What to do about guilting and poverty

The poverty campaign continees today in the Herald: Lizzie Marvelly: The only debate is what to do about child poverty. Who is Lizzie Marvelly?

One of the best things to do about ‘poverty’ in New Zealand is to stop calling it poverty.

There are serious issues involving deprivation, hardship,  income and social inequities.

But in trying to frame it as poverty, in particular child poverty, campaigners have alienated people that would otherwise be more than happy to see real problems dealt with better by the Government.

Anti-poverty campaigners have overstated their case by using a term that is widely seen as inappropriate in New Zealand. They keep using a Godwin equivalent term and fail to see that it is counter-productive to their cause.

Marvelly says:

Poverty isn’t generally associated with the Kiwi childhood.

She’s right, and that’s the problem with trying to address it.

I… wonder whether the people asserting that poverty isn’t an issue in New Zealand have ever left the comfortable bounds of their own privileged neighbourhoods. I wonder whether they realise just how ignorant they are.

Marvelly is the one who is ignorant, of the problem she is a part of. Most people realise there are social and income and would like to see more done about them.

But they don’t like being preached ‘poverty’ and they are hate being guilted by those who are promoting a misguided agenda.

What is poverty? It’s a question that’s been given a considerable amount of airtime. While a number of thresholds and frameworks have been suggested, for a certain group of people, none will ever be good enough, for if we accept the validity of a measure we are then duty bound to accept what it is telling us.

That sounds like nonsense.

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.

But the reality of ‘poverty’ in New Zealand is that it is a term that is counter productive to addressing real problems.

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.

I find it sad that Marvelly blasts anyone who is repelled by her own blame game.

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?

She is making things up about anyone who won’t buy into her narrative. This is not going to win over any support. It alienates people who care but don’t like being abused.

Our political parties found that they could shelve their disparate ideologies to sort out superannuation … why can’t they show our youngest and most vulnerable citizens the same level of care?

Mravelly must have missed all the party arguments over how to deal with the escalating cost of superannuation  over many years.

The wellbeing of our children should never be up for political debate.Nor should we feel disempowered.

The wellbeing of our children is our our responsibility – ‘our’ meaning parents and wider families.

Does “should never be up for political debate” mean that parents and families should be able to ask for and get whatever they want from the Government without any debate?

What the heck does ‘feel disempowered’ mean?

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.

The first step is to drop the ‘poverty’ framing. It repels rather than attracts support.

The second step is to stop guilting and blaming everyone who doesn’t accept the framing of people like Marvelly.

And then we need identify issues and problems intelligently and responsibly, and consider what might be the most effective way of dealing with them with limited and competing resources.

Leave a comment


  1. Kevin

     /  16th January 2016

    To people like Marvelly poverty means inequality. So if the richest person was to earn a billion dollars a year and the poorest a “measly” 100K, then to Marvelly this is poverty.

  2. Pantsdownbrown

     /  16th January 2016

    Again the left continue to overdo the ‘poverty shaming’ and it becomes ‘the boy who cried wolf’ to the point that people are turned off by the constant over-exaggeration. This in turn does nothing to bring attention & help to the very small % of children in real poverty in this country. Like teachers do when they want something kids are used by the left as pawns to further their own agendas and anybody who doesn’t give them what they want is then labelled ‘heartless’ and ‘uncaring’.

    If child poverty in this country is so rampant where are the endless stories & examples in the MSM? The few they have highlighted have been shown to be caused by issues unrelated to ‘needing more money’ and more to do with lifestyle choices & financial mismanagement (if you don’t believe me then research the odd one from the NZL Herald in the past where the comments point out all sorts of inconsistancies & half-truths). Instead all we get in the media is manufactured child poverty figures, grand-standing & wild generalizations.

    I believe a lot of these ‘stories’ are deliberately not publicized as they would allow the general public to shine a light on what the left claim is poverty and the real reasons behind how these people ended up in so-called ‘poverty’.

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  16th January 2016

    As I’ve illustrated previously, the primary cause of real poverty in NZ is stupid ideas and the most stupid of all is the Left’s belief it can be cured by throwing other people’s money at it, despite half a century proving that fails.

    If you want to stop inequality you have to ban opportunity, innovation and progress. The past century has proven that works well. Of course the ruling class can remain a privileged minority.

    • Timoti

       /  16th January 2016

      So many professionals have moved overseas. They have tired of a country that supports mediocrity and rewards stupidity. We talk about the brain drain, but I doubt many can conceive of how much that has cost our country in all regards.

  4. Some discussion on Marvelly’s article at The Standard:

  5. Pete effectively says, thirdly, “we need to identify issues and problems intelligently and responsibly”

    I say, if ‘we’ can identify firstly its “framing as poverty” and secondly “guilting and blaming” we could just acknowledge this and get on with the job? Thirdly is firstly.

    What we – all parties involved – seem to have done instead is create a grotesque impasse. If the (so-called) Left call it poverty and we, the Right, feel guilted and blamed we’ll stand back and criticise the Left and wait for the Left to call it poverty more and we’ll feel more guilted and blamed and stand back more and wait and blame and blame and blame ….

    Responsibility applies equally to how I perceive and identify things. I want to eat an apple. Someone else says, “That apple is an orange”. I can argue with them ad infinitum about whether its an apple or an orange? Or I can just eat the apple like I was going to anyway.

