More growth – or more redistribution. These are the two main themes offered into the child poverty debate by parties across the political spectrum in New Zealand. Both are necessary to some degree. However both will also fall well short of making a significant and sustainable difference to poverty in our nation.
The reason is that both approaches are economics based – but what has driven the increase in poverty in New Zealand over the last 40 years is not related to economics. Over that time we have had governments with both centre-right and centre-left economic programmes. Poverty remains.
If economic growth was the answer then we would expect to see real progress. In 1997 our annual GDP was $94billion. Today it is $230billion. The economic cake has grown. Poverty remains.
If redistribution was the answer we would also expect to see progress. The size of the cake pieces being shared have grown with a major expansion in spending on public services. In 1997 we spent $5billion on public health. This year we will spend $14billion. Annual education spending was $5billion and is now $12billion. Social welfare was $12billlion and is now $22billion every year.
Even allowing for inflation and population growth, all the above figures show a significant increase in real GPD and public spending per capita. And yet poverty remains and indeed has become entrenched.
Economic prescriptions of whatever colour are clearly not going to solve this issue.
As it happens in 1997 we were having a national conversation on poverty. At the time I contributed to the debate via the New Zealand Herald – Poverty – it’s not a lack of jobs, it’s a lack of fathers. Sadly, 17 years on the analysis remains relevant. It will remain relevant in another 17 years unless our leaders have started the process of rebuilding family life in New Zealand.
And that is not about economics – it’s about values.
I agree with your analysis Ewan – yet think you are too even handed with regard to the political left and right. The left have blatant anti-family ideals, ie gay marriage, the right pay the family some respect, but in manners of family reform policies (ie, alcohol issues) are curiously quiet.
I wrote this letter to the Listener nearly 2 weeks ago and it seems to have been rejected. But the focus must inevitably/ultimately come back to core stable family policies.
“There is a tedious arrogance among many left wing voters. The left have successfully hijacked the word “progressive”, and like to think that they alone are a “progressive” political movement. The left claim to be politically and socially “aware” (the rest of us just wander round in a self-absorbed daze). The left and only the left, are the ones with a “social conscience” and a deep concern for “social justice” . And as last week’s letter writers claim, they alone care about low wages and poverty (and of course they alone have the remedy for the problem).
Last week’s letter from Christopher Leaning takes it all a little further. Mr Leaning feels that those who didn’t vote as he did are ruled by mean and uncaring hearts, are uncharitably narrow minded and indeed are selfish and morally reprehensible.
To be fair to Mr Leaning and other left wing voters, some National Party voters (and I’m one) do also have some extreme ideas. They feel that the left rather like to put more people on welfare – because they then create a growing pool of compliant voters. In addition to that, they feel that inter-generational social welfare dependency is little more than slavery. Some right wing voters also detect in left wing circles a desire to fragment and weaken the family unit so as to cause further dependency on the State. Some of them even feel that the Greens are simply old fashioned socialists masquerading their radical socialism behind an environmental concern !
Aren’t we lucky then that we have the safeguard of a Parliamentary democracy to help blunt the sharp edges of political extremism ? But of course for a democracy to continue to work properly we need to have a credible opposition with the ability to engage with the voting public without alienating them, and with policies that will help to stabilise and protect the family unit, and reduce welfare dependency.
Whoops ! Something’s gone missing in the democracy equation. I wonder if the politically aware can work out what it is ?”
More power to your pen Ewan.
Perhaps I am a little too even-handed. However I think over the last few decades both Labour and National have ignored the social impact of the liberal/permissive culture that both have been guilty of promoting. Labour definitely more so – but National too has been part of this journey.
I too agree with your analysis both Ewen and Mobfiz especially about the relevance of the family with a mother and a father. However, I don’t believe we have child poverty as such in this country. From my observation it is child neglect, not child poverty. There are plenty of people who struggle to make ends meet yet they still manage to feed their children and care for them properly. Those who don’t can often been seen down at the local pub, playing pokies, dealing in drugs, smoking etc and they will usually have mobile phones, flat screen TVs and the like. They just don’t care about their children and see them as a means to gain even more benefit from the taxpayer. Also, if they can’t feed their children why on earth do they keep on having even more?
No benefit should be paid to anyone under a certain age who has children, say 21 years. We seem to be encouraging the life style option of children having children instead of working for a wage and providing for themselves. Also whilst on a benefit no extra money should be paid for children born at this time. This would discourage the rorting of the system where they believe having more children, means more money!!. People should be encouraged to get a good education, aspire to do well, be self sufficient and work hard.
You are probably right on many points. However there are many single parent families doing the right thing and still struggling through no fault of their own. Personally I think our focus should be on the leaders who have allowed the casualised relationship culture to flourish instead of upholding marriage and commitment. That is what has created the fatherless poor in our country. Individuals don’t make their choices in a vacuum. Choices are influenced and moulded by culture – and our leaders in media, politics, education and business are the ones who have led our relationship culture down this dead end street. They are the ones who need to be held to account for the “invention of permanent poverty” as UK academic Norman Denis called it.