What to do about poverty (and a suggestion to the media)

Written By: - Date published: 10:25 am, January 16th, 2016 - 40 comments
Categories: class war, journalism, poverty - Tags: , , , , ,

An excellent piece on poverty by Lizzie Marvelly in The Herald this morning:

The only debate is what to do about child poverty

Kiwi children are suffering right now. Believe it.

In a country where an unacceptable number of children live below the much-debated poverty line, we are becoming accustomed to hearing the lives of Kiwi kids and their families being thrown around as political hot potatoes.

While we can argue about poverty, its definition, origins, and how it is conceptualised until we’re blue in the face, such meaningless politicking does nothing to show people the reality of poverty. It certainly does nothing to feed the thousands of children who are going hungry.

Blaming parents living in poverty does absolutely nothing to put food into the tummies of hungry kids.

The idea that people living in poverty are somehow to blame for their fate is attractive if one wants to absolve oneself from any sense of responsibility, but it is a notion that I find deeply sad. When did we become so hardened and self-centred that we began to believe that those poorer than us deserve their suffering? When did we become so divorced from our own communities that we stopped caring about the families around us?

There are so many things we could do to make the lives of Kiwi kids better: feeding kids in school, bringing back a means-tested child benefit like the one scrapped in the “mother of all budgets”, requiring a warrant of fitness for rental properties to prevent children growing up in cold, damp, leaky houses, and simply helping out in our neighbourhoods.

The first step, however, is for us to look out into our communities and really see other people, to realise that even in the most privileged areas, poverty is just five minutes down the road. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s real.

Thank you Lizzie Marvelly. The headline to that piece poses a question – what to do about child poverty? In fact we already know the answer, and the answer is simple:

Giving cash to the poor is the best way to fix poverty

“Unconditional Cash Transfers work better than almost anyone would have expected. They dent the stereotype of poor people as inherently feckless and ignorant”.

This is the conclusion reached by The Economist in a feature on giving cash to the poor. It neatly summarises the evidence regarding what works best to improve the lives of the poor and strikes at the heart of the prejudices we hold about those in poverty.

The only time in recent years New Zealand reduced child poverty was when we gave cash to some poor via Working for Families. The fact is that everyone would be better off if we just gave poor parents the money. …

Giving poor people money alleviates poverty. Amazing! So let’s raise taxes on the rich and get on with it.


Footnote (I’m an academic, I love footnotes!) on a suggestion to the media. Almost everything you publish is a piece in isolation. There is a better way.

Take The Herald for example. You publish Marvelly’s piece on poverty today, just a week after (re)publishing Whyte’s excerable nonsense. If you had any kind of overview / foundation of established fact / ongoing context on the topic of poverty you wouldn’t be publishing such wildly inconsistent pieces (the Whyte article would have been rejected as the nonsense that it was).

Take climate change as another example, no responsible media should be publishing denier nonsense these days.

Now you (the responsible media) might say that you’re offering a range of opinions. But when some opinions are clearly and provably nonsense that excuse is just an abdication of responsibility. It’s laziness, clickbait, and harmful.

I guess I’m asking for context and sanity checking in the media. Fact-based narrative instead of isolated and inconsistent snippets. Harder work, but much better for everyone.

40 comments on “What to do about poverty (and a suggestion to the media)”

  1. weka 1

    Good punchy post r0b.

    Re the footnote, does this mean the standard will no longer be publishing comments that are AGW denialist or poverty denialist? I hope so (although I appreciate the work involved may not make that possible).

  2. Wayne 2

    This item by Anthony Robins seems more like a request for Herald censorship than having a contest of ideas. It seems that you would prefer that arguments and positions you don’t like not to be published.

    On climate change, while i accept that it is happening and is manmade, there does seems to be a genuine scientific debate about the rate of change. Surely a legitimate matter for the media to report.

    Whyte’s piece was clearly an headed as an opinion piece, and not from a regular Herald columnist. His basic idea, on the best way to measure poverty, is clearly not nonsense. There is a genuine debate about whether poverty should be measured on whether a child is deprived of things that we see as essential in New Zealand, or whether a percentage of average incomes will in essence give the same answer.

    If you disagree with his theme so strongly, submit your own item to the Herald.

