Greens talk poverty but target middle NZ vote

The Green Party talk a lot about addressing children in poverty. In a policy announcement today they emphasise this:

The Green Party today announced that its key social platform for this election will be to tackle child poverty and inequality by ensuring every child in New Zealand has enough to thrive.

But the policy they announced today seems to be clearly targeting the middle New Zealand vote in Greens announce 20 hours free ECE for two year olds:

In the first of these announcements, made today, the party has announced a package to support families by extending access to free early childhood education and improve the quality of all ECE.

The key policy points in the Green Party’s plan for supporting families’ access to ECE are:

  1. Extend the 20 Hours free early childhood education subsidy to cover two-year-olds, at an initial cost of $255 million. As the benefits of this successful scheme are opened up to at least another 40,000 children, more kids will get a good start in life and the burdens on their families will be eased.
  2. Provide $32 million a year to restore funding for 100 percent qualified teachers, as part of an ambitious plan to boost the quality of early childhood education and make sure every child gets the right care and support.

The total package will cost $297 million a year immediately rising to $367 million in four years.

“Every child should have enough to thrive. Any less is a failure of our society,” said Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei.

“One in four children lives in poverty, and 205,000 Kiwi kids are now living in severe poverty, and going without the basics.

But this doesn’t seem to be directly targeting poverty. Some poor families may benefit, but middle and upper income families will also benefit. Not extending EXCE down a year is hardly a “failure of our society”.

“Extending 20 hours free ECE to two-year-olds will make a real financial difference to thousands of families. We estimate that families with two-year-olds in ECE could be up to $95 a week better off under our policy.

“About two thirds of all two-year-olds are currently enrolled in ECE, but their parents miss out on the ’20 Hours’ subsidy given to three and four year olds. We will make the system fair by extending the same subsidy to the large number of two-year-olds in ECE.

“Despite the relatively low level of current subsidy, around 40,000 two-year-olds are still enrolled in ECE, significantly more than a decade ago. Our policy helps will make a big difference to those families straight away.

It will be popular to some, but a one year of childhood is very narrow.

“This is an investment in families and our kids’ education and in reducing poverty.”

“Good-quality ECE helps children reach their full potential, both in education and in leading healthy and productive lives. It can even make the difference, according to recent research, between being in or out of poverty in later life.

“Investment in ECE is a great education spend today, but it can also reduce poverty and inequality overtime.

They have pushed the poverty line eight times in this media release. Perhaps they have more policies to come that will specifically target more pressing poverty needs, but despite their insistence this one seems to miss the mark.

It’s a good enough policy, if the cost can be justified in an overall budget, but they are trying to oversell the poverty pandering.

$300-400 million a year is a lot to allocate to all two year olds, not just those who are really deprived.

This looks a bit like a vote buying exercise dressed as a pauper.

Answering weka’s questions

Amongst a lot of discussion at The Standard there have been requests that I answer weka’s questions. There’s been many questions and comments on various threads but I’ll respond to what seems to be the most requested questions here. My comments are in parentheses.

“Not sure how it can be avoided setting benefit levels statistically lower then people who are employed.”

Benefits were cut by $20/wk in 1990. In the mid 80s the unemployment benefit was around the same rate as what school leavers were earning going into office jobs. We used to have relatively higher benefit rates then, why can’t we now?

Cost. I presume there’s many more people on benefits now. At the end of March 2014: 295,320 working-age* people were receiving a main benefit. (MSD).

And wanting to encourage people into paid employment.

“I’m not sure than any of the larger parties are suggesting that should be substantially changed.”

The GP want a UBI.

Their Income Support Policy states “The Green Party supports a full and wide-ranging public debate on the nature of UBI and the details of a UBI system, and government funding for detailed studies of the impacts of UBI. The Green Party will: Investigate the implementation of a Universal Basic Income for every New Zealander”. They are interested in the concept (as I am) but don’t say they want one.

“The aim is to raise people’s income by getting them into employment.”

That disqualifies you from having any opinion on beneficiaries until you answer the question: how many beneficiaries are not required to seek/gain employment?

It doesn’t disqualify me from anything. I have already said that some people on benefits cannot seek employment. Both Labour and National governments want to encourage those who can seek employment to do so.

I’ve also already said that if the number of people on benefits is substantially reduced then those who have to remain on benefits should be able to be provided for better.

Then you will have to answer how many people are now required to see work, despite previously being exempt.

I don’t have to do anything. I don’t know what point you are trying to make with this.

Some current details are here at MSD.

I think it’s reasonable to expect that those who are capable of working should be seeking paid employment and taking responsibility for their own welfare.

