Poverty Watch 24

Written By: - Date published: 7:54 am, March 23rd, 2013 - 27 comments
Categories: national, poverty - Tags:

Over the next few posts in this series I’ll be looking at the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCCC) 2012 report “Child Poverty in New Zealand evidence for action“. It’s a substantial document, prepared by an Expert Advisory Group after an extensive process of consultation, and culminating in 78 specific recommendations. Before we start in on the facts and figures, I like the way that the report sets its tone in the foreword:

At one consultation seminar participants were asked:‘what is the one thing you think the Prime Minister should do to address child poverty?’ A woman stood up and responded vigorously: ‘come and live my life for a while’. For this woman and her children and for tens of thousands of others across the country, child poverty is both real and debilitating. It means missing out on many of the things which the majority of children take for granted: adequate and nutritious food, good shoes and clothing, a separate bed, a warm, dry house, participation in school trips and occasional holidays away from home. Material deprivation of this kind should not be tolerated, least of all in a land of relative abundance.

There is it in a nutshell really. In a land of relative abundance we have far too many people, including 270,000 children (and rising) who are living in poverty. They are poorly served by a government that has no understanding of or empathy for the poor and disadvantaged. It’s a disgrace, and it’s a ticking time-bomb that the next government will have to deal with.

The first chapter, Child Poverty in New Zealand, sets out background issues and definitions. On the first page we meet a paragraph which (in my opinion) happens to characterise exactly the facts that conservative / right-wing politicians and their supporters don’t (or won’t) understand about poverty:

Child poverty imposes costs. It harms the children directly affected and our wider society. It reduces the opportunity for children to develop their gifts and talents. It undermines their rights. It stifles educational achievement, reduces labour productivity and earnings ability, and increases the costs of health care and crime. Considerable sums of public money are spent dealing with these negative consequences of child poverty. Moreover, a failure to address child poverty now will damage the nation’s long-term prosperity.

Right from the start this makes a nonsense of National’s beneficiary-bashing penny-pinching attitude to poverty in NZ. It isn’t a level playing field out there. Spend the money to reduce poverty, and it will pay for itself many times over! (See links in the footnote to this post.)

1.1 Defining child poverty

This section notes the lack of an agreed definition of poverty in NZ. Missing the tools to describe and measure the problem, we have real difficulty (“convenient” to some) in setting and achieving goals (1984 in more ways than one). The following definition is proposed:

Children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material resources and income that is required for them to develop and thrive, leaving such children unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential and participate as equal members of New Zealand society.

It’s been carefully thought out, and several aspects of the definition are then explored. For example:

Our definition of child poverty also highlights the socioeconomic rights of children as citizens. These rights are enunciated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), to which New Zealand is a signatory. Articles 26 and 27 of UNCROC refer to children’s rights to social security, and to a standard of living adequate for a child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

1.2 How many and which children are living in poverty?

This section considers two international definitions / measures of poverty, the first based on whether a household’s disposable income falls below a certain threshold (often 50% or 60% of the median for the country), the second based on the proportion of the population that cannot afford specific “essentials”. Overall trends for poverty in NZ will be familiar to those who have been reading the recent Poverty Watch posts on the CSHM report – for example:

OCC2012-poverty-rates

As usual we can see the massive rise following the neoliberal disaster of the 80s/90s, the gradual decline under that last Labour government, and the recent spike upwards again. The section goes on to break the data down by age, ethnicity, housing type and more. As usual:

Child poverty rates differ significantly by ethnicity in New Zealand. Poverty rates (after housing costs) for Mäori and Pasifika children are around double those of Päkehä/ European children. Further, Mäori and Pasifika children are approximately twice as likely as Päkehä/European children to be living in severe poverty and are also at a higher risk of persistent poverty (Imlach Gunasekara & Carter, 2012).

1.3 How New Zealand compares with other countries

In brief summary:

Table 1.3 highlights that child deprivation rates in New Zealand are higher than in most Western European countries, but lower than in the poorer countries of Eastern Europe. Such results are not entirely surprising. They reflect the fact that living standards in New Zealand are somewhat lower than in many Western European countries while income inequality is greater.

That’s probably enough for today – there’s plenty more in Chapter 1 that we’ll get back to next week…


Here’s the standard footnote. Poverty (and inequality) were falling (albeit too slowly) under the last Labour government.   Now they are on the rise again, in fact a Waikato University professor says that poverty is our biggest growth industry.