    More broadly modern media in all its forms allows any views to be aired. Or should these debates be confined to new Media, and that old media be tightly regulated. Just writing that sentence shows the impossibility of that. I for instance subscribe to The Spectator. There would not be one view expressed in The Spectator that you would agree with.

    So what? That is what free speech means.

    • Paul 2.1

      You wouldn’t expect to see an article in the Herald saying the Earth was flat.
      Similarly climate change.
      There is a scientific consensus on both.

    • Bill 2.2

      More broadly modern media in all its forms allows any views to be aired.

      Sure Wayne. Apart from a list of tightly typed exceptions as long as one of those ‘twice as long’ toilet rolls, we’ve generally had the freedom to say and broadcast whatever we want. But the speaker on Hyde Corner and the Fleet Street editor (to use old reference points) don’t have quite the same broadcasting power and penetration into ‘the market’ of ideas.

    • weka 2.3

      There is a genuine debate about whether poverty should be measured on whether a child is deprived of things that we see as essential in New Zealand, or whether a percentage of average incomes will in essence give the same answer.

      Really? Can you link to some examples? Because what I see more often is people debating how to measure child poverty as a way of not taking action on child poverty. They’re not putting up proposals on how to alleviate poverty for the people that are already deprived, they’re just taking up space and debate time with carefully worded distractions that are underneath good old fashioned denial.

      btw, framing r0b’s post as being about his personal likes and dislikes is both patronising and missing the point. There comes a point where there is no need to debate eg on whether Climate Change is real. Worse, allowing equal space and time to denialists actively prevents us from taking the urgent actions needed to attend to the crisis. Kind of like being in WW2 Britain and arguing over whether the Germans are really that bad. It’s idiotic. I’ll happily take the risk of undermining theoretical concerns over freedom of expression if it means we actually do something about AGW and child poverty.

    • Stever 2.4

      Whataboutery, Wayne.

      Back to the topic…what do you suggest we do about poverty?

      • Manuka AOR 2.4.1

        “what do you suggest we do about poverty?”

        ..and about homelessness in NZ (preferably before winter arrives): http://www.3news.co.nz/opinion/opinion-homelessness-in-new-zealand-2015070118#axzz3xMeTWuia

      • Stuart Munro 2.4.2

        What does National do about anything?

        Pretend it doesn’t exist.

        The best of them are pathetic wastes of space.

        • Wayne 2.4.2.1

          Stuart
          You seem to have forgotten that benefits for families with children are increasing $25 per week. Now of course there can be an argument that this is not enough. But given it was the first increase in benefits above the cost of living since 1991, it can hardly be said to be nothing.

          I presume Labour will promise, as its major initiative, to build many more state houses so that most families dependent on benefits and also those on low incomes will have access to a state house. Say an increase in the Housing NZ stock from around 60,000 houses to say 100,000.

          • Kay 2.4.2.1.1

            Wayne
            Remind us again exactly how many of those families will even get the full $25, and how many will find them selves worse off after all the rebate penalties?

            Oh that’s right, reality doesn’t fit your agenda does it.

            • Descendant Of Sssmith 2.4.2.1.1.1

              According to the MSD data tables here:

              https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/statistics/benefit/

              there are 287,000 people on benefit and 63,560 getting Special Benefit or Temporary Additional Support.

              So about 22% of people get the additional assistance – or 78% don’t.

              Now it’s hard to know how many sole parents there are. The figures show 67,887 on sole parent benefit but there are plenty of others on Job Seeker (remember those with children over 14 are on this benefit now as well I think are those who have another child while on benefit).

              What this data strongly shows is the by far the majority of sole parents will get the $25.00 per week without any impact on TAS/SPB simply because they don’t get the payments.

              I’m no friend of National or Labour in their treatment of those on benefit – but I’m no fun of excessive scare-mongering either.

              The work my family does in various parts of the disability sector often means having to spend otherwise valuable time cleaning up after this scaremongering – and recently this has included clarity around this aspect.

              Things like you have to spend all your money to get a benefit, you can stay three nights, you can’t get a benefit if you don’t have an address are other banes of community myth as well.

              It’s not hard to get this data and to try and be factual yourself. MSD could do much better at explaining as well.

              If someone has time to look at it more closely that might be useful. I pointed out some months ago that from my memory of the work I did years ago on Special Benefit that TAS might or might not be affected based on the maximums that could be paid. That’s where it gets more complicated and really would need some actual numbers.