I acknowledge that it can be very difficult finding work that people want with the pay they want. Some are more motivated than others. Some people have unrealistic expectations but for many there simply aren’t enough jobs.

Then come back and explain how those people are supposed to live. 

They live how they live. It’s very tough for many. Others find a way manage.

And why those people aren’t entitled to a livable income.

You tell me why you think they should be entitled to a ‘livable income’.

Ideally everyone should have an income that makes living not too much of a struggle. But expecting everyone should have comfortable style of living without having any money problems is fanciful and idealistic.

Life can be hard work and bills can be difficult to manage, especially if you have children. We should strive for better and easier but it can never always be guaranteed or provided,

Then explain why you think that beneficiaries are all unemployed.

They’re not, some are partly employed. There’s a range of reasons why beneficiaries could be unemployed, including circumstance, health, choice, lack of alternatives and a shortage of jobs.

And then explain how unemployed beneficiaries are supposed to raise their income via employment when there aren’t enough jobs.

Some can supplement their benefit. Some could be more flexible in what work they seek and where they seek it (that’s difficult for many). And there are not enough jobs for many. That’s one thing benefits are designed to assist with.

Then, when youve done all that, retract your statement that NACT don’t keep people poor.

You’ll have to be more specific, I’ve made a number of comments related to that.

I don’t believe that in general National (or Act) want to “keep people poor”. The effect of Government policies (Labour and National) may be that some people stay poor, but I question whether any MP wants to ‘keep people poor’.

All parties propose economic growth with the intention of improving incomes and increasing the number of jobs.

“I presume you know that if the minimum wage was raised by 50% and work was provided for anyone who wants it then we’d still have the same number of people under the statistical poverty line.”

What everyone else just said. Plus, you’re a dick. If the people at the bottom end of the scale have enough to live on, then poverty stops being an issue irrespective of the statistics.

But waving a money wand and waving a job wand aren’t realistic options.

Can you show any country in the world where giving everyone “enough to live on” has succeeded over a period of years or decades.

Poverty is a problem that needs to be addressed as well as possible, but Government giving substantially more money to people with productive work being an unpressured option is unlikely to succeed if history and current world conditions are anything to go on.

But perhaps weka can outline how he thinks an entitlement to a livable income could work, with examples of how similar policies have worked elsewhere.

Poll – top 5 election issues

Colmar Brunton have polled on what people think are the  ‘top 5 issues’, with education and health head of the rest

Poverty and inequality are there but not as prominent as some may think.

It’s interesting that education is the top rated issue, especially as National’s Hekia Parata struggled with her education portfolio at the start of the term. John Key had faith in her ability, and that may turn out to be a significant election factor.

A notable absence from the list is the economy, which is something many claim to be a major deciding factor.

Asset sales may be fading in importance.

Green Solar Homes – ok but could do better

The Green Solar Homes scheme sounds ok, although it could be a bit optimistic. A slightly lower finance rate is not a compelling incentive so an uptake of 10,000 installations a year (compared to the current 600) could be a stretch.

The Greens love easily marketable numbers starting with a 10 and adding however many zeros they think fits the bill.

But solar energy still has a number of question marks about viability.

And it may not be the best option for many people, especially in southern New Zealand and cloudier parts of the north. One of it’s biggest limitations is that it produces the least energy when homes need it the most, at night time in winter.

Russel Norman has ruled out extending the scheme to double glazing, something that is more certain of benefiting more people. In response to tweets Norman said:

Can’t do everything at once. We did solar hot water, then insulation, now solar electricity. One step at a time.

Well we did achieve 230,000 homes retrofitted with insulation, ie energy efficiency. Solar Homes next part of journey.

That’s disappointing. It would be simple to add double glazing as a loan option. The only down side I can think of is that it mightn’t suit slick Green marketing as much. Perhaps Labour can negotiate a wider more sensible scheme.

Another interesting aspect of of what might be one of Green’s three flagship policies of the election campaign is that it excludes one of their target markets, poor people. Those in ‘poverty’ don’t own their own homes so the scheme won’t be of interest to them.

But despite making a big thing about standing up for the poor that isn’t the main Green constituency.

The Solar Homes policy is aimed at Green’s main voter base – affluent middle class voters who have environmental ideals and can afford paying a premium to be seen to embrace them.

Solar Homes might lift the rate of solar power installations a bit but it won’t lift any kids out of poverty.

It’s an ok policy but it seems to be more designed for Green marketing than greatest good.

John Banks on poverty, unconditional love and education

In Parliament’s first day for the year John Key made his Prime Minister’s Statement followed by party leaders launching their parliamentary year.

