Shift from targeting Maori to targeting the poverty

Bryce Edwards looks at a shift in Government shifting from race-based (Maori) targeting to a more universal approach to dealing with poverty, but they say that as Maori feature in the deprivation statistics they should benefit the most.

Is this related to Winston Peters’ past attacks on Whanau Ora, with Labour now quietly accommodating his preference away from targeting Maori? Where do the Greens stand? Quietly on the sideline?

NZ Herald: The real political controversy of Waitangi 2018

Lost amongst the focus on BBQs, relentless positivity, and eloquent speeches at Waitangi, a fascinating and important shift in Government-Maori relations appeared to be underway. Labour and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have been signalling that this Government is departing from the traditional culturalist and “race-based” approach to dealing with Maori deprivation and economic inequality.

Instead, a more universal, economic-focused method will be used. The conventional approach of advancing Maori aspirations was epitomised by the Maori Party’s focus on culture, race, and sovereignty issues, and it appears to be on the way out.

Heralding what may be a highly controversial approach to “closing the gaps” in terms of Maori inequality, Jacinda Ardern made her most important speech at Waitangi by stating that the new Government would take a universalistic approach to inequality – by targeting everyone at the bottom, rather than specifically targeting Maori.

Jacinda Ardern strongly emphasised the need to deal with the long list of social ills that have a disproportionate impact on Maori, but signalled that race-based methods were not the best way of moving forward.

Since then, the Finance Minister has confirmed this shift in approach to dealing with inequality. In an interview with Morning Report’s Guyon Espiner on Wednesday, Grant Robertson responded to questions about whether the Government would specifically target Maori in its programmes, saying: “Our focus is on reducing inequality overall” – you can listen to the six-minute interview here: Global market dive: Grant Robertson optimistic.

Espiner sought clarification: “So there won’t be a specific Closing the Gaps type programme that we saw under Helen Clark? We’re not looking at heading off down that path?” Robertson replied: “That’s not the approach that we are taking. But we believe that we will be able to lift a significant number of Maori out of poverty, and increase employment outcomes, because of the approach we are taking.”

Robertson went on to explain that the Government would keep some targeted funding for Maori, but stressed that a more universal approach would dominate:

“Maori will benefit disproportionally from the families package – from those payments, because at the moment, unfortunately, Maori appear in those negative statistics. We’ve got a range of programmes coming down the line that will support Maori and the wider population as well. Where it’s appropriate, where there are programmes – particularly in an area like Corrections – where we know that we can have a real impact on that Maori prison population, then we’ll have a look at them.

“Similarly, with employment programmes. But in the end, Guyon, this is about reducing inequality overall. It’s about providing opportunities for all young people – and we know that Maori will benefit more from that, because unfortunately they are in those negative statistics.”

Essentially, this new approach means directing resources and solutions to poor Maori “because they are poor” rather than “because they are Maori”.

This isn’t popular with some Labour Maori:

In RNZ interviews following on from Robertson’s, both Willie Jackson and John Tamihere reacted negatively against the notion that the Government was shifting in this direction – you can listen to the interviews with Jackson and Tamihere.

Jackson is a Labour MP.

Nor with the Maori ‘elite’:

The Government’s shift away from focusing on iwi property rights has also been signaled by Regional Development Minister Shane Jones. Sam Sachdeva reports: “Whereas English and his predecessor John Key seemed to focus on Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi and property rights, Jones says the new government will have a greater emphasis on Article Three and the entitlements, rights and obligations of citizenship” – see: A fresh start at Waitangi?.

This might all end up in legal fights. 1News has obtained the letter from iwi leaders to the prime minister complaining about their change in direction, and threatening Supreme Court action if iwi rights to freshwater were not addressed – see TVNZ: Iwi leaders unhappy issues like water ownership aren’t on new Government’s radar.

An interesting observation:

There was nothing about this in the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement.

I wonder what the Greens think. And I wonder how much they have been consulted.

From Green policy: “We would continue to support and strengthen Whānau Ora”

Ardern v English on poverty measures

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tried to reach out to Bill English and National over proposals to better measure poverty, but it has become a messy stoush.

RNZ: PM ‘saddened’ at claims Nats not consulted on poverty Bill

Reducing child poverty was a strong focus for both National and Labour during the election campaign, and the government promised a bi-partisan approach.

Ms Arden contacted National Party leader Bill English late last year about consulting on the draft bill.

In the letter dated 13 December, Ms Ardern included a “key summary of the proposed Bill”.

