The findings of the child poverty monitoring report has now been published. The figures are chilling. A quarter of kiwi kids, or 265,000 children, live in poverty, 18% go without need they need, 10% live in severe poverty and three out of five who live in poverty live this way for many years. At one level it is not surprising that the Government has refused to measure these statistics because they are embarrassing.
The next obvious question is what are we going to do about it?
Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills has a refreshingly direct approach to the issue. When refused Government funding to measure the incidence of child poverty he went out and sourced the funds privately. And he has today called for a bipartisan political approach to the issue, mandated by legislation and with clear goals. He speaks from some authority, he is a doctor still in practice and sees the effects of poverty every working day.
He said that although a disproportionately large section of children living in poverty were Maori and Pacifica about half of the children in poverty are New Zealand European, and 40% of these have parents who work. Poverty has the potential of affecting everyone.
He praised current policies including early childhood education and insulation of homes. But to meaningfully address the problem he says that the country needs a plan, with targets, set in legislation that holds people to account.
The programme will need widespread support from the public. Only then will it have a chance of succeeding.
The reality is chilling. Since National’s mother of all budgets in 1991 the incidence of childhood poverty has doubled. The figures improved somewhat under Labour with decreasing unemployment and the introduction of working for families but kids with parents on a benefit still struggled.
What are the chances of a bipartisan approach being agreed to? Very poor I am afraid. When National cannot even agree to a decent food in schools programme then you have to wonder if they will agree to anything. I suspect that they have far too much political capital invested in bashing beneficiaries to surrender this for the common good. I would be delighted if they would prove me wrong but they depend too much on Paula Bennett’s diversionary beneficiary bashing proposals to even think about changing this.
Bennett pretty well wrote off the chances of a bipartisanship approach today by saying that she was incredibly proud of the current Government’s record, that it had prioritised children and was taking a “thoughtful and strategic approach to tackling complex social issues”.
Incredibly proud? She should hang her head in shame.