Before the last election Labour called for a cross party working group on poverty. Key turned the offer down.  Report after report after report has condemned the rate of poverty in this country, and called on the government to act. Meanwhile 40,000 kids are fed by charities and up to 80,000 are going to school hungry. National has responded with complete denial of the issues, saying that the government is already doing enough to help families feed their kids. Organisations working with the poor say that Key is in poverty ‘la la land’.

The Nats refuse to even measure the problem (though they certainly believe in measurement and goals when it suits them to bash beneficiaries). In a 2012 summary of the government’s targets and goals John Armstrong wrote: “Glaringly absent is a target for reducing child poverty”…

The costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 Billion per year, but the Nats refuse to spend the $2 Billion that would be needed to really make a difference. Even in purely economic terms National’s attitude makes no sense.

27 comments on “Poverty Watch 24”

  1. just saying 1

    At what age do children develop their innate immunity to poverty? Eighteen?

    • McFlock 1.1

      People don’t develop an immunity to poverty.

      But the earlier an intervention occurs, the more effective it is and the easier it is to give them the tools to keep out of poverty. E.g. learning to read at 5 rather than at 25. The most practical interventions are often the earliest.

      Helping our kids today is helping our pensioners in 60 or 70 years.

      • just saying 1.1.1

        People don’t develop an immunity to poverty.

        No shit, Watson?

        That is the point I was making.
        Adults, and not just parents of “innocent children”, also suffer the violence of poverty.
        And they matter too.

  2. Harriet 2

    Child poverty is just a re-definition of unmarried parent poverty.

    Those who are Married are healthier and wealthier. It’s just the way it is. It’s just the facts!

    No one would seriously believe that a free health system, free education system, near free public housing, plus tax funded welfare could ever produce ‘poverty stricken children’ – but if it does – it is then good enough reason to privatise them!

    “….definitions / measures of poverty, the first based on whether a household’s disposable income falls below a certain threshold (often 50% or 60% of the median for the country), the second based on the proportion of the population that cannot afford specific “essentials”….”

    Parents are responsable for their own children – not responsable for the children of others. But if you want to help so-called ‘children in poverty’ then you would first look at BOTH parents and see what they are lacking in behaviour – as any change in their behaviour would be an immediate improvement!

    Or in other words – if single mums are good mums, and are doing the right thing, but the ex isn’t – then the responsable thing to do is get a partner/husband if they are that CONCERNED about ‘child poverty’.

    Otherwise I call bullshit with regards to ‘measurements’ ! 😎

    • AsleepWhileWalking 2.1

      Ahhh, the fundies and their “facts” have arrived.

    • Colonial Viper 2.2

      No one would seriously believe that a free health system, free education system, near free public housing, plus tax funded welfare could ever produce ‘poverty stricken children’ – but if it does – it is then good enough reason to privatise them!

      Privatisation? The medicine which is making more and more people sick as individuals fall behind and are left behind, so you want to prescribe a double dose?

      Good one.

    • RedBaronCV 2.3

      “if single mums are good mums, and are doing the right thing, but the ex isn’t – then the responsable thing to do is get a partner/husband if they are that CONCERNED about ‘child poverty’.”

      Women have throughout the centuries used their bodies to gain food for their children. Look at the aftermath of any war.

      So you are suggesting that the answers are:
      – the pack of deadweight males who dump their responsibilities on the general community should be encouraged by the rest of us ignoring their lack of contribution. At the very least sholdn’t they pay money for their kids?
      – she should provide um “sex” to some nice bloke so he supports the kids. Prostitution and exploitation 101 perhaps?
      – As societies have tend to have roughly equal numbers of both sexes until the older years, if there are a % of dead beat males then there will also be an overhang of unpartnered women. How do you propose to solve this small problem.

      • Draco T Bastard 2.3.1

        As societies have tend to have roughly equal numbers of both sexes until the older years, if there are a % of dead beat males then there will also be an overhang of unpartnered women.

        And the faster that the women get away from those deadbeat males the better for society.

    • Murray Olsen 2.4

      Good to know that the solution to poverty is marriage. Does this apply to all marriages, or just good Christian hetero ones? Will straying outside the missionary position result in a loss of income?
      Bishop Tamaki is certainly wealthy and probably happy. Can gay couples find the same happiness and wealth enhancement opportunities at the altar as well?

    • karol 2.5

      Parents are responsable for their own children – not responsable for the children of others.

      Really? As someone with no children, and an ex-teacher, I’m staggered. “It takes a village to raise a child”.

