There are plenty of sources to read on the seriousness of the poverty crisis in NZ. This recent piece in The Listener (of all places) is an excellent example. Here’s a brief sample:
But it’s those other children, the ones living in cold, overcrowded homes and going to school without food or adequate clothing, whom Wills has made his No 1 priority as Children’s Commissioner. More than any of his predecessors, he has championed the issue of child poverty and helped place it squarely on the political agenda.
He notes that there are 44,000 poverty-related admissions to New Zealand hospitals every year – an increase of 7500 since the global financial crisis unfolded.
What has struck Wills and his colleagues is that admission numbers no longer fall off in summer. “We used to have this fabulous quiet time in January and February. We don’t get that any more. So we see what used to be winter illnesses – pneumonia, bronchiolitis, that sort of thing – all year round.” Again, it’s the very young who are most affected.
Any idea why? “When you look at the determinants, the strongest associations are crowding and poverty. It seems likely that there are more families bunking in together. Evidence from household surveys suggests that’s true.
In this context I find a recent anonymous editorial in the Dom Post profoundly depressing:
Key reads the signals on child poverty
John Key promises his new Government will do something about child poverty. Exactly what, he doesn’t say. It is striking, however, that Key has clearly realised this is a problem that needs attention, even if it is for purely political reasons. Labour and the Greens made a lot of noise about child poverty during the election campaign. Key’s Government is clearly vulnerable on the issue. So, having read the signals, he is promising action.
Got that citizens? What we’re being told about poverty is that Key might do something (unspecified) because he has read the political signals. Not because it is the right thing to do. Not because doctors and medical professionals, poverty advocates, and other political parties have been begging the government for years to act. Not because our poverty rates and incidences of “third world” diseases are an international disgrace. But because he has read the “political signals”.
We’ve been here before. Key purported to be interested in “the underclass” in 2007. After winning the 2008 election the only action taken was various forms of punitive crackdown on beneficiaries, and since (surprise!) that hasn’t solved any problems, Key has been challenged by advocates, politicians and (some) journalists ever since. In both 2011 and 2014 he has claimed that his government has done “all it could”.
We will be here again. We will be here again because Key has already ruled out doing the only thing that will actually make a difference – raising incomes:
Child poverty on Key agenda
Prime Minister John Key has asked his officials for fresh ideas on tackling child poverty. … ‘‘The recognition I think we all have is that there are some extremely poor children who are missing out,’’ Key said yesterday. … Key said it needed to be done without narrowing the gap between the incomes of those on benefits and those working, to ensure people were still encouraged into work.
Encouraging people in to low wage jobs doesn’t help because that doesn’t lift them out of poverty – see the rise of the working poor. The truth that Key will never acknowledge is that addressing poverty means raising incomes – both benefits and minimum wage. (I wonder if Key’s officials will list those among their “fresh ideas”.)
Prediction – in 2017 things will not have changed, and John Key will be claiming that his government has done all it could. Prove me wrong – please – prove me wrong!