The best was from John Banks, who, in response to a read speech by Hone Harawira targeting inequality and poverty, gave an impassioned and often very personal view on how he thinks we need to deal with poverty.

I don’t know what Banks may have prepared to speak on, but he responded strongly and passionately to Harawira. It was eloquent and obviously heartfelt.

I know a lot about child poverty.

I know what it is like to live in a house with no power and no running water; having a bath once a week in a 44-gallon drum cut in half; sleeping on straw covered with sacks; going to bed every night hungry; piddling the bed every night, psychologically disturbed; being thrashed every morning for piddling the bed every night; going to school every day in an ex-army uniform with no shoes; spending all day, every day, out of the classroom stealing other kids’ lunches; going home to bread and milk, at best, at night, cooked over an open fire with sugar on top; if I am very lucky, taking Weet-bix covered in dripping to school each day; and living in a very dark hole.

That is child poverty.

If I thought that the policies of the previous speaker from the Tai Tokerau would work against that—and they do exist; they do exist—I would go to the other side of the House and support him. I would be the first to line up to support him.

Why would I not be the first to line up to support Hone Harawira if he had the answers to this country’s deep, deep vein of underprivilege, desperation, desolation, and despair that so many of our kids live under? If I thought that his policies were the answer, I would line up with him and I would say so.

But let me give him one ticket out of child poverty that he might like to think about. That one ticket is twofold: living in a home with unconditional love—and I never knew about that—and a world-class education. I did get that.

If every one of his people lived in a home with unconditional love and access to a world-class education, then in a generation we would get rid of the deep vein of social deprivation and child poverty in this country.

That is the ticket. That is the only ticket—not welfare, not big Governments, not more borrowing, and not more handouts.

It is instilling in people that having children is a God-given right but an awesome responsibility, that love goes a long, long way, and that a world-class education is a ticket to the future for so many of these people whom the previous speaker talked about and represents to the best of his ability in this House.

Banks’ answer:

The answer is giving everybody the opportunity of the dignity of work, and you can have a job only if you are educated. And you can get educated only if you go to school. And you can go to school only if you come from a home that loves you.

And the corollary to that is a dark place, and I know about living in dark places.

So if we want to deal with the fundamental issues of about 20 percent of this country’s young people coming from dysfunctional homes and families, we have to deal with the causes, not with the political side effects for the purposes of getting a few votes.

For context here is (edited) Harawira’s closing:

At the beginning of this new year, Mana stands resolute in our determination to find ways to eradicate poverty—particularly child poverty—wherever and however it may exist.

We will do all we can to ensure that this issue is the issue by which political parties are measured by voters in 2014.

Mana wants a new deal for Aotearoa—one based on everyone playing their part and everyone paying their way, not just families and big business as well—and an economy where everyone can live in dignity and respect, and where jobs are secure, hard work is rewarded, and people can earn enough to give their families a decent standard of living.

Mana is calling for homes for every Kiwi family—the building of 10,000 homes a year, especially for those on low incomes, until every child in every family is housed in a clean and warm home.

Mana wants jobs for all, and Government-created community work on an index minimum wage for everyone else who is able to work in hospitals, schools, old people’s homes, marae, sports clubs, local parks, and the like, giving people the opportunity to rebuild their confidence and develop basic work skills, while helping to revitalise their communities.

Mana also calls for taxing the rich to free the poor, introducing a Hone Heke tax on all financial transactions, adding billions to the national budget and enabling Government to launch positive jobs programmes, feed the kids, provide a well-resourced and positive educational environment at all levels, reduce taxes for low income earners, and abolish GST on food and essential services.

Mana’s position is clear. This is not a time for tinkering. This is a time to be bold, to chart a new path, and to establish a new deal, where a life of dignity and respect is a birth right afforded to everyone. We call on all of the parties to rise to the challenge rather than surrender to the squabbling.

Mana is closely associated with socialist movements in New Zealand, with a strong emphasis on taxing more (“the rich”) and transferring wealth, with the state heavily involved in job creation and spending. And spending.

I have never seen any attempt by Mana to cost their policy proposals.

Interestingly while Harawira frequently mentioned Mana (his party) Banks didn’t once refer to the Act Party. It was very personal for him.

Hone Harawira video:

John Banks video:

Full speeches (draft Hansard):

15:48:59~HONE HARAWIRA (Leader—Mana)

HONE HARAWIRA (Leader—Mana): Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker.

Seeing as the Prime Minister may have missed the fact that while he was up in Hawaii playing golf and his MPs were sizing up more investment properties to buy for the biggest untaxed capital gains they could get, most Kiwi families were actually going backwards.