              Even if more sole parents get TAS though than the average of 22% across the whole benefit population it’s not I imagine anywhere near 50%.

              It seems in the absence of any better data to think that most people will get the full $25.00.

          • Descendant Of Sssmith 2.4.2.1.2

            What makes you think Labour believe in State Housing – or the 8 hour working day, 40 hour working week, universality of family support, reversing tax cuts, state ownership of infrastructure, the right to strike, a decent minimum wage or anything that would move things substantially to the left.

            Yeah I know that’s you point but it’s still hilarious that National are increasing some benefits while Labour – even now – still are not.

            Remember Helen Clark’s era put the $20-00 per week back onto NZS in a cynical vote catching move.

            It was cheaper to put it back on benefits – there was far fewer people on benefit than NZS then – and it’s even more the case now, and NZS was already significantly higher than benefit rates.

            If Labour wanted a decent policy I would suggest removing the age discrimination (that was supposed to be removed by the year 2000 but government gave themselves extensions/exemptions) and make all benefits the same rate as the equivalent NZS rates.

            • Wayne 2.4.2.1.2.1

              Descendant of Smith,

              I put in the additional material about Labour and State housing because I believe that is what they will promise at the next election. It would be consistent with all their recent statements on inequality and poverty.

              In fact I think National should also commit to more State housing, say an increase in the stock of 5,000 houses per year. That would be a good counterpart to the upcoming increase of $25 in the benefit, which I understand virtually every benefit dependent family with children will get.

              As for increasing all benefits to the NZS level, that has got to be a big cost, and would pretty much mean no difference between working for low pay and being on a benefit. In my view that is not a good message to send. National firmly believes that there should be a difference, and I have understood, based on what they have done in government, Labour to also believes there should be a gap between the two. But not the Greens.

              Such a policy would really lead to a debate on whether a universal basic income, as promoted by Gareth Morgan among others, would be a better approach. I suspect that will be a debate only for the Left, since I cannot imagine National (or NZF for that matter) would subscribe to such a policy.

              One of the arguments for a UBI is that it will allow struggling young artists to explore their creativity, without having to worry about getting a job. That proposition alone would probably kill the idea for most people on the right.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                So why don’t you push it to everyone you meet, Dr. Mapp: After all, the objective is to kill the idea rather than assessing it on its merits.

                Can you explain a bit about how the Law Commission regards conflicts of interest when it comes to preconceived positions?

              • Descendant Of Sssmith

                Minimum wage is $590.00 per week, single NZS rate living alone is $421.76.

                I’d happily take a pay increase of $170.00 per week any day.

                Also paying the 287,00 people on benefit more is a vastly different proposition from paying all working age people (3,638,000 of them) a UBI.

                If a single person on NZS needs that much money to live how is it cheaper for a single 40 year old to live?

                Besides the minimum wage is too low anyway. The good news of course is that if you increased benefits to NZS rates their would be more money circulating in local economies and hence more money to pay higher wages.

              • Descendant Of Sssmith

                “In fact I think National should also commit to more State housing, say an increase in the stock of 5,000 houses per year. ”

                Cool I look forward to your public condemnation of the reducing state housing stock by National and maybe even the pillaging of the rental income to make the books look better instead of being used to build more stock and upgrade and maintain existing stock.

          • Stuart Munro 2.4.2.1.3

            Oh really? But that’s some time in the future Wayne, and judging by your colleagues’ performance it will never amount to anything.

            It’s just another castle in Spain like the $3 Billion a year in 2030.

            I remember a promise of 170 000 jobs, and surpluses – but all I see is debt poverty misery and stagnation. And lies Wayne. The kind of lies an alcoholic who drank the rent money tells.

          • Korero Pono 2.4.2.1.4

            The $25 you claim is absolute nonsense…when those who need the extra cash the most realise that the TAS assistance they currently receive will reduce by exactly the same amount. Furthermore it was National who reduced benefits significantly (as much as $50 per week for some families), the $25 does not make up for that disaster.

            Labour may well promise to build houses (god someone has to do it), meanwhile National will sit in a back room somewhere deciding how they can sell them off. Moreover, the spin is already starting about the ‘types’ of families who will benefit if Labour do decide to build…is that designed to make those who may otherwise vote National feel a little jealous?

