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Rashbrooke on poverty in NZ and UK

Written By: - Date published: 8:23 am, July 9th, 2015 - 15 comments
Categories: benefits, class war, International, poverty - Tags: , , ,

Max Rashbrooke has a major article in The Guardian today looking at poverty in NZ and the UK.

In New Zealand, 18% of children – some 200,000 – live in households unable to meet basic needs, such as keeping their house warm, replacing worn-out clothes or paying their electricity bill; in Britain, the figure is 16%. In both countries,benefits are low by international standards, and the public’s attitude towards their recipients is increasingly negative. Income inequality is strikingly similar, too: in both countries the top fifth get around 40% of all income, while the bottom fifth get just 8%.

Some remarkable similarities.

The focus of the piece is the lessons that each country can learn from each other. In NZ Rashrooke credits the government’s recent increase to benefit rates to sustained and effective activism:

Focusing on child poverty as having both the most serious consequences and the greatest emotional pull, they have launched what amounts to a full-spectrum attack. New Zealand’s Child Poverty Action Group (Cpag) has publicly confronted governments of all stripes, taking them to court over the decision not to pay certain tax credits to beneficiary households. … Cpag also delivered a stream of carefully researched reports on the consequences of and solutions to child poverty.

Meanwhile the Every Child Counts coalition of charities, spearheaded by Deborah Morris-Travers, previously an MP for the centrist New Zealand First party, has lobbied ministers and made much of the economic cost of not tackling child poverty.

“The government knows that it spends NZ$6bn-8bn [a year] on poverty-related problems such as health needs, remedial education, justice and other social issues, yet it is reluctant to spend a fraction of that amount to fix the problem at source,” said Morris-Travers ahead of May’s budget.

The Children’s Commissioner, a statutory body, also weighed in with a major report on solutions. In the media, investigative reporter, Brian Bruce’s 2011 documentary Inside Child Poverty shocked many with its depictions of cold, damp houses causing outbreaks of respiratory diseases. Also influential was the crusading journalism of primetime current affairs host John Campbell, who made the plight of hungry schoolchildren – New Zealand has no official free school meals programme – into a major issue. And Boston’s book, which set out both a centre-left and a centre-right agenda for tackling child poverty, has helped get the message into unexpected quarters. …

All told, this focus on child poverty has helped make it one of the top issues in opinion polls.

Bravo to all those cited, and all the many others who have worked tirelessly to make child poverty (and poverty in general) such an important issue in NZ.

On the strengths of the UK that we can learn from:

Britain is also fortunate to have a Child Poverty Act. Its clear and binding targets for reducing poverty, enshrined in law, create a focus for action and raises the issue’s profile. Even if the Conservatives plan to change the way child poverty is measured, having it in law raises the political stakes for doing so.

Our own Nats know all about the importance and power of measuring that which you want to change. For example, 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.”

No place to hide indeed. Which is why (giggle!) the Nats have to date refused to measure poverty (e.g. from 2012):

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.

The fact that we have no official measurement of poverty and no target for reducing it is a disgrace.

15 comments on “Rashbrooke on poverty in NZ and UK ”

  1. ropata 1

    the moral core of a society is exposed by its weakest members

  2. Olwyn 2

    This quote from the article you link to about changes to the measuring of child poverty says a lot: The government is to scrap its child poverty target and replace it with a new duty to report levels of educational attainment, worklessness and addiction, rather than relative material disadvantage, work and pensions…

    If parties of the left continue to separate child poverty from the imposed conditions that produce it, the result is far more likely to be another stolen generation than a reduction of material inequality. Our membership of what Key calls “the club” seems to be conditional on imposing ever increasing sanctions on those who are not in the position to fight back – cutting benefits, selling state houses, placing no obligations on anyone to employ people or to pay them living wages. That is not going to change because attention is drawn to child poverty – governments are far more likely to find a way of incorporating it into the approved formula, just as the British Tories are doing.

    Small changes like school meals will certainly help, but it really is time for the club’s rules to be challenged. For starters, any Labour Party that will countenance the ongoing vilification of the poor is unworthy of its name, and unworthy of those whose struggles brought the party into existence in the first place.

    • greywarshark 2.1

      I wonder if the new health targets and policies that are likely to flow from not wanting to face social problems squarely, will just measure and observe. Annual figures of the numbers of measles, tuberculosis, scabies, rheumatoid disease, stillbirths, deaths in different categories, amputations, gangrene, domestic violence, murders, suicides, road deaths, violence in categories from children to adults etc.

      Just watch the figures and how they compare to others in the OECD. It’s moving the markers on the league tables that are important, the figures representing people’s avoidable suffering doesn’t enter the consciousness of zombie politicians.

