are talking about a majority or otherwise large amount of parents who don’t give a shit.

          I’m unsure why it is in your interests to keep promoting the notion that people are poor cause they are bad but it’s simply as untrue today as it was in the Victorian times or the 30′s or the 60′s.

          I don’t promote the notion that people are poor because they’re bad. People are poor for all kinds of reasons, “because they’re bad” being merely one among many. Even in the situation we’re discussing, which is essentially one of child neglect, there’s a range of reasons other than “because they’re bad,” but a significant and increasing one is that people tend to raise their children to be much like themselves, so if we have wasters spending most of their adult lives reproducing every couple of years, we should expect to see what we’re seeing. There’s no moral censure in that statement, it’s simply a rational assessment of what factors might contribute to a problem. A refusal to confront relevant factors due to naivety or squeamishness might make us feel better inside, but isn’t a helpful approach in any other respect.

    • bad12 5.2

      You are of course correct and i agree with what you say about the 3 meals a day schooling till 5 or 6 oclock for the kids that need it,


      i cannot help the feeling that Governments and the Neo-Liberal right are being let off the hook here, parental responsibility is all well and good and most of us would agree on parental responsibility,


      Parental responsibility can only be a valid notion when those expected to carry that responsibility have at hands the means to carry this out,

      Successive Governments attacking the financial,social and domestic daily reality of such a provision simply means that those responsible do not have the means to carry such responsibility…

  6. Descendant Of Sssmith 6

    The most effective strategy is to change the environment they are living in. Decent wages, sufficient jobs, decent incomes, valuing the people in those communities instead of denigrating them, mobility through good public transport, education, time for families and work – not too much work for some and no work for others, low rentals but good homes during those child raising years in particular – those sorts of structural adjustments will make the biggest difference.

    • karol 6.1

      Yep. Agreed, DOS. And underpinned by an understanding that all children are the future of society.

      • AmaKiwi 6.1.1

        They NOT children. They are “adults in training.” How we raise them shapes who they are for the next 40-50 years of their working lives.

        Today’s “children” will soon be the doctor who operates on you, the nursing home caregiver who changes your adult nappy, the person next to you at work, the cook who decides whether you eat contaminated crap or wholesome food, and the politician who has integrity or takes corporate bribes.

  7. bad12 7

    Child poverty is a construct of Government, to simplify,

    (1), Add income tax to welfare benefits,

    (2), 1991, directly cut $20 per week from welfare benefits,(if your adding what’s $20 now in terms of inflation),

    (3),Do not allow benefit dependent children the working for families tax credit,

    (4),Retard the minimum wage over successive generations so that minimum becomes ‘unlivable’,

    (5), Switch the onus of taxation so that those with low and fixed incomes pay more as price inflation adds higher taxation to the cost of living,

    All of the above simply served over a 30 year period to remove $100 per week from the income of benefit dependent/minimum wage families,

    Previous generations of benefit/minimum wage dependent people may have moved on from such dependent, but as a % of population nothing has changed….

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      Child poverty is a construct of Government

      Yep and they’ve done it so that a few people can become richer. Both National and Labour are guilty of this since 1984 and the 4th Labour government implementation of neo-liberal policies.

    • Ah, I see – that explains why poverty is a very recent phenomenon that’s only arisen since 1990. Those damn governments!

      • Draco T Bastard 7.2.1

        Really? Considering the governments in feudal times did exactly the same thing and we had even worse poverty would indicate that not much has changed. Governments still rule for the rich.

  8. Descendant Of Sssmith 8

    Add to that list the increasing of youth benefit rates up to the age of 25 from 20. This often gets missed in the $20-00 per week discussions.

    In a practical sense the provision of work (at proper pay rates) for both youth and those with disabilities, for whom the private sector will never have sufficient demand or willingness to employ, by the state has also played a big part in directly increasing poverty as well.

    For many with disabilities a lifetime of benefit or menial work is now their lot.

  9. Rogue Trooper 9

    Suffer the little children. These are damning findings; Despite “best efforts” (that would be initiatives other than effective ones) Child Abuse in New Zealand has risen by nearly a third in five years; 21 000 last year, 4000 in state care, and of those 4000, another 23 subjected to further abuse.
    “Horrific, we should be ashamed…a lot of policy written, yet the perennial gap between policy and practice”.- Judge Carolyn Henwood.

    Schlaifer, on the theory / practice gap (good a place to start as any when you consider the practice of Social Policy in this country)
    -alternate designs-good characteristics-few developmental problems-intensive development.
    Now, that shouldn’t be too difficult now, should it?

Links to post

Recent Comments

Recent Posts