Since Parliament last sat, housing has become even less affordable, more families have fallen behind in their rent, more families have been evicted, more families have shifted to caravan parks, the price of food and just about everything else has continued to rise, more jobs have become more precarious and more have become poorly paid, more food parcels have been given out at food banks, more families have had their electricity cut off because they cannot pay the bill, more children are in hospital with poverty related illnesses and diseases, and more children are regularly going hungry.

Big bank economists tell us we are about to benefit from a rock star economy in 2014 but that is rubbish. Everywhere in the world, the benefit of the economic recovery is going to the richest 1 percent while the 99 percent either stagnate or go backwards, and New Zealand is no exception.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer under a system where people strive to get as rich as they can and the winner is the person who has the most money when they die. How crazy is that? How does that make sense when kids go hungry because families have to pay the rent, the electricity, the petrol for the car, doctors’ bills, and medical bills before they can even afford to buy food for the kids?

But does this Government care? Not for one second. Take loan sharks, for example. Six years ago this Government said it wanted to deal to loan sharks for preying on poor families.

Well, what did it do? Nothing. Instead it bailed out the banks, wealthy investors, and companies like South Canterbury Finance, which got a $1.7 billion taxpayer windfall, which in one single gift to the rich was more than the entire 22 years of Treaty of Waitangi settlements, where iwi ended up with less than 3 percent of what was stolen from them.

Meanwhile, the victims of loan sharks are told they have to pay up to 500 plus percent interest rates so that a small loan to pay a power bill rapidly becomes a crippling debt to the loan sharks, with no bailouts for the poor.

Housing is the same. Everyone knows housing is becoming less affordable. Mortgages are through the roof, and as interest rates go up—it was in the paper this morning—so do rents. But this Government has no plans to create more affordable housing for low-income families who need them the most.

In Glen Innes and elsewhere, the Government is actually pushing people off the waiting list, then telling everybody that State houses are no longer needed, and then bulldozing those homes so private developers can build mansions for the rich. In education, the Government is also missing the mark.

Instead of ensuring that every child can learn by adopting a comprehensive food in schools programme, as recommended by its own experts, it is focusing on a failed charter schools model from overseas and drop-in principals.

We have all heard the drivel about how poverty has nothing to do with educational underachievement, but that is a refrain delivered only by those commentators who choose not to hear the advice and Governments who choose to ignore the inequality that is at the heart of increased social problems in low-income communities.

As for those jobs, Mr Key, are you happy that unemployment helps to keep wages down and to keep workers worrying that they might lose their jobs? Is it your plan that 260,000 workers cannot get a job or cannot get enough hours at work to pay for a decent chance in life for themselves and their families?

Is it your plan that this Government has no policy at all to create meaningful employment, except to leave the fate of the worker in the hands of the free market? Instead all we get is policy after policy, bill after bill, to take even more from low-income workers—employment rights, social support, tax dollars, and all of that—to feed oil and mining giants, property developers, foreign bankers, casino bosses, private consultants, and the like.

Families are struggling—Māori families, Pasifika families, and increasingly more Pākehā families—after decades of the deepest cuts this country has ever experienced. These cuts come from policies that have deliberately driven hundreds of thousands of families into poverty, policies that have led us to a direction that has been disastrous for all Kiwi families outside of the comfortable middle class and ruling elite, and a direction that has brought us to a critical crossroad in our lives.

There is growing inequality, homelessness, and unemployment, and a growing population of working poor who cannot even make ends meet.

At the end of the last year, the world mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela and celebrated his momentous life, but Mandela was not just an anti-apartheid campaigner. He was also a fighter for the poor who once said: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” Mandela considered poverty to be one of the great evils of the world and believed there could be no freedom where poverty persists.

At the beginning of this new year, Mana stands resolute in our determination to find ways to eradicate poverty—particularly child poverty—wherever and however it may exist. We will do all we can to ensure that this issue is the issue by which political parties are measured by voters in 2014.

Mana wants a new deal for Aotearoa—one based on everyone playing their part and everyone paying their way, not just families and big business as well—and an economy where everyone can live in dignity and respect, and where jobs are secure, hard work is rewarded, and people can earn enough to give their families a decent standard of living.

Mana is calling for homes for every Kiwi family—the building of 10,000 homes a year, especially for those on low incomes, until every child in every family is housed in a clean and warm home. This will create thousands of jobs in design, architecture, carpentry, cabinet making, painting, roofing, electrical work, plumbing, drainlaying, landscaping, roading, community infrastructure, and all the related jobs that come with a strong and vibrant housing sector.