  3. Ergo Robertina 3

    Rashbrooke’s piece is misleading. It implies the Nats have significantly addressed child poverty, and that is simply false. Boston’s comments are de-emphasised.
    Anyone reading it without context would receive a false impression.
    He talks of the ”crusading journalist of primetime”, but doesn’t mention Campbell’s programme was axed.
    I noticed the piece was getting a bit of a hammering in comments last night (haven’t looked today).
    It was published just before Osborne’s living wage announcement, and the article itself notes support from the likes of Boris Johnson for the living wage movement. Max is wrong to suggest NZ necessarily provides the more fertile ground for poverty campaigning. But certainly its small size and isolation engenders cooperation, and in that respect groups like CPAG have done a tremendous job.

    • Ergo Robertina 3.1

      A more honest angle for the piece would have been that the campaign forced the Nats into the appearance of addressing the problem. Campbell’s axing would then have been relevant.
      Instead the article lets the reader infer that the British tories are an altogether nastier lot than their NZ counterparts.

  4. Lanthanide 4

    “The fact that we have no official measurement of poverty and no target for reducing it is a disgrace.”

    Their defense of not having a measure is completely bizarre and illogical, too.

    Supposedly, if you start measuring poverty in one way, it means you somehow start focussing on just that single measure, and don’t look at other ways poverty could impact people. They prefer not to have any measure, so that way they can focus on multiple causes of poverty and tackle them all at once. Of course it’s all just a smoke-screen for not doing anything and not having any measure to hold them to account.

  5. greywarshark 5

    Just a quick comment on recent UK news. Osbourne supposed to have been part of a family sale of property for 6M pounds to someone in a tax haven. Avoiding some million pounds of tax. And he’s the Chancellor of Brit. Something to do with housing? Not sure.

    Today he has upped the minimum wage from 8 to 9 pounds an hour. And upping the income tax threshold I think. Also trying to apply some budgetary and population wisdom by not paying family benefit after the second child. It seems intelligent and forward thinking. Apparently he is aiming to beat Boris Johnson who has a populist following.

    • dukeofurl 5.1

      Minimum wage is currently 6.5 pound per hour. And 7.2 pounds next April

      I wouldnt even bother with the ‘future rises’ as thats Crosby Textor spin. And obviously its worked as you have swallowed it hook line sinker !

      And the other side :But despite being given the sweetener of a cut in corporation tax from 20% to 18% by 2020″

  6. fisiani 6

    National have announced benefit rises way beyond inflation. Far more practical than anything that Labour did for the poor during the nine wasted years when they actually had the money to make a difference.
    National are assisting people to get off welfare and into work every day of the week thus raising their incomes.
    The economy is growing at about 3% and the poor deserve their share. They should not be permanently trapped on a benefit and treated as mere voting fodder by the Left.
    Record numbers of poor children are getting early childhood education and being immunised. Houses are being insulated. Even today it was announced that landlords will have to insulate and fit smoke alarms.
    National is not forming a committee or writing another paper, they are actually tackling poverty not just pontificating about it. Being practical.

    • Anno1701 6.1

      “The economy is growing at about 3% and the poor deserve their share”

      I doubt your sincerity …..

      • McFlock 6.1.1

        it’s fascinating how fizzbang mixes mediocre facts in to support the big lie, though.

        Anyone would think that there are fewer poor than when Labour left power, rather than the numbers of poor people or the numbers of people in hardship barely approaching the levels that Labour reduced it to. Indeed, the proportion of dependent children aged 0–17 years living below the 50% of median income poverty threshold (after housing costs) is at 20% when Labour had it down to 16%.
        But then the nats claim “GFC”, although the banks sure don’t seem to still be hurting from it as much as real people are.

        • Anno1701

          “it’s fascinating how fizzbang mixes mediocre facts in to support the big lie, though”

          its a master class in the art of skewed perspectives

    • dukeofurl 6.2

      They had jobs during the ‘wasted years’ and the debt was paid off- like you would for a rainy day – all so borrower Bill can wrack up another $8 bill of borrowing this year

  7. Brian Bruce is well worth following ( http://bryanbruce.co.nz/news ) with his very insightful views on poverty, his research is outstanding.
    A very good man he is, as is John Campbell.
    TV3 should hang their head in shame over the way he was treated.

  8. b waghorn 8

    “The government knows that it spends NZ$6bn-8bn [a year] on poverty-related problems such as health needs, remedial education, justice and other social issues, yet it is reluctant to spend a fraction of that amount to fix the problem at source,” said Morris-Travers ahead of May’s budget.”
    This is the bit that has to be sold to the public .

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