Poverty Watch 33

Written By: - Date published: 8:52 am, June 1st, 2013 - 10 comments
Categories: national, poverty - Tags:

It is fortuitous that this series has just finished reviewing the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCCC) 2012 report “Child Poverty in New Zealand evidence for action“. Good timing because this week the government released its response (pdf).

How has the government’s response been received? From Brian Rudman:

Free breakfast as poverty solution? It’s a joke

Last December, the Government’s expert advisory group on Solutions to Child Poverty came up with 78 recommendations. It painted a grim picture. “As many as 23 per cent of children – about 270,000 – currently live in poverty.” It said the economic cost of child poverty was $6 billion to $8 billion a year and it was damaging the nation’s long-term prosperity. For individual children it meant going to school hungry, living in a cold, damp house and missing out on school outings and sports. It led to lower educational achievement, poor health and social exclusion.

Calling for “political vision, courage and determination”, the report declared “no child should experience severe and persistent poverty, least of all in a land of relative abundance”.

Yesterday’s package was not a demonstration of that political vision, courage and determination. It was more the plucking of the lowest, and cheapest fruit in the 78-strong basket and wrapping it with the shiniest of Warehouse-quality wrapping paper. …

The Government yesterday was patting itself on the back for adopting some of the 78 recommendations of its advisory group. But the initiatives it has seized, such as the pilot scheme of a warrant-of-fitness programme for rental houses and consideration of micro-financing loans for low-income families, are just baby steps. As solutions to the problem of 270,000 children living in poverty, they’re a joke.

From Labour:

Response to poverty report a disgrace

The Government’s response to recommendations made by the expert advisory group on solutions to child poverty is an absolute insult – not only to members of the group, but to every Kiwi family struggling to make ends meet, Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says.

“This group gave almost a year of its time, produced 24 working papers and gave 78 detailed recommendations. In response, the government has given it the brush-off.

“There are some 270,000 Kiwi kids living in income-deprived households. According to Paula Bennett the panacea to lifting them out of poverty is tax cuts and low floating mortgage rates. ….

“The first step, it [the group] said, was to introduce specific measurements for child poverty, set short and long-term targets, establish various child poverty-related indicators and ensure the regular monitoring and reporting on results.

“This government has never shied away from setting targets in other areas. When it comes to child poverty it is obviously running scared, because none of those things have been addressed in this response.

From The Greens:

Action on incomes needed to address poverty

The Government’s final response to recommendations made by the expert advisory group on solutions to child poverty is a cop out leaving the extensive work carried out by the Children’s Commission largely ignored, the Green Party said today

The Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Solutions to Child Poverty’ report called for action to improve family incomes to ensure all New Zealand children get a good start in life and can fulfil their potential. …

“The Children’s Commissioner’s expert report recommended a universal child payment as a key step towards ensuring all our children have the best possible start in life. The Government should listen to that recommendation.

“We support a universal child payment as the best and fairest way to ensure that all children, not just some, have the opportunity to have a good life, and a fair, bright and prosperous future.

“We will also instigate a national poverty measure and implement the recommendations of the Children’s Commissioner so that the right information is collected in order to be able to tackle child poverty at its source.

“We’ve got all the evidence we need for comprehensive policy to end child poverty. What will it take to make the National Government wake up and do something to save a whole generation of children?”

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG):

Group says Recommendations to Reduce Child Poverty Ignored

CPAG’s public health spokesperson Dr Nikki Turner says the government has cherry picked through the Expert Advisory Group’s 78 recommendations to focus on only a handful of issues. …

“The government has failed to respond to the EAG’s recommendations in particular to the major issue of income inadequacy for the poorest kids.”

The response of one of the leaders of the OCC report:

Govt defends child poverty moves

PM says National cares about the problem but expert panel head says key proposals in report ignored.

Prime Minister John Key has had to defend National against criticism that the Government’s response to a child poverty report fell short, despite adding a sweetener by announcing $9.5 million towards a breakfast in schools programme.

…there was criticism that the long-awaited response failed to address the key recommendations in the panel’s report. Panel co-chairman Professor Jonathan Boston said it was disappointing the Government ignored key proposals to measure child poverty and set targets to improve it, and to address the issue of low incomes by providing extra financial support such as through a child payment for those on benefits.

… very little of what the Government has done to date directly addresses the challenges of low incomes. Government initiatives are all well and good, but we have a situation where hundreds of thousands of children are experiencing material deprivation. So in many ways this is dealing primarily with mitigating the consequences of poverty rather than reducing the nature of the problem.”

I intend to go in to this further next week, looking in a bit more detail at the OCC recommendations and how the government has responded or (as is more usually the case) not.


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.

10 comments on “Poverty Watch 33”

  1. AsleepWhileWalking 1

    In the wake of the hearing this week around the IWTC I am reminded of a previous court action by the same group.