Mana will encourage immigrants to build new homes rather than buy existing ones to increase the jobs in the housing sector and to keep the current housing stock for kiwis and introduce a serious capital gains tax to force those with too many investment properties to sell back into the housing market, drive down the prices, and free up homes for those who can afford to buy but cannot find anything in the overheated market place.

Mana wants jobs for all, and Government-created community work on an index minimum wage for everyone else who is able to work in hospitals, schools, old people’s homes, marae, sports clubs, local parks, and the like, giving people the opportunity to rebuild their confidence and develop basic work skills, while helping to revitalise their communities.

Mana wants financing and mentoring for small business, because if you back small business owners, they commit to a future in this country, rather than leave, and their success encourages their families to do the same.

Mana also calls for taxing the rich to free the poor, introducing a Hone Heke tax on all financial transactions, adding billions to the national budget and enabling Government to launch positive jobs programmes, feed the kids, provide a well-resourced and positive educational environment at all levels, reduce taxes for low income earners, and abolish GST on food and essential services.

Of course, Mana also supports taking back the power. In today’s world, access to a consistent and affordable supply of electricity is a staple part of life for all New Zealanders. It was never envisioned that it be owned. Mana supports reclaiming all electricity assets for the benefit of all citizens of Aotearoa.

Mana’s position is clear. This is not a time for tinkering. This is a time to be bold, to chart a new path, and to establish a new deal, where a life of dignity and respect is a birth right afforded to everyone. We call on all of the parties to rise to the challenge rather than surrender to the squabbling. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora tātou katoa.

DEBATE ON PRIME MINISTER’S STATEMENT

15:58:44~Hon JOHN BANKS (Leader—ACT)

Hon JOHN BANKS (Leader—ACT): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. The seeds of my political philosophy lie in my background. I am not sure how much the previous member knows about child poverty.

I know a lot about child poverty. I know what it is like to live in a house with no power and no running water; having a bath once a week in a 44-gallon drum cut in half; sleeping on straw covered with sacks; going to bed every night hungry; piddling the bed every night, psychologically disturbed; being thrashed every morning for piddling the bed every night; going to school every day in an ex-army uniform with no shoes; spending all day, every day, out of the classroom stealing other kids’ lunches; going home to bread and milk, at best, at night, cooked over an open fire with sugar on top; if I am very lucky, taking Weet-bix covered in dripping to school each day; and living in a very dark hole.

That is child poverty.

If I thought that the policies of the previous speaker from the Tai Tokerau would work against that—and they do exist; they do exist—I would go to the other side of the House and support him. I would be the first to line up to support him.

Why would I not be the first to line up to support Hone Harawira if he had the answers to this country’s deep, deep vein of underprivilege, desperation, desolation, and despair that so many of our kids live under? If I thought that his policies were the answer, I would line up with him and I would say so.

But let me give him one ticket out of child poverty that he might like to think about. That one ticket is twofold: living in a home with unconditional love—and I never knew about that—and a world-class education. I did get that.

If every one of his people lived in a home with unconditional love and access to a world-class education, then in a generation we would get rid of the deep vein of social deprivation and child poverty in this country.

That is the ticket. That is the only ticket—not welfare, not big Governments, not more borrowing, and not more handouts. It is instilling in people that having children is a God-given right but an awesome responsibility, that love goes a long, long way, and that a world-class education is a ticket to the future for so many of these people whom the previous speaker talked about and represents to the best of his ability in this House. But he is misguided.

In a couple of weeks we are going to open the first charter school—they call it—in Northland. I do not mind whether they call it a charter school or whether they call them partnership schools, but this is what I can tell you.

The first partnership school in Whangarei will open in 2 weeks’ time. For the last 4 years it has taken 40 Māori boys and girls from the poorest, poorest families in the whole of the Tai Tokerau. It has boarded them in Whangarei and it has given them an opportunity to go to the best State schools in Whangarei, mostly Whangarei Boys High School, and after school they are tutored.

They get in that collective home unconditional love every day of the week and tutoring every night of the week.

They feel a sense of purpose and direction, and those young people sit National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 1 with a 100 percent pass rate, I say to the Minister of Finance, a 100 percent pass rate in that partnership school in Whangarei for the last 4 years, a 100 percent pass rate in NCEA level 1 in Whangarei with Māori boys who come from places that the previous speaker represents and knows nothing about and has a doctrine he peddles in this House that is bankrupt—more borrowing, more welfare, less responsibility. He does it because he thinks there are votes in it.

There are no votes in representing people who have no hope, and that member will not get up on his hind legs and say to this House: “I’m going to support the partnership school that has served my mokopuna in Tai Tokerau for so, so long.”