      I’m sorry neither your parent/s nor teachers taught you to spell. Education is a fine thing.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.6

      No one would seriously believe that a free health system, free education system, near free public housing, plus tax funded welfare could ever produce ‘poverty stricken children’ – but if it does

      Good job they don’t then. What causes poverty is the privatisation of the commons in line with capitalist ideology. That’s why poverty has been increasing in NZ over the last 30 years – after the 4th Labour government brought in neo-liberalism (turbo-charged capitalism) and privatised a large chunk of the state. Telecom alone has pulled $17b dollars out of our economy resulting in us having to pay even more tax payer money to properly upgrade the network and that’s on top of being overcharged for telecommunications already.

      Parents are responsable for their own children – not responsable for the children of others.

      Wrong, the community is responsible for ensuring that no one within the community is in poverty.

      Otherwise I call bullshit with regards to ‘measurements’ !

      That would be because it contradicts your ideology. You quite literally cannot accept reality because it refutes everything you believe.

    • rosy 2.7

      “Child poverty is just a re-definition of unmarried parent poverty.”
      No, it isn’t

      If we were serious about lifting children out of poverty we would address at least three fundamental issues. The most serious cause of poverty in today’s New Zealand is the high rate of unemployment
      … The second essential step to reduce child poverty is to improve the living standards of those in work. The working poor are a drag on our economy as well as a continuing reproach to our society.
      …The third priority should be to recognise that poverty is a particular feature of families with small children because bringing up children is an expensive business.

      We have, sadly, abandoned such efforts, often on the ground that it is up to parents to provide for their own children – a sanctimoniously rigorous thesis which ensures that it is the children who must bear the burden if it proves to miss the point in practice.

      When a parent becomes unemployed the WFF tax credit is lost – a double financial blow. When companies tender contracts at the lowest possible price the wages of parents fall. Where parents may have been able to afford kids the race to the bottom, in terms of wages and the casualisation of the workforce, means they can no longer cope financially with the kids they had in more financially stable times. These are families in poverty, whether the parents are married or not.

  3. Jenny 3

    One of the main causes of poverty and hardship in New Zealand families is recurrent or pervasive unemployment by the main breadwinners.

    In a terrible failure of New Zealand political and economic policy direction reminiscent of the 1930s depression – The shameful phenomenon of hundreds, even sometimes, thousands of working people applying for and failing to get, even low paid menial work is being reported.

    As a cover for failed neo-liberal economic policy direction, Narelle Henson a journalist linked to the well funded lobby group, the Maxim Institute, has penned a propaganda piece based on negative and unsubstantiated employer anecdotes attacking the unemployed, to explain away this phenomenon.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/8463033/Dole-queues-long-but-bosses-can-t-get-workers

    “Dole queues long but bosses can’t get workers”

    Narelle Henson

    New Zealand’s most famous beneficiary, turned Minister, Paula Bennet has contributed to this attack propaganda piece, that tries to put the blame for mass unemployment onto the unemployed.

    Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the latest round of welfare changes were aimed at addressing some of the problems employers were seeing.

    Paula Bennet

    After shamelessly laying off tens of thousands of working people. New Zealand’s stellar performing employers have joined the Maxim Institute in scapegoating the unemployed, for mass unemployment.

    The problem of course is not with the unemployed but with the shortage of jobs.

    This is self evident.

    There can be little doubt that Paula Bennet’s welfare cuts will make poverty worse. By taking part in the Maxim Institute’s scapegoating of the unemployed is the Minister hoping to wipe her hands clean of any personal responsibility for increasing poverty?

    The Minister should be questioned in the house as to her links to this shadowy extreme right wing political group.

    Did she not know, that Narelle Henson was a paid hack of the Maxim Institute?

    Did Henson make this clear to her when she was being interviewed for this piece?

    Even if she gave her support to this attack unknowingly……

    The Minister should be asked before the house to apologise to the families of the tens of thousands of unemployed working people laid off from their jobs during this government’s term, for causing them extra unnecessary distress.

    • ghostrider888 3.1

      Excellent Jenny
      From Todays Herald-Amelia Wade
      “1 in 3 NZers believe they are worse of than two years ago and have less disposable income; 43% , the same as two years ago, and an entire 18.1% better off.

      Food costs up, power costs up, housing costs up, car costs up, Unemployment up.

      Low and middle-income FAMILIES feeling the increases more than those at the top; (“average wage ” skewed by high earners).”

