Chapter 2 What You Told Us
This is a brief chapter, and I will summarise it quickly, because there is plenty of current news this week. The report called for public submissions on a variety of questions, starting with “Which proposals will be effective in reducing child poverty?”. Here’s some extracts from what they found:
Overall the feedback we received was very positive and generally supportive of the proposed solutions presented in the Issues and Options Paper. Submitters, survey respondents and meeting participants all added constructive ideas on how to refine the solutions, expressed their priority recommendations for action, and provided numerous examples of local activities that demonstrated how communities are currently implementing aspects of the proposed community-based solutions.
Mäori and Pasifika respondents emphasised that it is important to clarify that, although child poverty is a serious problem for some Mäori and Pasifika families, it is not experienced by the majority. These groups wanted the final report to ensure that the recommendations did not reinforce stereotypes of Mäori and Pasifika peoples.
There was a high level of agreement across the feedback on the priority actions:
• improve accountability mechanisms for addressing child poverty, through the enactment of legislation (e.g. a Children’s Act) to formalise the process of setting targets to reduce child poverty, monitor progress, and report results
• strengthen the income and the tax-benefit system by introducing a child payment and undertaking an independent review of all child-related benefit rates
• pass-on child support payments to custodial parents who receive a sole-parent benefit
• establish a Warrant of Fitness for all rental properties
• provide food-in-schools to help hungry children.
Children raised housing as a primary concern. They spoke about damp and cold houses affecting their health, and wanted rental properties to be safer and healthier. They noted that more insulation of homes would make heating homes more affordable, as they reported that families are struggling to pay household bills, which leads to no heating, no water, and the inability to cook. Children spoke about overcrowded housing and the impacts, including lack of privacy, arguments and tensions which affect family relationships, and difficulty in doing their homework. The impact of insecure and unstable housing was raised, including the stress and upheaval associated with children leaving their friends and their schools.
Schools were seen by the children as places which have the potential to improve the well-being of children experiencing poverty and disadvantage – they see education as key to getting a good job and escaping poverty. They also recognised the importance of having affordable quality childcare and after-school programmes available so that their parents can work. The children talked about the importance of having parents, teachers and other adults encouraging their educational aspirations, and recognising the varied talents that all children have.
Improved accountability mechanisms for addressing child poverty: There was very strong support for the enactment of legislation (e.g. a Children’s Act) to formalise the process of setting targets to reduce child poverty, monitor progress, and report results. Feedback indicated that legislation would embed accountability mechanisms to ensure the continued focus on addressing child poverty in New Zealand, beyond electoral cycles. Numerous submitters referred to this as ‘de-politicising’ the child poverty issue.
I’m going to take up this issue of setting targets and monitoring progress under current news below. As a final extract:
Poor parenting decisions and practice: A small number of respondents indicated that child poverty was because of poor parenting decisions and practices, and poor parents should not have so many children. The EAG has taken a child-centred view, that regardless of the cause, children in poverty need our collective support to help them achieve their potential in the future. Many other respondents agreed that the wider community has responsibility to help reduce child poverty.
As expected not all submissions where from a leftie perspective. It’s good to see the report acknowledge this, and put the case for compassion so succinctly.
Plenty to reflect on in current news this week, primarily another major report by UNICEF – “Report Card 11: Child well-being in rich countries”. The NZ press release is here, and the full report is here (pdf). From the press release:
A new UNICEF report launched today, which looks at the state of children in the world’s most advanced economies, shows that a great deal more could be done to improve child wellbeing in New Zealand.
Report Card 11, the latest in the series from UNICEF’s Innocenti Office of Research, also highlights that government policy is significant across the industrialised world in determining many aspects of child wellbeing, with some countries doing much better than others at protecting their most vulnerable children.
The comparative data for New Zealand shows we are:
- Ranked 32 out of 34 countries for young people who are not in any form of education, training or employment (NEETS)
- Ranked 21 out of 35 countries for levels of child poverty, above Italy and Canada but below the UK and Australia.
- Ranked 25 out of 34 countries for young people (aged 15-19 years) who are participating in higher education, ahead of Australia and the UK but below Spain and Greece.
- Ranked 24 out of 35 countries for general homicide (deaths per 100,000) which has an impact on children’s safety and development. Australia, the UK and most European countries have fewer homicides per 100,000 than New Zealand.
- Ranked 25 out of 35 countries for child health and safety (includes infant mortality and low birth weight, national immunization levels and death rate of children and young people).
Barbara Lambourn, National Advocacy Manager at UNICEF New Zealand, commented … “It’s clear from the comparisons where New Zealand is measured, that there is much progress yet to be made on the wellbeing of our youngest citizens. The report makes it clear that the costs of not safeguarding child wellbeing are a burden to the whole of society – not just for children growing up in poverty or deprivation.
“As the report shows, a country’s GDP is not strongly related to children’s wellbeing. A government’s choice to have policies which enhance and support child wellbeing is much more significant.
That point is worth repeating in a LOUD VOICE. It is the choices of the government that have the most impact on child poverty.
The report also shows what is achievable when governments commit to a plan of action to make children’s rights and wellbeing a priority. The country at the top of the overall table for child wellbeing is the Netherlands, with Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland placed next. The UK has also risen from the bottom of the table in 2007 (21 out of 21 countries) to mid-table (16 out of 29 countries). It introduced a Child Poverty Act in 2010, which has national targets and a national strategy for reducing poverty. Romania is at the bottom of the table. New Zealand does not feature in this overall rankings table for child wellbeing due to data requirements.
Ms Lambourn said, “It’s no surprise that the Netherlands comes out as the clear leader and is the only country ranked among the top five in all dimensions of child wellbeing. The Netherlands has a long standing political and social consensus about the importance of families and children, with universal support for the role of parenting.”
It is in this context that the choices of this National government are so particularly disgusting. For example, they know all about the importance of monitoring and goals when it comes to beneficiary bashing:
Mr English said the valuation [of benefit costs] was an important “performance tool” and would change the behaviour of the Government by forcing it to confront the long-term issue rather than accepting it was an unavoidable cost. … “When you take a long-term model, there’s no place to hide.”
But when it comes to measuring poverty:
Yesterday Prime Minister John Key also ruled out new legislation which would set out an official measure of child poverty and require the Government to set a target to reduce it. That legislation was considered a critical “first step” by the Children’s Commissioner Expert Advisory Panel.
When questioned about having an official measure of child poverty Paula Bennet, Minister for Social Development, can only giggle like an idiot. “Gosh!”.
As the UNICEF report makes abundantly clear, a government’s choices have a huge effect on poverty. As the Nats’ choices make abundantly clear, they don’t even want to measure the problem – they literally don’t want to know.
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.