Poverty Watch 25

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, March 30th, 2013 - 11 comments
Categories: national, poverty - Tags:

In the current series of posts we’re looking at the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCCC) 2012 report “Child Poverty in New Zealand evidence for action“. Continuing from last week…

1.4 The causes of child poverty

We all know the causes of poverty – but as I read them I can’t help but reflect that the National government seems to be determined in general to exacerbate them:

Low household income is a major dimension of child poverty and is the result of a combination of factors. These include labour market conditions, low skill levels or limited expertise, social and health issues, housing costs, and government policies and spending priorities. Low household income in New Zealand is frequently caused by unemployment, low pay and insecure employment. …

Lower educational achievement also contributes to child poverty. Education is a major route out of poverty, but currently in New Zealand there is a strong pattern of poorer educational achievement by children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This is shown in lower participation rates in early childhood education, lower levels of skills assessed at entry to primary school, and lower rates of achievement during both compulsory and tertiary education. …

Finally, government policies and spending priorities can significantly affect household incomes, particularly for families dependent on benefit payments. Issues include: access to, and the value of, benefit payments and tax incentives for working families; and unpaid child support and child support that is not passed-on to the custodial parent.

Whereas the CSHM report was very circumspect, setting out the data without political comment, this OCC report pulls no punches at all.

Mäori poverty needs to be considered against the backdrop of colonisation. Recent research documenting the experiences of Mäori whänau living in financial hardship notes that any analysis of the financial and material deprivation of whänau is incomplete without understanding Mäori economic development pre-colonisation, and the impact of land confiscation and war (Baker K., et al., 2012). The alienation of land and resources saw the loss of a cultural, spiritual and economic base (Cram, 2011). It has had a long-reaching impact that continues to shape attitudes towards Mäori in New Zealand. The devastating effects of racism and discrimination in health and elsewhere have been well documented (Reid, 1999; Robson & Harris, 2007; Mills et al., 2012). The legacy of colonialism has been the ‘differential distribution of social, political, environmental and economic resources and well-being within this country with Mäori bearing the brunt of disparities in many areas’ (Cram, 2011, p156).

1.5 The consequences of child poverty

Once again the message that it isn’t a level playing field is loud and clear. Poverty disadvantages kids and perpetuates an inter-generational cycle. The description here, however, is more complete than the usual summaries:

Child poverty can negatively affect child development in numerous ways. As illustrated in Figure 1.7, one pathway impacts on the ability of parents to invest in their child’s development via the simple provision of material resources (e.g. nutritious food and educational opportunities). A second pathway works via sub-optimal child-rearing practices that result from poverty-related stress that is experienced by parents (e.g. relationship difficulties and parental mental health problems). A third and newer major pathway represents the biological embedding of socioeconomic stress via dysregulation of stress-sensitive biological systems, namely, the nervous, immune and endocrine or metabolic systems (Aber et al., 2012; Danese et al., 2009; Ziol-Guest et al., 2012). These pathways do not exist in isolation; rather they tend to co-exist, reinforcing or exacerbating one another (Conger & Donnellan, 2007).

The negative consequences of child poverty include poor child and adult health, poor education outcomes, and poor cognitive, psychological and social functioning.


After summarising the quantifiable consequences of poverty (most of which will be familiar if you followed the CSHM series of posts) this report focuses on a few specific topics. One of the most important (in my opinion) is education:

Educational achievement: There is both New Zealand and international evidence that childhood poverty has negative impacts on cognitive development and educational attainment (Biddulph et al., 2003; Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1994). Poverty impacts on learning in practical ways. Children who lack adequate food have difficulty concentrating, have lower academic achievement and poorer performance, especially in numeracy and literacy, and are more frequently absent or late to school than their peers (Yates et al., 2010).

See also:

The wider social and economic costs: Child poverty imposes a high cost on our society and economy. In the short-term, the government spends a significant amount on remedial services to treat the effects of child poverty, including primary health care and hospitalisations, housing subsidies, benefit payments and tax credits to low-income and unemployed families.