  4. AsleepWhileWalking 4

    I’m about to go on a benefit rights advocacy course. This is because unlike our fundie friend above I believe children are a joint community responsibility.

    Once I am trained my aim will be to help alleviate child poverty by ensuring as many parents as possible are getting the support they are legally entitled to, but nobody has helped them access or made them aware of. It’s a small start and will be somewhat dependent on the financial viability of the Wellington Benefit Rights Service who don’t receive much (if any) in the way of government funding.

    In my opinion NZ child poverty is best tackled through access to:

    1) affordable and stable housing
    2) affordable medical care
    3) access to full and correct entitlements under the Social Securities Act which also supports low income earners
    4) understanding our tax system and knowing when you are better off a benefit, and when it is better to remain on one (refers to working for families entitlement)

    • AsleepWhileWalking 4.1

      Further to my comment above, here is an excerpt from the training advertisement:

      The welfare training provided by the Benefit Rights Service focuses on the legislation that governs
      the administration of social welfare in Aotearoa, the Social Security Act 1964, as well as associated
      Ministerial Programmes and Directives. The training also examines the practices and methods that
      enable people to deal more successfully with the department of Work and Income.

      The training is aimed at equipping advocates so that they can empower people to access their
      rightful entitlements from Work and Income – a department that historically has paid scant attention
      to people’s rights. This history was illustrated in the Wellington People’s Centre’s Special Benefit
      Report: 1995-2000, that showed that at least 159,000 of New Zealand’s poorest families were not
      receiving all the welfare assistance to which they were legally entitled.

      The training course is a comprehensive introduction to welfare law and covers most aspects of the
      current benefit system including:

      • An overview of the benefit system
      • Familiarisation with the Social Security Act
      • Making an application (which is not as simple as it sounds)
      • How to commence a benefit
      • How to calculate accommodation supplements, stand-downs and the effect of income on
      benefit entitlement
      • Applying for a review of decision; the review and appeal process
      • Special Benefit/Temporary Additional Support
      • Debt recovery and information matching
      • Assistance for children
      • Tax credits

      The training requires a lot of teamwork and participation. Contact (04) 210 2012 for the April course

      • AsleepWhileWalking 4.1.1

        That’s right, 159,000 families not receiving their full and correct entitlement under the law. An outrageous number but also a precursor to so many other social issues. Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, surely this is of interest?

        The situation may have worsened since then as staff cuts have occurred and lower income families particularly in the last decade have suffered from a lack of stable rental accommodation resulting in some children moving schools 10-15 times before they reach college, and very likely different Work and Income service centers.

  5. Lindsay 5

    What is your graph based on – fixed line or moving line median?

    If you look at the graph here – http://www.nzchildren.co.nz/child_poverty.php – you will see that depending on which definition you use, the picture changes significantly.

    In Brian Perry’s most recent report he makes the point that child poverty rates were flat between 2009 and 2011,“…a good result in the circumstances (Global Financial Crisis, economic downturn)”. That is never reported.

    And regarding how NZ compares to OECD/EU countries, “On the latest available figures (2008-09) New Zealand’s population and child poverty rates are close to the overall medians for both measures.”

    Finally you have used the child poverty definition that produces the largest possible number. The OECD uses 50% and UNICEF’s last report card put the number of NZ children in poverty at 118,000.

    (Harriet is largely correct. Two thirds of the children – as measured at below 60 percent fixed line median AHC costs – are on benefits and most of those are on the DPB.)

    • karol 5.1

      (Harriet is largely correct. Two thirds of the children – as measured at below 60 percent fixed line median AHC costs – are on benefits and most of those are on the DPB.)

      And the percentage is so high because a lot of employers are not paying a living wage. Taxpayers are subsidising employers.

  6. At one consultation seminar participants were asked:‘what is the one thing you think the Prime Minister should do to address child poverty?’ A woman stood up and responded vigorously: ‘come and live my life for a while’

    So, seminar participants were asked for the one most important thing the PM should do to address child poverty, and the response was some meaningless rhetoric? I have to agree with you that that does pretty much set the tone for ‘expert’ reports on child poverty.

    … I believe children are a joint community responsibility.

    Believe what you like about your own kids. Mine are the responsibility of their parents – what the community might believe about them counts for a fraction of fuck-all.