It said there would be child poverty targets but they would not be included in legislation so as to not “bind future governments to any particular target”.

The letter sought feedback from Mr English, along with an offer for a briefing from officials.

With the bill due to be introduced to Parliament tomorrow, Mr English told Morning Report this morning his party has had no opportunity to influence the shape of the bill.

Ms Ardern said she was “saddened” to hear this, as she had reached out last year.

“I hope we did provide that opportunity, again we have a select committee process to go through as well on top so I still hope we’ll get support from all parties.

She said she would happy to still work with National outside of the select committee process as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

English is miffed that the Government are dropping the Better Public Service targets

Mr English said the Better Public Service targets were a key component of this policy, which he raised in his response to Ms Ardern.

But there had been no chance to discuss the targets before they were scrapped, he said.

“The government’s on its timetable, it wants to get the Bill introduced before the end of the 100 days, I don’t think they ever seriously intended … that there would be a serious bi-partisan effort on it.”

This came up in question time in Parliament yesterday.

2. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does her Government intend to retain the Better Public Service Targets to reduce the number of people on a benefit by 25 percent, reduce the number of serious crimes being committed by 10,000, and reduce the number of children hospitalised for preventable conditions by 25 percent?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. We will have our own system for monitoring and reporting on performance against our priorities. Our targets will reflect our different priorities from the previous Government and will look beyond simple measures and, in fact, to underlying causes.

Rt Hon Bill English: Did the Prime Minister consider past success of selected targets that addressed areas of persistent social dysfunction, such as reducing welfare dependency, reducing reoffending rates for criminals, holding the numbers of children affected by child abuse, and lifting educational attainment among Māori and Pacific students?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think it’s fair to say that probably all Governments share an ambition for reducing crime and improving employment. Our point is that we have a set of priorities that get to the root cause of some of the issues that we’re seeing in New Zealand. A great example, for instance, would be our ambition to measure and target directly issues like child poverty. That’s getting to the root cause of an issue rather than just some of the symptoms, as past Better Public Services (BPS) targets did.

Rt Hon Bill English: Why does the Government persist with the view that poverty in New Zealand is purely a function of income, when the evidence is overwhelming that low educational achievement, family violence, long-term welfare dependency, and serial criminal offending have a huge impact on persistent deprivation and material hardship?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the evidence points to material hardship as being one of the most consistent drivers of poor outcomes for children. We’ve never argued that that in and of itself was the only issue that needs to be looked at, which is why, of course, we’re also requiring—and will, as a Government, focus more broadly on—a child well-being strategy for the very reasons that the past Minister points out.

Rt Hon Bill English: So can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government is therefore going to abandon a focused approach to social dysfunction, caused by the factors that I’ve referred to, and limit its approach to addressing deprivation simply to the measurement of income?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, because, in fact, as the member well knows, we’ve also included material hardship as one of the things that we would like to include and hold ourselves to account on. Our point is that we, in fact, want to be broader in the accountabilities we hold ourselves to as a Government. The BPS targets that the last Government had were quite narrowly focused. They looked at symptoms rather than root causes, and in some cases were manipulated and didn’t lead to improved outcomes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will it help in the efficacy of future measurements that she discovered family and child poverty before she entered Government, not nine years after it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Deputy Prime Minister makes a very good point. We have long held a view, based on research and evidence, that if we wanted to improve the well-being of children we could not ignore poverty as long as the last Government chose to.

Rt Hon Bill English: Has she seen comments by the State Services Commissioner, who said that the Better Public Services targets achieved real results: “More kids are getting immunised. Fewer kids are being physically abused. Participation in early childhood is on the increase. [And] 40,000 fewer working age people are receiving benefits compared with three years ago. That’s a whole bunch of things that change lives.”, and why does she think that achieving those things doesn’t change lives and ought to be stopped?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This Government has no problem with the issue of targets, with priority setting, with goals as a way to drive the focus from the Public Service and the Government. Our point is we will have our own. In fact, the last Government changed their own targets several times during their time in Government, and it will not surprise the member that we have a different set of priorities—a broader set of priorities—than them.

Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government’s priority is the measurement of income only, and the other factors that determine material hardship and deprivation reflected in the targets set by the previous Government are now going to be ignored by the new Government—factors such as persistent—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the member—[Interruption] Order! I’ll just ask the Leader of the Opposition to shorten his questions up to one or two, rather than three or four.


