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Poverty Watch 38

Written By: - Date published: 8:38 am, July 6th, 2013 - 10 comments
Categories: national, poverty - Tags:

Just a quick Poverty Watch update this week (too much happening and too little time!). Check out The Herald chat session with Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) co-convener Alan Johnson (The Herald headlines him as a “poverty expert” but Johnson demurs). Interesting to see the range of questions, and the calm, measured responses. Here’s a sample:

Hi Alan, “poverty” is an emotive term, one that evokes images of famine sufferers in, say, Ethiopia. How do you describe poverty in a way that applies to New Zealanders without evoking skepticism from the general public?

How did we become such a judgmental country categorizing the impoverished into the deserving & undeserving poor?

Hi Alan, what do you say to people like John Banks who say that poverty is about people making poor decisions- essentially that through making the “right” choices a person should be able to raise their children in a house that is warm, where they have enough to eat and can access public education.

What part do poor morals and lack of education play in child poverty in your opinion?

Alan, how can you be a ‘child poverty expert’ when child overty doesn’t exist in NZ? We don’t have starving people like they do in Africa with the flies and stuff.

To what extent do you think that child poverty in New Zealand is the result of a weak human rights framework – in that our laws and policies are made in a way that do not have the central purpose of recognising rights?

Hi Alan, do you think NZ culture of binge boozing and/or pokies contributes to child poverty?

Go check out The Herald page for his replies.

What question would you have asked him?

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 38 ”

  1. Mary 1

    Interesting mix of responses from Alan Johnson. People make bad choices, we still have a functioning welfare state and people need more help with budgeting. Income inadequacy is a problem, but extending all tax credits to beneficiary families is not one of the top three pieces of legislation in need of change (even though he’s from CPAG). Just a wee bit too much “blame the victim” sentiment for my liking.

  2. AsleepWhileWalking 2

    1) I see you focus on the level of income as a change mechanism for poverty. What are some actions that can be taken by communities given that in NZ poverty is demonstrated mainly by social exclusion?


    2) To what extent, if any, does lack of internet access reinforce poverty dynamics in this country?

    • Mary 2.1

      Lack of internet access is a huge problem. Where the political will currently sits in relation to this problem doesn’t look good when you consider that Work and Income don’t accept call phone calls to its 0800 number. Not only the only government department that does this, but its the one that deals with a group for whom pre-paid cell phones are for so many the only affordable phone option available. Pretty telling, I’d say.

      • AsleepWhileWalking 2.1.1

        Mmmm…. the effect lack of internet access has upon the ability to secure better income (not to mention education barriers to the kids). The government continues apparently oblivious…perhaps they think everyone has a smartphone in which to sit in McD’s and use their free WiFi?
        Or the spare change to sit in an internet cafe?
        Or time outside of normal business hours to visit a library to check their email..oh no! Position has been filled because you didn’t respond to my email….The WCL’s computers have time limits imposed and restrict sites you can access + what you can do on the site…like download application forms for example which you aren’t allowed to do.

        I’m telling you, internet is the new bread (I refer of course to the politicians ability to know the current bread price as well as the play on words with bread=money).

        The level of internet access could well be a predictor of future success for children.

        I know from experience that when my kids only had school + public library access to the internet their school work was affected badly – such is the level of expectation and reliance on the internet today.

        We should ask Alan J for a Poverty Watch post on this topic…

      • Mary 2.1.2

        Meant to say Work and Income don’t accept “cell phone calls” to their 0800 number.

    • Mary 2.2

      I wonder if income inadequacy really is a focus of Alan Johnson’s analysis. Sure he touches on it but the overall flavour of what he’s saying seems to be more about budgeting and choices. I don’t trust him.

  3. AsleepWhileWalking 3

    In “Too Poor to Help”, by David Simmer & Tony McGurk it talks about the changes that were made to our welfare system that meant those on low incomes who were previously able to obtain a grant for an essential need now have to pay the money back. Essentially the main disadvantage is to those who are long term welfare recipients like disabled or long term low wage earners.

    1) Is there any research that shows the effect of these changes on children now that they have been in place for over a decade? (For example wider pessimism/despondence over financial circumstances, money paying back a loan for a welfare need to the government instead of basic school costs etc.)

    2) Given that the outcome of the widespread changes to our welfare system involves financial penalties for those who care for children, what additional government help has been put in place to ensure the human rights (right to equal access to food, warmth, shelter, education) of the children of those parents are not further violated? Remember the government has predicted the $ amount it will save from these financial penalties, and therefore would be well placed to predict and react to the suffering of children affected by these changes before the policy is implemented

    • Mary 3.1

      Governments both National and Labour know they can’t cut basic benefit levels any further therefore since the cuts in 1991 the decimation of welfare has had to continue in other areas like supplementary hardship assistance etc. Making non-payable help repayable is just one mechanism among many. Axing the special benefit and changing the purpose of social security in the legislation are two further examples. People would be shocked to see what’s gone on over last 22 years since main benefit were cut. It’s gone on almost unnoticed and is still happening. Even now there’s a Bill waiting to be passed that will have the effect of taking considerable amounts out of a beneficiary’s already woefully inadequate weekly payment. It too will go unnoticed by most:


      Even the introduction of Working for Families has meant for many an even further reduced income:


      Put all of this on top of the fact basic benefit levels are still the same relatively to what they were at the time of the cuts in 1991 makes talk of “bad choices” and the need for “more budgeting” truly farcical.

  4. Mr Interest 4

    This may shed some light on the poverty debate and definition of


    “I want to close a loop, which I’m calling “The Irony of Poverty.” On the one hand, lack of slack tells us the poor must make higher quality decisions because they don’t have slack to help buffer them with things. But even though they have to supply higher quality decisions, they’re in a worse position to supply them because they’re depleted. That is the ultimate irony of poverty. You’re getting cut twice. You are in an environment where the decisions have to be better, but you’re in an environment that by the very nature of that makes it harder for you apply better decisions.

    A Talk By Sendhil Mullainathan”

    I think what we are seeing in New Zealand, is a poverty of mind. Is it that the system requires an underclass, it needs mindless obedience, consumerism and cultivates mediocrity (yeah I know, that old donkey). However, one cannot have too many intellectually rich people within the system (i.e. it floods the market).

    Why do you think when John Key and John Banks constantly say it comes down to poor decisions…………………………………….. They are right, however they just don’t fill in the rest of picture. Poverty manifests itself in many ways.

    What do you think………………..

    • Mary 4.1

      It’s no coincidence that the rich don’t know how to budget because they’ve never had to, not in the same way we expect of the poor, which is “regardless of how inadequate your income is you’re just going to have to learn how to make better decisions because your income is what it is and if you don’t learn how to make better decisions it’s your fault.” Similarly, it is accepted that for the general population drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and gambling are addictions, but not for the poor. When it’s the poor they’re “choices”.

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