    “There are serious issues involving deprivation, hardship, income and social inequities”

    Correct. Okay, let’s encourage our National govt to take the moral high ground, name the issues thus, disengage from “child poverty” games, and get on with dealing with those issues. Really deal with them. Or is the argument that they already are?

    • Pantsdownbrown

       /  16th January 2016

      National has always said getting people into work is the best way to improve their situation long-term, and this approach is backed by numerous international studies. The Greens/Labour essentially want to take the easy way out and not address the actual problem by instead just taxing workers more and giving those already reliant on benefits more money.

      The ‘man-ban’, living wage, income inequality & child poverty (even global warming) are all different threads along the same theme: Ignore the reasons for those things occurring (if they are indeed occurring) and throw more taxpayers money at the problem so it will go away.

      • The Morgan Foundation and others claim that getting people into work just changes them from poor beneficiaries to poor workers.

        To an extent that may be correct but I think it’s been proven that self esteem through work is beneficial, and once working it’s possible to earn more, while it’s out of your hands if stuck on a benefit.

        • Pantsdownbrown

           /  16th January 2016

          Indeed – in many cases it is the actual physical act of working/meeting new people/dealing with work situations/working to a set schedule that is the jump-start many people need to go on and improve their lot in life.

          The Morgan Foundation is being disingenuous.You may start off initially as a ‘poor worker’ but once in the workforce you have the opportunity to move up through the ranks and earn more money unlike those sitting on a benefit and not working.

          • kittycatkin

             /  16th January 2016

            Wouldn’t that depend upon what a person does and what they are capable of doing ? Some people will never be able to rise through the ranks, they don’t have the ability to do so.It’s no reflection on them, it’s the way they are made.

            • spanish_tudor

               /  17th January 2016

              What tripe. Every able, employable individual is capable of improving themselves and improving their lot, whether that improvement comes from education, seeking a promotion or pay rise, or even taking a second job to reach a financial goal or pay the bills. The left of course would rather you were downtrodden, defeatist, and dependent on that state.

            • @ ST – Every able, employable individual must believe they can improve themselves and their lot, I agree.

              However, already the number of available jobs is fewer than the number of available workers and this differential is widely expected to increase markedly over coming years due to mech-tech, other ‘efficiencies’ and immigration.

              There isn’t a job for every able, employable person. It seems likely there never will be again and that ‘full employment’ is economically undesirable anyway, like low oil prices.

              “The latest Trade Me figures show that in the three months to December the average number of applications per listing was 12 percent higher than in the previous quarter, while there was only a 2 percent growth in job listings. Job hunters faced more competition, which was unlikely to change in the next three months. “The ball is now firmly in the employers’ court,” Peter Osborne said.


              The effects of the resulting competition for jobs and inevitable ‘rejection’ can be devastating for young people starting out. Recently a supermarket in South Auckland advertised 1 junior position and got 3000 applicants.

              Very real, emerging ‘systemic’ problems with labour supply and demand – economics – can’t be whitewashed over by neoliberal platitudes.


            • “However, already the number of available jobs is fewer than the number of available workers”

              Not exactly. We have to bring in immigrant workers to do jobs resident non-workers don’t want to do.

            • Yes, of course, I forgot.
              It’s freedom of choice equally for everyone, right?

              You know where your statement leads PG? Extended, it leads to a distinct segment of the population – low paid workers and/or current beneficiaries – being forced to go work wherever the State deems necessary. Coerced or enforced relocation (Might be a good use to put the old railways to?). Now that’s a free market neoliberal idea, huh?

              What does this sound like? (Inverted totalitarianism?)

              Meanwhile the self-same State couldn’t possibly spend those low-paid workers and beneficiaries ‘dole’ and ‘supplement’ money on anything remotely resembling local job creation or community work schemes, because this would be … sounds like … (socialist totalitarianism) right?

              I’ve got it! Let’s just cut the “resident non-workers” loose shall we?

          • Exactly PDB – the first job is the stepping stone to a better job…. the left seem to frame the first job as the only job you will have and its modest salary/wages as inadequate. Its an argument based on stasis

  6. kittycatkin

     /  16th January 2016

    ‘Guilting’ is not a word !!!

    • Maybe not – but the wonder of the English language is its ability to change, grow and incorporate new words Kitty…. and “guilting” the act of making someone feel guilty to achieve your objectives or coerce them into line with your thinking, sounds like a fine addition to the vocabulary…

  7. John Schmidt

     /  17th January 2016

    I pay thousands of dollars each week in income tax and 100″s a week because of 15% GST so yes I have a high income compared to most because my employer is of the opinion that my work efforts and skills are worth this financial investment in me. Head down the income scale until WFF kicksin and now we have a large part of the population paying a few hundred dollars per week and at the lowest income they pay less than 100 per week, then we get into the benefit incomes where the complete reverse happens. The answer always seems to be take more from my success and life achievements and others like me because despite it being thousands of dollars a week it’s not enough. So succesful achieving people must share their income with those who are less succesful and who under achieve rather than teach those people the skills to be higher achievers and being more succesful. So in effect the answer is to add more people onto my shoulders so they can live a more comfortable life off my efforts and success. Why can I not see this being a brillant plan.

    • Pete Brian

       /  17th January 2016

      Your problem is you associate success with money. Money isn’t an indication of success. Reading your comment it becomes obvious that you’re self obsessed. Try thinking about some one other than yourself. And instead of thinking what can I take from this world or what does the world owe me, how about thinking what can I give this world. Just try it it will be good for everyone.


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