    All but forgotten in the current child poverty debate is Section 70 of the Social Securities Act which allows Work and Income to deduct $28 from the main benefit (most likely DPB, Sickness or IB) for any child where the non-custodial parent has not been named – that’s $28 for each child so if you had two kids where the other parent wasn’t named that would be $56/week less than other beneficiaries in a similar situation, three kids $84/week.

    The CPAG did attempt a court action years ago on the grounds of discrimination (as the penalty rate only applies to beneficiares) but unfortunately for these kids and their parents they failed.

    It’s hard to say why people still choose to avoid naming the other parent and accept the penalty, but in the end it probably matters very little as the children have to suffer as a result.

    Worth noting is that at 2003/4 there were over 20,000 beneficiaries and God knows how many kids in this situation although back then the penality was ONLY $22 a child. It is shocking to think of how this contributed and compounded the harm done to children from these families. Around this time Work and Income sent their Investigators around to interview these parents and essentially threatening them with the increased rate of penality of an additional $6/week per child. How much of a difference it made I couldn’t say. Perhaps the parents just lied on an affidavit to stop the penalty, or maybe they made some other kind of compromise aside from integrity.

    One thing I know for sure is that parents don’t unnecessarily compromise their income. They would need a damn good reason.

    • Jenny 1.1

      Great stuff. AWW.

      As to the why. What can we presume? There are a number of options:

      The mothers are under some form of duress or obligation to the unnamed fathers.

      That the mothers are genuinely not aware of the father’s identity? It does happen. And doesn’t mean that they are not good and caring mothers to their child. In genuine cases like this, why should a child be made to suffer for a singular mistake, or accident in birth control?

      Short of genetically testing every male in the country. No matter the best intentions of the mother there is no way she can provide the identity of the father to the state.

      I have heard no moral argument why innocents should be made to suffer. It reeks of 19th century judgmental concept of sin and punishment.

      • AsleepWhileWalking 1.1.1

        Re: Duress, yes I suspect the level of threat has a lot to do with not naming the non custodial parent.

        Legislation was changed after 2004 that meant if someone was under threat/domestic violence they would then be excluded from the penalty. Of course the BIG assumption made by the government was that victims of violence/threats would readily trust the government to take care of them if they revealed this. You know….like the government has taken care of them when they needed protection orders. The idea that they will keep everything confidential despite THAT privacy breach.

        Also, you can be excluded from a penalty rate if the child was conceived as a result of sexual abuse. That assumes that:

        – a woman can easily identify if sexual abuse has taken place. For example a man threatens to kill himself if a woman doesn’t have sex with him, so she has sex with him in order to placate him = rape. How many woman could identify that? Not many hot shot criminal lawyers find themselves on benefits I’m guessing. There are many other instances where society has a nasty tendancy to blame the victim of the rape so women are likely to feel like it was their fault even if legally it was a rape.

        – a woman will feel ok signing a written affidavit stating her child was conceived in such a way (after a detailed discussion of exactly how she was raped has occurred with one of those friendly lawyers) and then handing that document to Work and Income. FYI at least 3 people will process that piece of paper. Furthermore, while improper access is instant dismissal anyone within the ministry can theoretically access a file. The only way around this is to ask that the file is “secured”, meaning each time a manager or similar must unlock the computer record. Not sure what they do with the paper files with a secure record but they are in the system forever.

        – a woman will feel ok going through the stressful process required above to have the penalty lifted, even after ACC sensitive claims have just rejected cover based on excessively strict reading of S128 of the Crimes Act.

        FFS this makes me particularly angry because being a rape victim is bad enough, but the harm is compounded by the penalty rate being added, possibly before a victim is ready to face up to the reality of what has occurred. The birth of a child conceived in such a manner imposes a time frame outside of the victims control.

    • prism 1.2

      AWW
      This is a result of the impatience felt by the comfortably off who don’t want to accept the reality of generations – that young NZs have sex and often fall down on the needed contraception which is usually the female’s responsibility. This has been happening all through the 20th century, it’s not something recent.

      Jenny Shipley and her ilk were strong on the responsibility and morality of the matter of children outside committed partnerships. The business of deducting money from already miserly benefits and so making managing a one parent family difficult comes from this moralistic and economic resentment to welfare. The women who don’t name may be wiser than the government. They may not have realised they were sexing with trash. It only has to happen once. Then they can be tied to coping with some low-life who remains irresponsible all his life and drags the family down. But all the government cares about is getting some money back from the father. And makes a big deal about how it is important that children know their fathers, as if the government cared.

      If more attention was put into providing small businesses with incentives to employ part-time and train single parents and allow them to have a fully rounded life with dignity and knowing respect for the good job they do, and less effort put into involving unsatisfactory fathers who often end up instigating violent domestic abuse, we would have a better, happier country and less expensive social needs costs. But government actually doesn’t care about that. It likes to have the bennies to bash and the right wingers like to despise them and tut-tut about them as worthless spongers.

