Jacinda Adern makes it very clear what the cause is:
Let’s be clear, poverty is making our children sick. Now more than ever the Government needs to focus on reducing poverty rates. Until it does, we will all pay the price.
Adern is right, but it’s an indictment of our political discourse and the willful denial of the right that such a comment would even need to be made. Of course poverty is the problem (this will not, I suspect, prevent the usual right-wing punditry suspects from trying to undermine the CSHM – shooting the messenger is about all they’ve got left).
As a social democrat I believe it is the responsibility of the government to ensure full employment and, failing that, a decent quality of life for those who can’t work or can’t find work (note: while “decent” is subjective I think we can all agree that it doesn’t included 600 dead children). This government however, seems firmly of the opinion that intervening to lower the unemployment rate distorts the labour market.
While I disagree with this belief in a natural rate of unemployment I can understand how the market-minded folk can believe in it. Where that stupid turns to evil, however, is when the government starts abdicating responsibility for the people who are left workless by this policy setting and even blames and attacks them for not having a job. It’s kind of like a game of musical chairs where the government takes away six percent of the chairs and then vilifies anyone who’s not sitting down when the music stops.
The question is, what do we do about it? Well, first of all there needs to be a set of triage policies. These are about alleviating the worst poverty as quickly as possible and include things like rasing benefit levels, providing emergency housing, and getting food into low decile schools. Then there’s a whole lot of longer-term stuff like increasing state housing in the long term, making early childhood education and tertiary education more available (right now a student allowance is $180 and a student loan is $160 – that’s not much more than the average room rental in many university cities), and implementing civilised employment law so that work is actually a way out of poverty.
None of these policies are politically unusual in a historical or international context. Indeed it was policies like this that created New Zealand’s middle-class in the first place (and, I’d note, gave our Prime Minister the opportunities he’s grasped so enthusiastically). It’s an indictment on us as a nation that we’ve allowed thirty years of free market short-termism make such sensible policies seem so politically difficult.
The good news is I think that tide is turning. Let’s hope it does so quick enough to stop the next 600 deaths.