    • Manuka AOR 2.5

      “That is what free speech means.”

      Just ask John Campbell, eh.

    • Anne 2.6

      More broadly modern media in all its forms allows any views to be aired.

      All views are allowed to be aired? Fine on the face of it. Most reasonable people will go along with that.

      But what if some of those views being aired are dangerously wrong and based on ignorance and stupidity? What if such views are promulgated by a minority of ideologically driven crazies – eg. the American Tea Party? Should they be given the same amount of attention and media integrity as a conclusion based on a majority of scientific and/or knowledgeable evidence? No, they should not.

      Yet that is exactly what has happened over Global Warming/ Climate Change. For way too long the “Flat Earthers” were given equal attention as the 97% of scientists who have been trying to warn the world for decades about the catastrophic consequences of doing nothing about man-made climate change. As a result of that stupidity we are decades behind taking sufficient positive measures to combat the problem. Many scientists believe it’s now too late so… who to blame? Greedy governments and stupid people/media who listened to the naysayers and pseudo scientists.

      So, it stands to reason that not all views should be given equal treatment. Especially if the future well being of the planet is in jeopardy. And of course, the denial of poverty in NZ is another excellent example.

    • Stuart Munro 2.7

      Whatever your opinion might be Wayne (and it’s bound to be pretty stupid) facts are sacred. Whyte was too lazy to even refresh his prejudices with New Zealand examples, and supporting details are conspicuously absent from practically everything you assert. I guess lawyers and truth don’t have much time for each other.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.7.1

        supporting details are conspicuously absent from practically everything you assert…

        Dr. Mapp is very sensitive on this subject. He displays considerable bias to the extent that speculation of a conflict of interest in his public role is inevitable.

        It’s all very well having a personal viewpoint, but are we really expected to believe that a personal viewpoint so devoid of facts is appropriate in a Law Commissioner? The last time I raised this issue Dr. Mapp boycotted The Standard for a while. I had hoped for a more robust defence, and perhaps he hasn’t got one. I wonder if he’d consider lifting his game.

      • greywarshark 2.7.2

        Just as rigid and fundamentalist religious can always find something in their holy books to back up their current train of thought, so can economists. Dig out a few lines from Adam Smith (without the countervailing arguments or concerns about possible negative outcomes) and shout them as a slogan, microchip them in all economic students.

        Find something similar in Ricardo, and sew them together till they appear seamless and then announce it as The Way. Not many people out of the billions affected have read all of Adam Smith (I haven’t but have the CDs, I’m waiting for the film). So how can they fight powerful, tantalising words with similarly effective countervailing words.
        (David Ricardo – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
        David Ricardo (18 April 1772 – 11 September 1823) was a British political economist. He was one of the most influential of the classical economists, …)

        The lines that I like again, from A Fish Called Wanda, apply to many RW who visit here to give us their arcane opinions and analysis. Sheep or apes?

        Wanda: [after Otto breaks in on Wanda and Archie in Archie’s flat and hangs him out the window]
        I was dealing with something delicate, Otto. I’m setting up a guy who’s incredibly important to us, who’s going to tell me where the loot is and if they’re going to come and arrest you. And you come loping in like Rambo without a jockstrap and you dangle him out a fifth-floor window. Now, was that smart? Was it shrewd? Was it good tactics? Or was it stupid?

        Otto West: Don’t call me stupid.
        Wanda: Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?

        Otto West: Apes don’t read philosophy.
        Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself.” And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.

  3. Bill 3

    So, rather than recycling money back to people who have been impoverished by the market economy, why not just dispense with market economy?

    As a start – a first wee step down that road – what chance that those not in poverty acknowledge the fact that for money to have concentrated around them in any way, its presence must have been diluted around another?

    Even acknowledging that a reasonably well off person maybe did work extremely hard and even possibly made personal sacrifices above the norm (however you’d measure that) – does that mean they deserve a reward that has a direct negative impact on another’s well-being?

  4. savenz 4

    Who still reads the Herald?

    Some herald marketeer probably noticed that their readership is falling and since they have fired most of their journalists they decided to put in a ‘opinion’ piece just to keep the idea they are not an all out propaganda machine for the Natz and Act.