Long-term child poverty is detrimental to New Zealand’s economy. Adults who were raised in poverty as children have less earning capacity, so there are productivity costs and a reduction in government revenue through lost taxation. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to participate in crime, incurring costs for our criminal justice system. There are also significant additional costs in treating the health issues of adults who grew up in poverty.

International evidence suggests that child poverty rates such as those experienced in New Zealand pose an economic burden in the order of 3-4 percent of GDP (Holzer, et al., 2008; Infometrics, 2011). As noted earlier in this Chapter, the evidence also indicates that severe and/ or persistent poverty, especially in early childhood, is the most costly, both for society and the children concerned. There is, therefore, a good case for spending more in the short-term to prevent the longer-term negative impacts of poverty.

As I note every week in the footnote, 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.

Well, that’s long enough and we’ve only covered two sections today, but this first chapter is a very significant one (the next couple of chapters will be quicker). We’ll finish Chapter 1 next week.

In current news, keep an eye on the Mana party’s Feed the Kids Bill – “Feeding the kids should be our first priority as a nation”. Mana are calling for widespread support – and from the looks of their website they are getting it!

In a statement of support the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) once again notes the impact of poverty on education:

TEU’s annual meeting of Māori members, Hui-ā-Motu, is backing the private member’s bill before Parliament that aims to provide all children in decile 1 and 2 schools with free, nutritious breakfast and lunch meals. …

TEU’s Te Tumu Arataki James Houkāmau says poverty is the single largest contributor to educational under-achievement.

“Child poverty in New Zealand has doubled over the last thirty years. About 270,000 (25 percent) children live in poverty. Because of that poverty, it’s estimated that around 80,000 children go to school without a proper breakfast and lunch each day. Hungry children find it difficult to concentrate and learn, and therefore their health and achievement suffers significantly. Here’s an opportunity to do something to address that.”

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.

11 comments on “Poverty Watch 25”

  1. johnm 1

    No comments so far because we are a selfish money grubbing out for personal advantage society. Concern for our fellow New Zealander’s has become a quaint weird fossil from a bygone age. The shallow hologram Of John Yankee rules supreme.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    The financialised, consumption promoting, Chicago school economic version of capitalism is the big problem here.

    It chains governments to needing exponential economic growth. It encourages debt driven consumption of things that we do not need. And worst of all it rewards companies and decision makers with bigger profits if they encourage the paying public to burn through non-renewable resources as fast as possible while paying their workers as little as possible. In this model, companies like Apple are of course huge successes. (They did have to pay a little bit more for suicide nets around their subcontractor’s factory buildings because Chinese workers kept leaping out of the windows on an inconvenient basis).

    Convincing top decision makers, political parties, and privileged consumers that the wealthiest need to accept a much smaller cut of the pie so that more can be shared around is going to be a real trick.

    In the past, the neoliberal answer was…we’ll just continue to “grow the pie” so that there is more for everyone. Well, that answer has been a recognised failure since “Limits to Growth”.

    In the short term, yes it’s crucial to spend more money on providing resources and opportunities for young children.

    In the long term, unless we get our political economics sorted out, we’ll still be a country with very well educated, poorly paid, under employed workers wondering why they can’t save up enough for a first home deposit, even though they are working over 50 hours a week. (Ahhh, did I say in the long term? I meant right now).

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      tl:dr – until we have a vastly different political economic discussion in this country, all we’re going to achieve are child poverty band aids which get ripped back off whenever the Tories (or Treasury Labour) are back in charge, until cumulative resource depletion and peak debt stops us from applying even the most basic sticky plasters.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.2


      The economic system that has been forced upon us is the cause of poverty. This government and all the governments going back to the 4th Labour actually want more of it. That means more poverty, more crime and more of our wealth going to the rich few.

  3. Olwyn 3

    I think I am repeating something Just Saying has said earlier, but I think that the focus should be on poverty per se rather than child poverty. So long as we are living under neo-liberal governments, an emphasis on child poverty is just as likely as not to open up the conceptual space for the privatised orphanage, or the fostering of the children of the poor by the middle class in order to help pay their mortgages. Child poverty is a result of parental poverty, and the two should not be thought of separately. A child should not be put in the position where it blames its parents for conditions that have been inflicted on them.