    …Narelle Henson, a journalist linked to the well funded lobby group, the Maxim Institute, has penned a propaganda piece based on negative and unsubstantiated employer anecdotes attacking the unemployed…

    It’s called journalism – you may have heard of it? This may come as an astounding shock, but the fact that crap governmentt policies have increased the number of unemployed doesn’t rule out the possibility that a significant proportion of the unemployed are unemployable wasters. If you try and pretend the wasters don’t exist or are only a tiny fraction of beneficiaries, “propaganda” stories like the one mentioned are going to continue putting a fly in your ointment.

    • Murray Olsen 6.1

      Funny how the proportion of society that are “unemployable wasters” always goes up when a conservative government applies austerity policies. Can you stop frothing at the mouth long enough to explain why this is so? I’m assuming it must either be something in our genes, or to do with sunspot activity, because it happens all over the world wherever these policies are applied.
      If your kids are your responsibility and that’s the end of the story, please keep them away from any public schools, parks or beaches. These are cared for by the community. Keep them in your back yard, maybe on leashes, so that no one else can have any influence on them. Or maybe find a piece of bare rock somewhere and raise them on that. You could carve out a statue of John Galt with the edge of your hand.

      • Psycho Milt 6.1.1

        Funny how the proportion of society that are “unemployable wasters” always goes up when a conservative government applies austerity policies.

        It does? Got a link? I’m fairly confident it goes up as long as wasters are having more than one child apiece, but that’s an assumption based on the well-known principle that people tend to raise children to be much like themselves. I’ve never seen anything to suggest it has something to do with who’s in government.

        If your kids are your responsibility and that’s the end of the story, please keep them away from any public schools, parks or beaches.

        Why? Schools, parks and beaches, unlike my children, are the responsibility of the community, of which I am a member. Also: there’s nothing even vaguely Randian about the idea that parents are responsible for their children – it’s a historical and legal commonplace.

        • locus 6.1.1.1

          Psycho, if you can step back a moment from self satisfied prejudice about how people with no work or with large families should be responsible for the poverty they may find themselves in, you’d recognise that thread is not arguing that the state should take over the responsibility of parents. Rather it’s about recognising that child poverty is a serious and unacceptable problem which is growing in our country with consequences for all of us.

          you may personally be doing a wonderful job of providing for your children and have the privilege of a secure and well paid job, but just suppose for a moment you lost your job and/or became to ill to care for them. What now? Or does your ideological standpoint reject any kind of social security for the children who haven’t enough to eat, insufficient clothing, no way of getting to school, are orphans, or who have none of the extra curricular support most other children get from their parents because theirs have fallen on hard times etc.

        • rosy 6.1.1.2

          ” Schools, parks and beaches, unlike my children, are the responsibility of the community, of which I am a member. “

          So, when your child is on a beach, on the way home from school, in a park and s/he falls, chokes, is chased by a dog, is hit by another child, pokes a tongue out at an old person, the public can just turn away, do nothing, because you as a parent have responsibility for your child. Good to know… it only takes a parent to raise a child, the rest can butt out.

  7. So, when your child is on a beach, on the way home from school, in a park and s/he falls, chokes, is chased by a dog, is hit by another child, pokes a tongue out at an old person, the public can just turn away, do nothing…

    They could choose to do that, yes – no-one will hold them accountable. That’s because they’re not responsible for the child, unlike its parents. Fortunately, most people will help a child regardless of whether or not they get to claim the credit for raising it.

    … if you can step back a moment from self satisfied prejudice about how people with no work or with large families should be responsible for the poverty they may find themselves in…

    And likewise, if you could step back a moment from mawkish sentiment about the poor, what to do about them could be considered a bit more rationally. We have to provide a social welfare system that keeps people out of poverty, but we also have to make sure it doesn’t provide a career path.

    Rather it’s about recognising that child poverty is a serious and unacceptable problem which is growing in our country with consequences for all of us.

    Well, yes. I don’t think there’s anyone who’s ever commented on this series of posts who doubts that it’s a serious and growing problem. The difficult part is how to deal with it. It’s like we have someone bleeding to death, and all the right-wingers are shouting “Stop the bleeding” while all the left-wingers are shouting “Start a blood transfusion.” Doing the one without the other isn’t a good idea.

    • rosy 7.1

      “no-one will hold them accountable. That’s because they’re not responsible for the child, unlike its parents”

      Sharing space = sharing responsibility in my book. Yes, parents are primarily responsible, but if they are unable to respond it’s up to someone else to step up. Expanding that a little further extends to all children of parents who are unable to respond, for whatever reason, to their children’s needs.

      I’m guessing we’ll never agree on that point.

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