    Also these opinion pieces mean they (probably) don’t have to pay for the content and can keep their few current journos on their zero hours type contracts! win win.

  5. Ross 5

    “you wouldn’t be publishing such wildly inconsistent pieces”

    But with the current piece we can see why Whyte’s diatribe is garbage. Different views are important although they need to be well argued with some factual evidence. That didn’t happen with Whyte whose views haven’t changed in 10 years and probably never will.

  6. red-blooded 6

    I tend to agree. How can there be a rounded public discussion if only some viewpoints are heard? Whyte is an arrogant, dismissive creep, and he really only had one thing to say (“If you’re not starving on the street you’re not poor (oh, and if you’re starving in a garage, or in your car, or in a damp, over-crowded rental, then it’s probably your fault”) ) but public debate isn’t a bad thing. Our media can seem unbalanced in terms of the voices and viewpoints that get heard, but I know that right wingers believe the same thing. I just think we’ve got to be ready to step up and challenge anything misleading or skewed, and to offer an alternative narrative. Good on Lizzie Marvelly for putting her experience out there. Of course, it would have been even better if there was some exploration of how to fix the multiple problems (apart from private charity, which is lovely but which is an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff rather than an earth-moving machine to level out the cliff somewhat).

  7. righty right 7

    there is no poverty in new Zealand. john key is relaxed so there is nothing wrong if there was poverty john key would know

  8. Manuka AOR 8

    “This item by Anthony Robins seems more like a request for Herald censorship than having a contest of ideas.”

    This comment is disingenuous to the point of being trollish, for which reason I was reluctant to reply to it directly. However some other comments are responding as if there is some substance in it, which is rubbish. Nothing in what A.R. wrote suggested censorship, and to spin it as such is, in my opinion, mischievous.

    The state of journalism and the media in NZ now as we enter 2016 is disastrous. Again, this is my opinion, but I believe it is echoed by many across the board. Ref, http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/nz-politics-daily-2015-mediapocalypse-de-183378

    • r0b 8.1

      Thanks MAOR – I wasn’t going to bother replying to Wayne, but I appreciate that you did.

      Wayne is of course the author of one of the most inflammatory and racist press releases to ever blight NZ, so his standards when it comes to responsible media are pretty much rock bottom.

    • OneTrack 8.2

      “Take climate change as another example, no responsible media should be publishing denier nonsense these days.”

      That statement there is explicitly promoting censorship of “unapproved” speech.

      • Manuka AOR 8.2.1

        Put it back into the context in which it is written and what do we read: “I guess I’m asking for context and sanity checking in the media.”

        When taken out of context and presented as if complete, isolated items can seem to show just about the opposite of their original intention.

        Again, “I guess I’m asking for context and sanity checking in the media.”

      • Puddleglum 8.2.2

        No it isn’t.

        To explicitly promote censorship the suggestion would need to be made that an appropriate authority ban or forbid something from being printed/broadcast/spoken, etc..

        What this comment does is argue that media should be responsible in what they publish. In your opinion, should it no longer be allowed to make such arguments in public?

        That is, are you (implicitly) suggesting that Anthony Robins’ rights to free speech should be forcibly curtailed?

  9. Kelly-Ned 9

    Whilst I agree that we currently lack decent journalism in NZ, I am reluctant to move towards putting censorship of any kind into the hands of those same journalists!

    • Manuka AOR 9.1

      You are arguing to a strawman, or perhaps a straw dead cat, which was brought in and thrown on the table by a commenter. See how people are now talking about the straw dead cat and not to either of the topics in the post.

      • Kelly-Ned 9.1.1

        Good point.
        It is of concern that govt economic policy strips our country of employment opportunity by moving employment off shore, then blames the people for not being employed and being dependent.
        In the 70’s we were all told at school that a time would come when people would work less and have much more time for recreation. This seems to have only become the case for the very rich, whilst I look around me and see more people working multiple jobs for less wages. Also less job security, many not even able to get full time employment.
        I have long maintained that economic decisions produce economic outcomes, yet this govt ignores the economic causes and then expects the education system to some how magically create employment opportunities for graduates because they are qualified.
        It is the tail trying to shake the dog.
        Economic policy creates employment (or business) opportunity – not education. Education follows economic opportunity, not the other way around.

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