Sunday morning’s RNZ Insight program was an examination of poverty in NZ. It was an excellent piece. It is broadcast again on Monday at 9:06pm during Nights with Bryan Crump, or you can get the audio from the page for Sunday 6th November. Catch it if you can.
The program was an examination of poverty in New Zealand, with a focus on child poverty. Radio New Zealand’s Political Editor, Brent Edwards, didn’t pull any punches. Here’s how it began:
Lead in: About 200 thousand children live in hardship in New Zealand and social service providers fear poverty is getting worse, not better. This Radio New Zealand Insight looks at how bad the situation really is, and the effect it’s having on children.
Edwards: Some people may find it hard to believe extreme poverty exists in this country, but those helping the lowest income earners say it does. No one can provide precise figures, but children are going without food, and dying of third world diseases which doctors say aren’t seen in any other developed country…
Here’s just a few notes on some of what followed:
First up was an interview with a doctor, who said that children in NZ are dying today of diseases of poverty that were never seen in 1970s. Report after report is being released this year pointing out the fragile position of children living in poverty, but nothing is being done.
Cut to archival audio of Paula Bennett being asked in Parliament if she would implement any of the seven main recommendations of the Child Poverty Action Group. She replies “I would no more implement that report than I would the Labour’s so called policies…”. Just FYI, the recommendations that Bennett so contemptuously dismisses are below.
Along with poverty comes rising income inequality, as currently being protested worldwide by the Occupation movement. In 25 years NZ has gone form being one of the most equal (“Western”) countries to one of the most unequal. In real terms the income of the lower earners has decreased. The gap with the rich has widened faster in NZ than in any other country.
Before the last election Key briefly expressed concern for “the growing underclass”. When challenged on this now (more archival audio) Key blathered as usual – “it depends on how you measure that”. He did admit that foodbanks have seen an increase, but then seemed to suggest that this could be addressed with national Standards in schools and a focus on victims rights! WTF?
The Auckland City Missioner and Ruby Duncan from service provider Oasis agree that “poverty is definitely getting worse…”. Spokesperson Hone Kaa says poverty disproportionately affects Maori and Pacific families. While admitting that is has an element of truth in some cases, he rejects the “lifestyle choice” argument – “Only the rich can say that”.
Working For Families has definitely helped, but more is needed. There are no easy answers, and there appears to be little chance of a political consensus. An increase in the minimum wage to $15 hour would of course be very welcome. It may not sound like much to the well off, but for many families it would make a real difference.
Ruby Duncan spoke again about how the problem is getting bigger, and people are getting angrier. Young people have no hope, they can’t see a future for themselves. Hone Kaa again on brown poverty “we’re building a political time-bomb in our midst”. I’ll leave the last word with Ruby Duncan from Oasis:
Children are dying, children are being killed in their own homes, we know all about that, how much do we care?
What’s that they say about judging a society by the way it treats its weakest members? Labour’s policies were slowly reducing poverty. National’s are making it worse again. How much do we care?
• Monitor major indicators of child poverty and report these on a regular basis with specific target reductions to be met on the way to ending child poverty by 2020; and fund child-impact assessments of existing and future national and local policies;
• Create a senior Cabinet position with responsibility for children, such as a Minister for Children, to support the move toward a child-centred approach to policy and legislation;
• Remove work-based rules for child financial assistance and pay the equivalent of the In-Work-Tax-Credit to all low income families. Simplify administration of tax credits.
• Acknowledge the vital social and economic contribution made by good parenting; ensure that accessible, affordable, culturally appropriate, high quality early childhood care and education, including kohanga reo and Playcentre, is available to all children and families; and ensure that training allowances support sole parents’ education where appropriate;
• Provide free access to healthcare for all children under age six, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;
• The Government develop and fund a national housing plan to address the emerging housing shortages identified by the Department of Building. Meanwhile, ensure that housing is affordable and appropriate (eg address overcrowding, dampness, cold);
• Provide adequate funding for low decile schools to ensure that all children have access to high quality education.