That member and the Labour Party have promised to close down that school, which gets a 100 percent—100 percent—pass rate in NCEA level 1. That is the ticket out of deprivation.

That is the only way, the one-way street, the only way out of poverty in this country. It will take a generation, but this is what this Government is working on. It stands for bringing those people up. It is like high tides raising all boats. Lift the standards at the bottom and the high tide will rise and raise more boats—all boats.

We have tried throwing money. We have tried borrowing money. We have tried big welfare. And what we do know is that any Government big enough to give you everything you want is a Government big enough to take from the hard workers everything they have.

So if we want to deal with the deep vein of social deprivation—and I do because I know what it is like, and it is a dark place, a very dark place—then we have to deal with the fundamentals of human behaviour: taking responsibility for your family, giving them unconditional love regardless of your status and your wealth, taking advantage of a world-class education that is there for you at the school down the street, and encouraging young people to do that.

It will be a generation but it will lift them out. If we want to empty the jails, we have got to educate the young people. If we want to get the health lists down, we have got to teach young people what it is like to be in charge of yourself and take responsibility for your own actions. Then we will make progress.

But borrowing from the savings of offshore people to hand out to others in a country and mounting up the debt to the next generation is not the way we deal with poverty in this country.

Of course I support sandwiches and food in schools—by God I would have loved some sandwiches and some food in school—but that is not the answer.

The answer is getting the fundamentals of the New Zealand economy so that we are internationally competitive.

I pay tribute to Bill English, whom I have worked with closely these last 2 years, who has done a remarkable job of turning this economy round. I give praise to the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the National Party caucus—my coalition partners—for taking tough decisions, but the answer to child poverty, I say to the parliamentary Opposition, is not about taking others’ money and throwing it at a problem, because we have tried that and it has failed.

The answer is education.

The answer is giving everybody the opportunity of the dignity of work, and you can have a job only if you are educated. And you can get educated only if you go to school. And you can go to school only if you come from a home that loves you. And the corollary to that is a dark place, and I know about living in dark places.

So if we want to deal with the fundamental issues of about 20 percent of this country’s young people coming from dysfunctional homes and families, we have to deal with the causes, not with the political side effects for the purposes of getting a few votes.

 

 

Failing the Waldegrave necessities of life

Discussions over poverty and ‘living wages’ often include comparisons with “the good old days”, as happened yesterday on a David Farrar Facebook post:

Robin Stephen

Yet we have “poor bashers” here practically blaming children for being hungry. There is a child poverty problem in NZ which just wasn’t there while John Key was growing up

Pete George

“There is a child poverty problem in NZ which just wasn’t there while John Key was growing up.” 
I dispute that. I was growing up in NZ at the same time as John Key. What do you know about that era?

There were plenty of hard up families with kids living in what is now classified by some as poverty. Families were more self sufficient and got by with much less than the majority of families now. Health care wasn’t as good, with immunisations just being phased in. There was far less state assistance. I experienced living in a family with severe financial problems right through my childhood, with nothing like what Rev. Waldegrave suggests are necessities.

Robin Stephen

BTW what are the necessities you dispute with Rev. Waldegrave?

Here are things detailed by Rev. Waldegrave that would have failed his necessities of life test in my childhood (from Living Wage Investigation Report):

Power/Heating

  • Continuous hot water supply and normal use of all appliances. 
  • All rooms warm when people are at home during winter. 

(Only living area warm otherwise very cold in Central Otago winters, household water froze up in winter, hot water dependent on coal range wetback)

Phone

  • Cellphone call costs for necessary calls close to home and keeping in touch with family further away.

Internet

  • Broadband connection.

Holiday

  • Annual holiday for one week away from home area for all family members.

(I had one family holiday when I was a baby, and went to stay with relations on my own twice through my childhood)
Saving 

  • Amount sufficient to build up and maintain a reserve fund to cover emergencies. 
  • Amount sufficient to save for retirement. 

Exceptional Emergency

  • Provision to meet an unforeseen cost that would destabilise the household budget, eg. accidents, legal costs.

Appliances
The household has a basic set of appliances:

  • fridge

(we got our first fridge – paid for by a grandparent – when I was six)

  • computer 
  • lawn mower

(only a push mower)

  • TV

(no TV until about a year before I left home)

  • Music system 

(a brother bought a record player from earned money)

  •  jug
  •  drier

Clothing/Shoes

  • Adequate summer and winter sets of clothing for each member of the household, plus additional items for recreational activities.
  • Clothing at new clothing prices.

(Most clothes were hand-me-downs, made or recycled wool etc)

  • Sufficient shoes for informal, formal, work and recreational purposes per year per household member.