Rt Hon Bill English: Has the Prime Minister seen the data that show that maternal and baby care are much more likely to be satisfactory when mothers enrol with their lead maternity carer in the first trimester of their pregnancy, and has she instructed the Public Service to stop focusing on that measure, which was initiated in May last year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am being very consistent in the point here that we need to be much broader in the goals that we set ourselves. I take, for example, the rheumatic fever Better Public Services target that the last Government set. That did nothing to resolve the long-term driver of rheumatic fever, which is cold, damp, overcrowded housing. In the same way, if we want to improve maternal outcomes, we have to look at the barriers as to why women aren’t enrolling with lead maternity carers, and they are complex and often involve deprivation.

Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister therefore confirm that the target that was set to lift to 90 percent the proportion of women enrolled in the first trimester with their lead maternity carer has now been abandoned, and if so, why?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have our own set of priorities. They will be replaced, and they’ll be released in good time.

Rt Hon Bill English: So can I take it, then, the Prime Minister is confirming that target has been abandoned, and people working in social and health services are no longer to be trying to enrol women earlier? And if she has abandoned it, what other measures has she taken to ensure that those women who weren’t enrolled will get better maternal care in the next 12 months?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The implication that those who work in our health services will no longer be interested in the health and well-being of pregnant women in New Zealand is, frankly, an insult. Of course they are, but we’re also saying that this Government’s priority is that those mothers also have decent housing, that they are free of harm and abuse, and that they have decent incomes. We want to get to the root cause of problems, not just the short-term issues.

Short term negative trends

There were a number of comments criticising the short time period and a lack of comparison as a % of population.

An alternative was provided by

Data presentation matters. The graph is not wrong but potentially misleading for people who make snap conclusions without closer interpretation esp on social media (myself inclu).

OK, I see now the rationale for the original graph – to show the comparative drop in hunger/poverty/etc over the past 25 yrs. But wouldn’t this graph be more meaningful, at a glance? (pollution not inclu cus I didn’t understand what it meant in original graph)

‘Eliminating’ (reducing) child poverty

There has pretty much always been poverty and child poverty throughout recorded human civilisation. It is significantly less of a problem in New Zealand than it was 100 years ago, and even 50 years ago, but is still a significant cause for concern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has virtually staked her political career on reducing poverty.

Simon Collins (NZH):  Reducing child poverty: How will Jacinda Ardern do it?

We have always had ­people who struggle to cope because of physical or mental impairments, a rough ­upbringing, illness and mishaps.

In pre-industrial times, and still in much of the world today, helping them was left to the wider family or hapū. Industrialisation and its aftermath have splintered those ­extended families geographically.

Gradually, over a century or so up to 1984, governments built a ­welfare safety net to fill the gap – ­often pushed by unions and other ­social movements, but also ­reflecting a ­realisation by ­businesses they ­needed workers who could afford to live and customers who could ­afford to buy their products.

As well as welfare benefits, the safety net included free or cheap healthcare and education, state-backed wage-fixing and arbitration, state rental housing and subsidised loans for first-home buyers. The state financed more than half of all new housing from 1936 until the late 1960s.

That safety net was dismantled after 1984 in a backlash against the “nanny state”.

Ruth Richardson’s 1991 Budget imposed part-charges in public hospitals and cut benefit rates to strengthen incentives to work.

I think it’s fair to argue that some adjustments were necessary, but it’s also fair to argue that measures may have been too tough.

The Government stopped lending for housing from 1992. State-house rents were raised to market rates and tenants were only partly compensated by an accommodation supplement.

Not all the reforms persisted. Hospital charges were abandoned quickly and Helen Clark’s Labour Government restored subsidised state-house rents from 1999.

Clark’s Working for Families package increased tax credits for children from 2005.

Bill English’s National Government raised benefits for families with children by $25 a week from April last year.

Further adjustments to try to achieve a sustainable balance between assistance and affordability have continued.

The MSD report shows housing cost a quarter of the net incomes of the poorest fifth of working-age households in 1990, but now eats up half of their net incomes.

A Cabinet paper prepared for this year’s Budget in May said net incomes after housing costs had fallen by 8 per cent since 2006 for beneficiaries, and by 2 per cent for all households on accommodation supplements.

Housing costs escalated after property values doubled under the last Labour led government and then after flattening out they nearly doubled again under the recent National led government.

I bought a house in 2001 for $108k, and sold it in 2007 for $245k with virtually no improvements done. It’s rateable value (July 2016) is $275k, but it’s market value estimate is about $335k.

The proportion of children in households earning below half of median household incomes is now only moderately higher than in the mid-1980s before housing costs – but is still roughly twice as high as it was 30 years ago after paying for housing.

