Political parties continue to pay little more than lip service to the severe problems of child poverty in New Zealand. One in four children in this country are living below the poverty line according to a new report from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). The report, Left Further Behind: How policies fail the poorest children in New Zealand (pdf), is an important document but its recommendations are unlikely to be picked up by political parties. Already it appears that Labour and Greens are picking and choosing elements of the report to highlight and use as an ‘endorsement’ of their own policies, but this has the appearance of cynical electioneering when those parties ignore the other findings.
The Child Poverty Action Group clearly feels the National government has done nothing to ameliorate the growing crisis of child poverty. But perhaps the parties of the right are not CPAG’s main targets. National and Act are not disposed toward the type of political solutions that CPAG is pushing.
It’s more likely that CPAG want to pressure left wing voters to demand that the parties that they vote for are willing to implement solutions to child poverty. In recent years, the issue of poverty has been severely neglected on the left and CPAG clearly points the finger at previous governments for the state we’re in. There is research to show that in fact successive governments have ignored the plight of the poorest children in this country – particularly the children of beneficiaries who are excluded from Working for Families.
So, yes, National needs to be held to account for the state of child poverty under its watch.
But so does Labour and other political parties. And it’s not just about looking to the past – but also their current policies.
So the next time that a Labour MP electioneers on the basis of increasing inequality and child poverty they need to be asked hard questions about their own continued support for policy settings that contribute to that. For example, when does Labour plan to restore benefit levels to pre-1991 levels or extend family tax credits to those receiving a benefit?
Or why does the Green Party support retaining GST at the new 15% rate? And when will the Greens and Labour support CPAG’s call for 24/7 free healthcare for those under 6?
It also seems that many people have strong feelings that adult beneficiaries need to be forced, motivated or given incentives to get into work and that means not having them too comfortable on benefits. CPAG’s point is that regardless of whether it is morally defensible or even economically sensible to be punishing those not in work, it is a whole another issue to punish the children of beneficiaries who have no part in such decisions and who most suffer the consequences of poverty in their homes.
One of the problems is that because wage levels are so low in New Zealand increasing the incomes of beneficiaries with children effectively becomes a disincentive to go into work. The answer put forward by Paula Bennett and National is to keep benefit levels low and provide top-ups or targeted assessments like food cards and so on.
The other option, of course, which this government is certainly not looking to do, is to increase low wages so that there is a gap in which beneficiary incomes can be increased without creating disincentives to work. After all, a large number of the poor in New Zealand are actually in paid work. It might be part-time work or working two or three jobs, but there is no doubt that $13 an hour for the minimum wage it is not enough for many families to pay their way and provide the basics of life.
To change this would require a much stronger focus on producing full employment, which is the subject of this year’s Bruce Jesson Lecture which will be given by Prof Paul Dalziel on October 26 at the Maidment Theatre, University of Auckland – see: Political Studies Department and the Bruce Jesson Foundation 2011 Bruce Jesson Lecture: Recreating Full Employment
Other interesting items today include the following. Phil Quin asks Are party blogs useful?
, and answers this by saying that political party run-blogs, such as Labour’s Red Alert, are hopeless at actually persuading voters. And while such propaganda devices do a have place, parties should stop treating them as vehicle for press releases.
Longtime Press journalist Peter Luke is retiring, and he reflects on his years as a parliamentary gallery and leader-writer in Finding truth in shades of grey
. Of particular interest is his list of the MPs that he most respected: Michael Cullen (‘the wittiest and smartest’), Jim Bolger (‘the most under-estimated prime minister’), Rod Donald (his ability to combine green politics with pragmatism), Jim Anderton (‘one of the hardest politicians to interview… But in the years of Rogernomics he had the courage of his convictions’), and Mike Moore (‘Mike told me I would be free to use his office, against the rules, for a smoke’).
The Margaret Mutu saga continues to roll on, partly because she’s raised questions about issues that are still very much alive in electoral politics despite parliamentarians speaking less about them. Recent items of interest include Anger building over 'racist' call
and John Tamihere’s opinion piece, Mutu doesn't speak for me
Finally, Gordon Campbell has just published a very thoughtful article entitled Too Old To Vote?
Audio-visual coverage of child poverty
Rugby World Cup - politics
Rugby World Cup – opening shambles
Audio-visual coverage of Rugby World Cup politics
Christchurch earthquake rebuild
Margaret Mutu and race