(Often went to school bare foot, one pair of shows at a time and were often well worn with holes before they were replaced)

Childcare

  • After school 
  • Daytime for pre-schoolers

Guest post on poverty

Quentin Todd comments on a NZ Herald article on poverty NZ homes may be making children sick.

“It is very frustrating. We live in a dreamworld where we believe that we are a wealthy country, but we see far too much of the diseases of poverty. The disparity between rich and poor is huge.

“There’s a perception that it’s people’s fault that they’re in poverty, but you certainly can’t blame children. We know this stuff, but actually to have it proven and shown to other people is very important.” 

This comment from the article is so true. Housing quality and medical issues have been going hand in hand. There is I understand new rules about rental quality being told to ensure people are safe and in  healthy environment.  For a Medical Centre to raise such alarms are now showing the true colour of poverty: poor quality rentals, inability to service a power account as keeping a rental warm and dry gets near impossible to achieve. My unit is a rental and my previous Landlord showed enormous respect by having the place insulated, though the outside walls are not. It helps me as I have a sickness that requires a warm dry house to be in.
As I said in a previous post, the issue of poverty is multi-dimensional but exposing stories of hardship like this article has done, wakes us all up to the need to show more social responsibility in our local communities. I have decided to explore political angles to assist local and central governments achieve poverty reduction targets.

Exaggerating child ‘poverty’ is counter-productive

Claims that up to a quarter of New Zealand children are in poverty are widely seen as exaggerating a real but smaller problem. Overstating actual levels of deprivation is having a counter-productive effect, many people see the ‘poverty’ campaign more as political posturing than an honest consideration of our worst off kids.

People promoting poverty mean well but damaging their credibility by constant exaggeration will make it harder to effectively target those in greatest need.

And different claims with different numbers leave people wondering what the real number is.

  • “265,000 Kiwi kids live in poverty”
  • a national estimate of 180,000 children
  • It represents around 100,000 children suffering real hardship in low-income households.

One in four, one in six, one in ten?

A New Zealand Herald editorial looks at the problem with numbers in Child poverty figure needs more clarity to target relief.

 Headlines that “265,000 Kiwi kids live in poverty” – one in four children in this country – are not new and the impact is diminishing with repetition. Anybody who thinks about that figure wonders whether it can be right. One in four is such a high proportion of the population that the plight of these children would surely be overwhelming health, welfare and education systems.

Even using the term ‘poverty’ is problematic. Trying to claim that a quarter of our kids are as badly off as the poorest in India and Africa is absurd.

In fact, that figure is an income statistic. This year, 25 per cent of children in households surveyed by Statistics NZ for the Ministry of Social Development were in families living on less than 60 per cent of the median income after tax, adjusted for family size and composition. Some of those children are going without material necessities but by no means all.

If it’s just a statistic then unless the definition is changed there will always be a high number of children in ‘poverty’ – at the bottom quarter of the income scale.

A better measure of child poverty, also used for the commissioner’s report, is a ministry survey of household possessions and economising behaviour. It asks whether the household can keep its main rooms warm, provide a meal with meat at least every second day, pay for water and electricity on time, provide good beds, replace worn out clothes, visit the doctor, replace broken appliances, afford clothes for important or special occasions, and so on.

A household that says it cannot afford any six of 16 such expenses is considered to be in hardship. Last year 17 per cent of children in surveyed households were in that predicament. That produces a national estimate of 180,000 children, not one in four but more than one in six.

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However the households in hardship are not always those on a low income. The report notes that “living above the income poverty line is insufficient to protect some families from material hardship. Conversely, not all with an income below the poverty line experience material hardship.”

In fact, it says, only 35-45 per cent of poor households are poor on both measures.

Those in material hardship with incomes about the 60 per cent median are likely to see their circumstances improve, the report says. It is those in hardship with incomes below the poverty line who need help. If they comprise 35-45 per cent of “one in four” children then we are talking about perhaps one in 10 – a troubling figure and one likely to be more readily accepted by the public.

It represents around 100,000 children suffering real hardship in low-income households.

That’s a worrying number of kids suffering real hardship, but the message is severely diminished by over-statement and exaggerated claims that continue after the release of the report.

From TVNZ One in six Kiwi kids living without basics, report finds:

Green Party Health spokesperson Kevin Hague labelled the report “shocking” and said it showed the “extent of persistent poverty among Kiwi children and the horrendous impact this is having on their health”.

He claimed that the National Government won’t measure poverty because it does not want to know the real extent of the harm poverty is causing children.

“That denial is harming New Zealand kids and condemning a quarter of them to poverty that could last for years and could lead to sickness or even death.”