By last year 140,00 children were in households earning below half the median income before housing costs – 210,000 (19 per cent of ­children) after housing costs.

National’s Budget had ­already signalled dramatic ­changes to take effect from next April.

In a pre-election debate with ­Ardern, English boasted if he could reduce child poverty by 50,000 once, he could do it again. “We said we’d reduce that number by another 50,000 within two or three years, because under good fiscal management the country could do it,” he told Parliament this week.

“So there’s the benchmark. Can they reduce it by 100,000 from ­today? Because there was a plan in place to do that.”

Labour has said it will scrap National’s tax cuts. Instead, it will match ­National’s changes to accommodation ­supplements and raise family tax ­credits even more – by $47 a week for our sole parent with two children, plus $700 a year ($13.46 a week) for ­energy, lifting the ­weekly income in constant 2013 dollars to $528, higher than at any time since at least 1980.

Labour will also lift the incomes of the “working poor”, who ­account for almost half the children below the poverty line, by raising the ­income threshold for reducing ­family tax credits from $35,000 a year to $42,700.

Beyond the welfare field, ­other Labour policies should reduce child poverty.

National planned to extend very-low-cost doctors’ fees to 600,000 people with community service cards, accommodation supplement or income-related social housing.

Labour has promised to match that and cut $10 off all ­doctors’ fees.

Labour’s coalition deal with NZ First promises to lift the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour next April and to $20 by 2021 and Labour has promised legislation enabling ­unions and employers to negotiate industry-wide “fair pay agreements”.

This risks initiating wage/price inflation that will impact on poorer households the most.

Wills’ expert group in 2012 proposed six “immediate priorities”, including ­subsidising food in schools, a low-interest loan scheme and more support for teen parents.

All of these have either been ­enacted by National or endorsed by Labour, except for a proposal to pass on to custodial parents $159 million in child support payments that are taken by the state to offset the cost of sole-parent benefits.

Current Children’s Commis­sioner Judge Andrew Becroft is still pushing for this last change.

“It would increase compliance by fathers and it would be good for the children,” he says.

The experts then proposed four “priorities over the longer term” to cut the numbers of children in ­poverty by 30-40 per cent.

Their first item, “review all child-related benefits”, is under way and the changes are due to take ­effect next April.

Labour’s Best Start policy goes halfway towards the experts’ ­second item, a universal family benefit for all children under 6.

Twyford’s promise of at least 1000 extra state houses a year also goes halfway towards the ­experts’ third item, increasing social ­housing by at least 2000 a year.

So moves in directions that will help alleviate financial pressures but not eliminate them.

Wills’ expert group in 2012 proposed six “immediate priorities”, including ­subsidising food in schools, a low-interest loan scheme and more support for teen parents.

All of these have either been ­enacted by National or endorsed by Labour, except for a proposal to pass on to custodial parents $159 million in child support payments that are taken by the state to offset the cost of sole-parent benefits.

Current Children’s Commis­sioner Judge Andrew Becroft is still pushing for this last change.

“It would increase compliance by fathers and it would be good for the children,” he says.

But Greens are pushing for a ‘no questions asked’ benefit system that would presumably make it easier for fathers to avoid financial responsibility for their children.

The experts then proposed four “priorities over the longer term” to cut the numbers of children in ­poverty by 30-40 per cent.

Their first item, “review all child-related benefits”, is under way and the changes are due to take ­effect next April.

Labour’s Best Start policy goes halfway towards the experts’ ­second item, a universal family benefit for all children under 6.

Twyford’s promise of at least 1000 extra state houses a year also goes halfway towards the ­experts’ third item, increasing social ­housing by at least 2000 a year.

Housing is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the Government.

Wills also believes benefits and taxes need to be reviewed, ­especially to guarantee adequate incomes for families with children.

“I look forward to the day when we see fewer poor Māori and ­Pasifika infants in our ­children’s ward with chest infections, when we see fewer children with ­permanent lung scarring and ­stunted growth,” he says.

“New Zealand is a wealthy country. We love our children. We do a good job of looking after our old people already and we can do the same for our children.”

As a country we already do a lot to assist children and families. More is obviously required, but healthy children require a healthy state with a healthy economy. as always it is a difficult balancing act.

Party leaders on poverty measures

In their opening speeches in Parliament yesterday both the Leader of the Opposition Bill English and the Prime minister Jacinda Ardern made commitments on reducing poverty.

First was English:

New Zealand under the last Government developed the best tool kit in the world for understanding the context and culture of poverty and disadvantage. It has the label “social investment”—that’s the label it has.

