In a major speech yesterday on poverty, Prime Minister Ardern has laid out fully and forthrightly what is the problem and what need to be done.
The Bill now introduced is described by the Prime Minister as “the framework for measuring and targeting child poverty. It sets in law four primary and six supplementary measures of poverty and material hardship. It requires the government of the day to then set targets to reduce child poverty.”
We have all seen the damage child poverty is doing to our country through the mainstream media last year, let alone in our neighbourhoods, and the Prime Minister has spelled it out for us all.
It would be tempting to have specified targets in the Bill, but she specifically left them out: “We want to leave room for each government to determine their own child poverty reduction ambition. The Bill is about building consensus on behalf of children.”
I am perplexed I must admit about this governments’ approach to social measures, since it seems quite happy to strip them out of education without rationale, and provided no reasons for chucking out the measurement framework of social welfare that National had operated.
Whereas National are nowhere. By failing to join with the Prime Minister and jointly form legislation about child poverty reporting, Bill English lost his only leverage. They were only able to meekly repeat “National shares the government’s goal of reducing child poverty.”
That’s as good a definition of a political snooker I’ve seen.
National even likes the idea of measures about social progress. They would simply prefer to use the ones that they invented.
This child poverty legislation pulls National further and further to the left in a broad, binding, and foreseeably permanent social compact determined by Labour:
… and may more
The poverty measures and the inevitable institutional frameworks that will follow them, will be just as permanent a fixture of New Zealand’s full social compact. National are invisible, riding on
4644.5% in the polls. That’s how far they’ve shut themselves out.
The hard thing is this: the government is going to be held to account upon measures over which it has nowhere near full control over the outcomes.
This, not the politics, is the real daring of Prime Minister Ardern. She is making the welfare of children a permanent political issue. Every budget, and every election, how many children remain in poverty will be a reason to vote Labour in or out. The Prime Minister is willingly forming measures for job performance reviews that make retaining her job even harder. She is putting her job on the line about the measurable welfare of all of New Zealand’s children. That takes guts.
Even if the measures trend well, it’s highly unlikely to have any political upside. They will have to compete with more dominant (though coarse) measures like GDP, inflation, unemployment, productivity, immigration, housing, and crime.
That is the massive bet: this Labour-led government believes in its policy direction so much that it is confident that it will bring down the whole of child poverty in New Zealand, within three years, and have no reward for it. The entire public sector will have its funding held accountable to that task. That takes real belief in your values. So I am proud of this government for that alone.
The children of New Zealand await the results, with the national attention they deserve.