From Questions and Answers – December 10 in Parliament:

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister believe that Mr Mandela was right when he said that overcoming poverty is an act of justice, and hence her failure as a Minister in 5 years to overcome poverty means that one in four children are now still living in poverty, and one in 10 children are living in extreme poverty? Is that a matter of justice for those children, or are they still living with injustice?

Norman mentions both one in four and one in ten but refers to them as ‘poverty’ and ‘extreme poverty’.

Jacinda Ardern: Which of her public sector targets will decrease the number of children living on less than 60 percent of the median income?

That’s referring to the one in four statistic. And from Newstalk ZB Child poverty rates labelled shameful:

Labour says a new report showing quarter of Kiwi kids living in poverty is “shameful”.

MP Jacinda Ardern says the statistics are entirely preventable.

Entirely preventable?

At least a non-politician has a more realistic look at it,  Donna Wynd, chief researcher for Child Poverty Action Group, in No Christmas cheer for children in poverty:

Child poverty is a complex multifaceted problem requiring complex solutions, but it is not un-fixable. The turnaround in vaccination rates for Maori and Pacific children shows that with sustained political support and genuine cross-sector collaboration, we can improve outcomes for children. This includes closing our scandalous health and educational equity gaps. The Children’s Health Monitor clearly shows the equity gap is growing and who are our most vulnerable children. It is this bottom 10% of children who need immediate and prolonged support.

All the main political parties have acknowledged the need to do something about child poverty. As we go into an election year, it is time for them to outline how they can work together to do something about it.

Yes. And the first thing that needs to happen is to ditch the exaggerations and identify and target the most pressing needs, as the Herald editorial suggests.

The country has the resources to help them from its existing budget for income support. The previous Government’s system of income supplements still provides needless tax credits to large families on fairly high incomes.

That money should be diverted to children in genuine need.

But first we need to find out who they are, where they are and why their circumstances are worse than families below the 60 per cent median who are not lacking the essentials. We also need to know whether their hardship is temporary, or persistent and likely to be permanent without help.

An important part of addressing the problem is to stop the political posturing and misuse of statistics, identify the real needs and do something about it.

Exaggerating and overstating child ‘poverty’ is counter-productive. To get all parties and the public committed to addressing the real issues some honesty and accuracy is required.

Poverty and dud Dads

No amount of tax redistribution and benefit boosting will address one of New Zealand poverty’s biggest problems – males who root without taking responsibility for consequences.

In fact we have an epidemic of males actively avoiding taking responsibility for their problem.  Deadbeat and dangerous Dads are one if the biggest factors in families who struggle.

Half of kids deemed to be living in poverty are in solo parent families – where it’s not uncommon for there to be multiple fathers responsible for the pregnancy but irresponsible for everything else.

My guess is that most females would like good dads for their kids, Dads who are actively involved in the welfare of their family and do whatever they can to provide for their partner and children.

Far too often the women least prepared and and least able to care for their children are the ones who mate with the fuck and fuck off males who couldn’t give a fuck about the mother-to-be or the well-being any kids.

These munter males are high in the neglect and abuse statistics.

Tax redistribution and parenting education won’t address the problem of dud Dads. And that’s possibly the biggest problem New Zealand’s under-fed under-educated unwell kids have.

Will more socialism fix ‘poverty’?

Sure we should look at how to improve life for kids in New Zealand. But it’s far more complicated and difficult than adjusting a few policies and taxes.

Channel cash to poor, sick children, doctor urges

Commissioner wants tax credits system changed to help fight poverty-related illness.

Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills is challenging New Zealanders today to shift support from older, middle-income families to give more to our youngest and poorest children.

Reducing Super and healthcare for older people and transferring it to children will be extremely difficult, politically and effectively.

And it’s not ‘tax credits’ that are required – virtually all the families deemed to be in poverty already receive more than they pay in tax. You can’t credit something they don’t pay.

How we spread the tax burden and social spending should be examined.

But just taking money from some and giving it to others is not a silver bullet.

Giving poorer people more state money can help. But how do you give more determination, how do you give more parenting skills, how do you remove smoking, drinking, gambling and drug taking?

- Children born to solo beneficiary parents, which amounted to 60% of those in poverty, were the most likely to get sick or injured.
- Fifty one percent of children in poverty came from sole parent families.

(From One in six Kiwi kids living without basics, report finds)

The state can’t force families to have two parents. The state can’t force fathers to be responsible and financially support their kids. The state can’t force women to have fewer kids.

Just taking pensions off older people and giving greater financial support to sole parents is not the answer. It will help some, but it will create other problems.

Some want a more socialist state. How to do that and also increase self responsibility is an as yet unsolved ideal.

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