The Government needs to understand that higher incomes are part of what you need to reduce poverty, but the other part of what you need is to create some stability and framework in a household, with a family working with someone they trust in order to have the behaviours that can sustain the benefits of better incomes or getting into a job.

The sad reality is that the work done by the previous Government shows a hard core of chaotic, very challenged households where they need individual attention. But you know what the Government’s doing already? It’s going to give away—it said so in the paper yesterday or today—the tool kit that enables you to know who those families are. So, oh yes, great intentions—”We’ve got great intentions. We want to help these people. We’re just going to make sure we don’t know who they are.”

The case in the New Zealand Herald today—Marie, is it?—the domestic violence death, Marie. It’s the same story—the one we tried so hard to fix, and this Government could fix, if it starts where we left off. It is a case where a terrible death occurred when lots of people knew a bit of the story, and if someone had known the story they would have stopped it.

That is what social investment delivers, and if the Government gives that away, they will cost children and families a start in life, and in fact, in some cases, their lives—in some cases, their lives.

So I just say to the Prime Minister: we will back her on child poverty, provided she gets over Labour’s problems with social investment and uses the toolkit with the intention for which it was meant, and that is to assist our most vulnerable.

Jacinda Ardern responded:

Finally, the Leader of the Opposition talked about his willingness to cooperate on child poverty if we continue to collect individual client’s data through our social agencies and our NGOs. It sounds like the trade-off that he gave to NGOs as well. The difference here, on this side of the House, is that we have listened to those concerns. Yes, we will be an evidence-based Government.

Yes, we will use data in the way we inform policy. But we will not do so in a way that jeopardises individual people’s privacy. When domestic violence groups tell you that what you intend to do puts a service at risk, this Government will listen. That is the difference in the way that we will govern.

I’ve often said I would like to do things differently. I’m going to start on a few issues dear to my heart. There should be no politics, for instance, in child poverty and child well-being. It should be a source of pride for all of us to strive to be known to be the best place in the world to be a child.

That does mean I will take up the Leader of the Opposition’s offer. I will extend to the National Party and to ACT the chance to work together on tackling those issues that matter most. What they do with those offers is, of course, each party’s call. But sometimes, in the people’s Parliament, Opposition is about more than being oppositional.

This is promising, with the leaders of the two largest parties saying they are prepared to work together to address poverty issues. They will have different approaches on some things, but debating those issues will be an important part of the process, as long as it is done with an aspiration to do what is best for children, especially children iin low income households.

Ardern has made this a major focus of her leadership.

Poverty is what a person is left with when all other options are extinguished. Now, I’ve often talked about it being a motivation for my entry here into Parliament and into politics, and it’s been what has kept me here too.

I am happy for this Government to be measured on what it does for children, which is why we will legislate not just the measures we will use for poverty but the targets to reduce it too. And we do that using a bill that I’ve had in the ballot for probably about six years now, to prove that we’ve long held the view that we need to measure and target child poverty.

I cannot fix the housing crisis alone, but we can together. I cannot end child poverty alone, but we can together. I cannot generate higher incomes alone, but we can together—together, alongside NGOs, businesses, council, iwi, and other community groups. Each and every one of us has a role to play in building a better New Zealand. I’ve always said that I believe what unites us is stronger than what divides us, and the campaign only confirmed that to me.

So here is my final promise to all New Zealanders. Whether you voted or not, and no matter who you voted for, I will be a Prime Minister for all, and this will be a Government for all. I hope we can focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us, because there is so much to do. We can be better, we will be better, and this is our chance to prove it.

Perhaps this will be a different type of Parliament that values cooperation and positive politics alongside robust debate and holding to account.

With Winston Peters out of the country Ron Mark spoke for NZ First using what looked like party prepared notes. There was only a brief mention of poverty:

The Hon Tracey Martin, in her role as Minister for Children, will work closely with the Prime Minister to help lift children out of poverty. As the Governor-General so eloquently said, if we put child well-being at the heart of we do, then the well-being of all New Zealanders will be lifted. We have to do better—it’s a moral imperative.

Martin has shown a willingness in the past to work with other parties on joint approaches to major issues – she led a cross-party group on climate change.

James Shaw also made brief mentions, well into his speech.

We are here to support families and to lift children out of poverty. We are here to save our rivers and our endangered species. We are here to solve problems that the market cannot, and the first and greatest of those is climate change.