    • just saying 3.1

      I think framing poverty as “child poverty” is dangerous. It is a right wing narrative about neglectful and abusive parents vs the innocent and therefore “deserving” poor (“lil chillins”). It under-represents the extent of poverty. When we are only every told of the X number of children living in poverty the actual size of the problem is sanitised, and the lives and the suffering of many are made to vanish like some kind of forgiven debt.

      While it is essential the public is made aware of the consequences of child poverty at every opportunity, constantly doing so without mentioning the reality of poverty for adults suggests that for an adult, a time living in need isn’t such a bad thing (and may even be necessary to get ‘them’ off their lazy arses. ), In reality it is a quicksand that many, maybe most, will never escape, no matter how hard they fight, and a life of unrelenting stress, at times at an intensity that a CEO or a brain surgeon, may never experience in their whole lives.

      Sue Bradford, in her last blog at “The daily blog’ is careful to reframe the narrative from the right:

      I feel sick every time I hear a National Party MP lamenting child poverty. Their welfare policies condemn ever increasing numbers of adults and children to stressful, demeaning penury, with consequences that can last a lifetime

      (bold mine)


  4. xtasy 4

    Re Maori health and unemployment, I must sincerely ask, what are those established corporations doing, that were set up to manage investments and run certain businesses (e.g. in fisheries) for their iwis and whanau?

    It is no easy task, for sure, and colonialism and racism are hurdles and certainly impact on people’s ability to succeed, but then again, perhaps develop with some resources and opportunities that may here and there exist.

    Government must do more also, but this one does not care much. Even Labour led governments did not offer Maori all that much, hence we have Turia and her colleagues in the Maori Party.

    If I was Maori, I would not trust any Pakeha dominated governments for a start, I would try and seek the means and legal rights to establish my own way of running collectives, companies, corporations or whatever, and I would support and involve my own people, educate, train, support and achieve, without the patronising way that too many NZ governments have treated Maori.

    It seem Tuhoe are about to realise some potentials. That will be an interesting space to watch.

    Apart from this, yes, NZ governments will naturally need to continue supporting and resourcing Maori in many ways, given the fact that the past injustices are not going to be resolved by some treaty settlements alone.

    But it is justified, to expect some self reliance, as that is what Maori always wanted. Give them a chance and it could work well in future.

    • The entities created to accept putea from the government (because they wouldn’t pay it out any other way) are doing quite a lot but it is the governments job to look after all citizens and too often they want to lay the responsibility on iwi and blame them and reduce their (governmental) responsibilities. This is a continued part of colonisation and victim blaming. And it is different from iwi demanding tino rangatiratanga for their people.

  5. karol 5

    Two related UK articles, showing how the neoliberal crisis is resulting in the screws being tightened more on the less well-off:

    Mark Steel in the Independent, on “The poor spend all the money, isn’t it obvious”. He takes the assumption behind austerity measures, that the poor have been too extravagant and need to be reigned in, to it’s logical conclusion.

    The Scotsman reports on a UK poverty survey:

    AUSTERITY is hitting families hard across Britain and Scotland according to a survey which suggests thousands of people are finding it hard to pay for basics like heating, clothing and food.

    The Poverty and Social Exclusion report, the biggest survey of deprivation across the UK, found that a third of adults now suffer from some form of financial insecurity, with more than a quarter admitting they can neither save £20 a month nor put money away for a pension.

    Just under one in ten households say they are unable to heat the living areas of their homes, up from just 3 per cent in the 1990s. People now say they consider around 33 per cent of Britons to be suffering from a lifestyle of “multiple deprivation”.

    Households are suffering marginally less badly in Scotland compared to the UK as a whole, however.

    More than 14,000 people across the UK, and 2,700 in Scotland, took part in the survey, which was conducted by a number of universities.

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