    • Colonial Viper 1.3

      It was a good thing that the recent Labour Govt reversed all this stuff, understanding that cutting money off already miserly benefits was greatly increasing child poverty.

  2. Jenny 2

    Mana Party Press Statement

    “70% of New Zealanders heard and voted to support MANA’s Feed the Kids message” said MANA Leader and Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira, as government announces an expanded breakfast programme in association with Sanitarium, Fonterra and KidsCan. “That’s what got the Prime Minister to do something about supporting food-in-schools”

    “And for that, kids can also be thankful to the many organisations who have supported a comprehensive food-in-schools programme and backed MANA’s Feed the Kids bill over the past 9 months.

    “Together we made a difference. Today we got the government to take action on the most pressing issue of our time, child poverty.

    “But it doesn’t end here, not by a long-shot” said Harawira. “While I applaud the long-standing support from the business sector, eliminating child poverty in Aotearoa is not about charity and neither should it rely on public-private partnerships. We have already seen breakfast programmes dropped in the past when profits have fallen. Our kids deserve better than that.”

    In 2011, the Red Cross was forced to end its breakfast in schools programme due to the loss of their major sponsor, Countdown.

    “Eliminating child poverty should be the highest priority of any government, and feeding the kids should be the first step in achieving that goal.

    “I am grateful to everyone for their support and thankful for the Prime Minister’s announcement today on expanding the current food-in-schools programme” said Harawira.

    “But I would ask New Zealanders to take this to the next level by urging your MP to Support the Feed the Kids bill at first reading. If the bill goes to Select Committee we get the opportunity to hear from teachers, parents, doctors, children, nurses, and child support agencies.

    “That’s what we did with the Tobacco Inquiry and we got legislation making Aotearoa smokefree by 2025” said Harawira

    “Wouldn’t it be great if we took same road to eliminating child poverty by 2020?”

    Tuesday 28 May 2013

  3. Well, yeah – National aren’t interested even in starting the kind of background work that needs doing to pin down what’s causing it, what the extent of it is and what effect current measures are having, so it’s no surprise they aren’t interested in anything more substantive. Heading off a public relationships disaster by putting some bowls of Weetbix into schools is as far as they’re willing to go, but even there the key phrase is “heading off a public relations disaster,” nothing particularly to do with child poverty.

    However, the Commission also has to cop a significant share of the blame. We’ve got a situation in which we apparently have a significantly worsening child poverty problem, but we don’t have a significantly worsening family income problem. That suggests somebody needs to be looking into why the fuck that is – if I were them I’d have started with the fact that proportion of households below the poverty line has mostly been falling or static for the last 20 years but the proportion of the nation’s kids in those households has shot up, but that seems to have been considered of little interest. Instead, they’ve thought up various ways we could fling money at the symptoms without troubling ourselves too much about what might be causing the increase. Any government would have the right to be less than chuffed with them.

  4. Feeling poetic today:
    Neoliberalism is (a poem)

    Neoliberalism is a beggar under a bridge,
    Neoliberalism is a teenager selling their body to afford an education,
    Neoliberalism is a family struggling to feed their kids,
    Neoliberalism is a child at a sweat shop,
    Neoliberalism is someone without a job,
    Neoliberalism is forcing sick people to work,
    Neoliberalism is a starving child,
    Neoliberalism is having your wages cut,
    Neoliberalism is not being able to afford medicine,
    Neoliberalism is having your pension cut,
    Neoliberalism is politicians selling out their country,
    Neoliberalism is taking away human rights,
    Neoliberalism is crushing political protests,
    Neoliberalism is supporting fascist dictatorships,
    Neoliberalism is state-sponsored murder,
    Neoliberalism is evil.

  5. RedBaronCV 5

    Re AWW.
    The lack of naming the father is likely, as others have said, due to threats or even overt violence. I suspect in some cases this is potentially very serious violence, sawn off shotgun in the car glovebox type violence.

    The penalty also far exceeds what is reasonable. The collection from paying parents towards parents on benefits is down around the minimum of $10 to $12 per week per family. As others above say they are being penalised a minimum of $22 per child. The State is actually “making a profit” at the expense of these poorest of the poor.

    FFS the state only manages to collect about $70 per week on average to pass on to working caregivers. That is about 2 litres of milk and half a loaf of bread per day for the whole family from the non resident parent.

    The state is not known to pursue even parents who could pay and are not. The CA decided a big case recently where a child support dodger was ordered to pay many years of back child support. Just after the breakdown of the relationship the caregiver had been on a benefit for a shortish period of time (18 months?) when the payer was also dodging paying on the same basis. The IRD could have been a beneficiary of the same order on behalf of the taxpayer on a “me too” basis but they didn’t even bother to try.

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