The previous Government also knew that measurement is important. That is why they fought so hard against measuring child poverty in New Zealand. They didn’t measure it so they couldn’t, therefore, be held accountable for it. This Government will make the measure and will take the measure of child poverty. This Government will take responsibility for child poverty and this Government will reduce child poverty.

…to me it also sums up the Green Party’s way of doing politics when we are at our best: seeking to solve the great challenges of our time, putting solutions above partisanship, and focusing on the long term.

Perhaps Greens will put that approach into practice along with Labour and National.

Being in Opposition or on the cross benches for the entire 18 years of our Parliamentary history gave us a lot of time to get good at that. It is my hope that the new Opposition takes a similar approach—and a similar time scale.

If we, as a nation, are to restore and replenish our forests and our rivers and our birds, if we are to end child poverty, and if we are to lead the global fight against climate change, it will take longer than three years. It will.

Interesting that English spoke more strongly and specifically about poverty than Shaw.

Now Metiria Turei is out of the Green picture poverty seems to have slipped down their priorities somewhat. Greens did not negotiate any ministerial responsibilities directly related to children or poverty.

‘End child poverty’ is fairly meaningless idealism. Whether poverty in New Zealand can be ended will depend much on how they decide to define and measure it.

There will always be families that struggle, there will always be poor households, and their will always be children who have harder starts to their lives than others.

But if the parties in Parliament are genuine in their expressed willingness to reduce poverty and raise employment and incomes then New Zealand may make real progress in improving the standard of living for lower income families and improving the outcomes for children who have missed out  in the past.

Source: Hansard Address in Reply

The Nation: welfare, social investment and poverty

This morning on The Nation :

What’s the best way to provide for those who need help? and talk welfare, social investment and child poverty.

These are two MPs not generally to the forefront of election campaigning. Tolley is 11th on National’s list, Sepuloni is 8th on Labour’s. Both are electorate MPs.

Tolley talking about what the Government has been doing to improve help for beneficiaries, and what is planned to happen in April next year through their Families Package.

Sepuloni is doing little more than reciting Labour’s election lines, in line with what Ardern and others recite. Some of them quite are quite misleading.

The main points from al of the panel – Lisa Owen, Patrick Gower, Fran O’Sullivan and Sue Bradford – was the vagueness and stark lack of policy on welfare from a quite likely incoming Government led by Labour. Fairly scathing from all of them.

Poverty numbers and policies

Poverty is a contentious issue in New Zealand. Even the appropriateness of the term ‘poverty’ is debated. And the numbers of people and children ‘in poverty’ vary widely.

NZ Herald editorial: Child poverty is not fixed by numbers

The total measure of children in households below 60 per cent of the median income is 295,000, which is about a quarter of all the children in New Zealand. If it is hard to believe as many as one in four children are living in such deprivation, there is a more credible survey of children’s actual conditions. It estimates 155,000 children are lacking many of the personal possessions, healthcare and housing standards every New Zealand child ought to have.

If a blunt numerical target is to guide social policy under whichever party becomes the Government next month, the figure of 155,000 would be a better one. It would invite more precisely directed programmes than a simple payment per child to all household below the adopted poverty line. The circumstances of children will vary greatly depending on whether they have wider families and on the budgeting skills, lifestyles and resources of their parents.

Labour might not believe these variables matter but if the best use is to be made of the taxpayers’ money it would to go where it is most needed and can make a difference. The “social investment” programmes the Prime Minister is advocating so earnestly in the election debates, do sound like an attempt to focus finance and social work on individuals and households with multiple problems, not just low incomes.

If the economy remains as buoyant as it has been, and generates the revenue required to boost income subsidies for all children below the poverty line, it would be a relief to all New Zealanders. Nobody wants “child poverty” in this country. But the political temptations to adopt blunt measurements and equally blunt solutions could easily leave too little money for programmes that help people to improve their lives.

DomPost Editorial: Poor biggest losers in high-stakes game

We too acknowledge National’s new-found vision, but, like Ardern, wonder why it has taken nine years, with just 17 days before the election, to express it.

The worrying news is that Ardern has also seen the need to roll the dice. Following the debate she pledged to match National’s numbers, to pull 100,000 children from poverty by 2020.

That should be good news, but it’s not: it’s a cynical card game inspired by possibly the most compelling number not mentioned during Monday night’s debate: the four percentage points separating National and Labour in Stuff’s Poll of Polls.

It’s a meaningless race to the bottom of populist politics that undermines the complexity of tackling poverty as an endemic, intergenerational issue; that reduces it to something comfortably dealt with in the space of an electoral cycle – gone by lunchtime, perhaps?

