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.”
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.