Having gone all-in with his grand pledge, he rounded on Ardern’s own weak attempts to extricate herself from the momentary brilliance of the English headlights.

The prescription, he told Ardern and the nation, was good policy that lifted incomes and tackled the “very difficult toxic mix of social issues – family violence, criminal offending and long-term welfare dependency”.

“Passing a law doesn’t get rid of child poverty,” he exclaimed.

It’s a lot more complex and difficult than can be fixed by a bit of campaign rhetoric and on the fly pledging.

Ardern matches English’s poverty pledge

In the second leaders debate last night Bill English stole a march on Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern had a vague ‘vision’ about eliminating child poverty, while English made a specific claim plus a pledge. This morning Ardern matched that pledge.

RNZ:  Labour would lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020 – Ardern

During last night’s Newshub leaders’ debate, National Party Bill English promised to set a specific target for reducing child poverty.

He said 50,000 children should be lifted out of poverty through the government families package announced in the Budget in May – and, if National was re-elected, further initiatives could double that result.

Ms Ardern told Morning Report this morning that she could match that promise.

“We can lift up about 50,000 as well, when it comes to the extra 50,000 that is something that we of course will have to set targets around in government,” she said.

“He said he’ll do 50 [thousand] based on his tax package, the extra 50 [thousand] I’m assuming that means he’s going to have another tax package.

“If that means he’s going to only target low-income families, look, that’s positive. I believe we can match that.”

When asked if Labour would commit to the same number by 2020, she said yes – measured as 50 percent of the median income.

Sounds good, but I’m not sure how you can lift people ‘out of poverty’ when it is measured by a measure based on median income.

Greens: ‘not popular, but important’

It may not be popular in green circles but it is important to include the economy when tying social and environmental issues together.

Greens have always promoted both environmental and social reform. This is ingrained in their constitution:


Their policy headlines:


Marama Davidson is the MP in a new caucus leadership team who is ‘leading the charge’ on poverty. She has just sent out this email:

Not popular, but important

I’m most proud of being a Green MP because we’re not afraid to have important conversations, even if they are not popular. If we are serious about looking after our people and taking real action on climate change we cannot be afraid to talk about these issues.

Unless our communities feel capable and confident we can’t protect our environment. For sustainable communities our people need to be strong and have what they need. For our environment to be protected we need our people to be living good lives.

We know we need urgent action on climate change. We know our success requires not just individual actions, but bold commitments backed by real actions and plans from our politicians. Our success requires all our people to work together. By working together we will succeed. When communities on the front line feel well supported they are better able to come up with long term action on climate change. Climate action that protects the the places we love, the people we love.

It seems odd that Davidson states the Green mission as not popular.

People haven’t been ‘afraid’ to talk about social and environmental issues, there has just not been enough action on them for the Greens (and for many others).

Davidson seems to think that if people are somehow given good lives they will devote themselves to action on climate change.

She says “For our environment to be protected we need our people to be living good lives”.

To an extent she is wrong – environmental policies can be promoted and implemented without the need for social equality.

To an extent she may be right right – many of the the poorest people may be too busy just trying to survive to care about the environment.

Many of the richer people consume far more resources than they need to. They have more material possessions that they don’t really need, they use cars more, they travel by air more.

So I can sort of understand how some may think that lifting living standards for the poor and reducing them for the rich may somehow result in a society in equilibrium, and an environment in equilibrium.

But while Davidson integrates social and environmental as if they are co-dependant, she has omitted the third of the Green policy headlines – economic.

People have long advocated for social and economic equality. Some countries have tried to achieve it, like the USSR, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Venezuela. They have all been economic disasters, and have also failed on social equality and environmental purity.

The Greens get the need for better social parity. I’ve seen claims that New Zealand governments deliberately oppress people and keep them poor , but this is ridiculous. Our governments and our major political parties want to improve things for their people, they just have different ideas on how best to achieve that.

But some of the Greens, like Marama Davidson and Metiria Turei, don’t seem to grasp the necessity for an economy that will allow and enable better qualities of life for those at the bottom.

Taking more and more money off those at the top has never really succeeded anywhere. Neither has giving more and more to those at the bottom with no incentive to be productive.

It may not be popular in Green circles to talk about economic realities, but that is important if they are going to succeed in achieving better social and environmental outcomes.

A healthy society and a healthy environment needs a healthy economy.

Greens need to understand that alongside social and environmental priorities a conversation about the economy is important, no matter how unpopular.

Campaigning for electorate and mission Metiria

Metiria Turei stepped down from Green leadership and she has withdrawn from the party list, but she is still standing this election, for the Te Tai Tonga Maori electorate for the first time, and that is her only chance of staying in Parliament.

Turei has done well in the Dunedin North electorate for the last three elections, and has been especially successful at growing the Green vote in Dunedin (although Greens have always done relatively well in Dunedin North):

  • 1999: electorate 4.22%, party 7.43%
  • 2002: electorate 6.87%, party 12.36%,
  • 2005: electorate 7.46%, party 10.82%
  • 2008: Turei 11.09%, party 15.81%
  • 2011: Turei 19.51%, party 23.39%
  • 2014: Turei 17.37%, party 22.94%

Te Tai Tonga is huge, covering all of the South Island, Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, all the islands in the Southern Ocean, and a large part of the Wellington urban area which includes Wellington City as far as Johnsonville, and Petone, Lower Hutt and Eastbourne from the Hutt Valley.

The incumbent Te Tai Tonga MP is Rino Tirikatene, one of Labour’s lowest ranked and least visible MPs, but with the surge in support for Labour it would seem unlikely he will lose to Turei. The Maori Party is also strongly contesting the seat.

2014 results:

  • Rino Tirikatene 8,885 votes, Labour 36.70%
  • Ngaire Button 4,891 votes, Maori party 11.19%
  • Dora Roimata Langsbury 3,173 votes, Greens 16.41%
  • Georgina Beyer 1,996 votes, Internet Mana 4.93%
  • Emma-Jane Mihaere Kingi 1,005 votes, Legalise Cannabis 1.36%
  • National 14.92%
  • NZ First 12.82%

From Claire Trevett at NZH: The Maori battlegrounds

One of the more intriguing races as a result of the political upheavals in the last three weeks will be the Te Tai Tonga seat, held by Labour’s Rino Tirikatene.

After Turei took herself off the Green Party list and stepped down as co-leader it did not take long for her supporters on social media to start pointing out that if Te Tai Tonga voters believed she had been hard done-by for her admission of welfare fraud as a young solo mother, they should vote for her to get her back in.

Now, Turei says if she won the seat, she would take it and return. “It would be a great honour.”

Asked if she would be actively campaigning for the candidate, Turei says the party vote is the most important. “And it would be a real privilege if voters gave me their electorate vote as well.”

Bargh says an added bonus in campaigning for the seat would be securing the electorate as insurance for the Green Party in case of a low party vote.

But she doubts Turei can get enough to tilt Tirikatene out. Though there is some dissatisfaction with him, he could be saved by the surge in popularity for Labour, she says.

Ngahuia Wade believes the most likely impact of Turei will be to split the Labour-Green vote and get the Maori Party’s Mei Reedy-Taare into Parliament.

This will be an intriguing contest, both to see how well Turei does and to see if Tirikatene hangs on.

ODT: Applause for Turei at candidate forum

Metiria Turei appeared to be as popular as ever at her first public outing since resigning from the Green Party leadership.

She represented the party at a low-key political forum at Knox Church Hall yesterday.

Seems odd that the Green candidate in Dunedin North didn’t represent their party.

The questions canvassed the candidates’ thoughts on housing affordability and availability for low-income earners; how they would create healthy childhoods; and whether they thought benefits and working for families tax credits should be indexed to median wages, as superannuation is.

Ms Turei’s response to the latter drew the loudest cheers and applause of the forum, from many in the audience.

She does well in Dunedin candidate meetings, and the Knox forum tends to be very left leaning.

”I have staked my entire political career on improving the incomes for the most poor in this country.”

A stark staking this election.

On Facebook recently:

Back on the horse! You have all been an amazing support over the last weeks. Thank you.
Now I need your help to run a great campaign in Te Tai Tonga. We have just 5 weeks, whānau. So if you want to help me, I need volunteers and money – either is awesome.

To volunteer, just go to We need people to make phonecalls, knock on doors and come out to hui. There are events all over the rohe and I’d love to see your faces there!

If you don’t have much time, then consider sending a koha – every bit helps.
We will end poverty in Aotearoa, build a compassionate welfare system and restore our awa. That’s our mission!

So give your party vote to Greens to get my incredible team back into Parliament and give your electorate vote to the person who best represents you. If that’s me, I would be honoured.

Turei is getting support from outside her electorate campaign:


Will this be her last political fling, or will she win a historic Maori electorate for the Greens?

Maori electorates have tended to vote tactical more than others, but nothing out of the ordinary has happened in Te Tai Tonga. Until now?

It would be a loss to Parliament if Turei misses out.