After eight years of Labour in government how much longer will it take? How much of the economic good times do we need? How many more years before our children can crawl out from under the slag heap?
These are the questions that should have been put to Associate Minister of Social Security and Employment Ruth Dyson last week when the Child Poverty Action Group released its report revealing 180,000 of our children living in poverty.
Instead, the minister simply said the Government had already done a great deal by lifting more than 100,000 children out of poverty through Working For Families but they appreciated more needed to be done. She said she respected the report and its authors and the Government would need time to consider the recommendations. End of story. It was out of the news within 24 hours with no hard questions. The minister got away with just a few comments to assure us the Government was concerned about poverty. And there will be some moves in the Budget but they will amount to nothing more than tinkering at the edges of the issue.
The truth is that Labour has no intention of lifting these children out of poverty because these 180,000 kids are the children of beneficiaries. The Government counts on the lazy prejudices in the community to keep pressure off itself and keep these children in poverty.
It is well understood that for the past eight years Labour has maintained benefits at the grim levels of the benefit cuts of National’s Ruth Richardson in her 1991 mother of all budgets. But beneficiaries and their children miss out at every stage.
The Working For Families package has lifted many families of the working poor out of poverty but the children of beneficiaries get just a few crumbs.
Instead, middle and even high-income families receive a whole lot more for their children.
Putting it bluntly, Labour prefers to give a 10 per cent cut in business tax rates than lift these children out of poverty. Labour prefers to plan tax-cut handouts to benefit working families than lift these children out of poverty. Labour prefers to allow massive repatriation of profits from the likes of Telecom than lift these children out of poverty. Labour prefers to give generous Kiwisaver tax handouts to middle and high-income earners than lift these children out of poverty. And on and on it goes.
Labour has unofficially designated the children of beneficiaries as the undeserving poor. These kids might get an extra half ladle of gruel in the Budget but like Oliver Twist they will get no more.
The same Labour politicians who hammered National Party governments throughout the 1990s as uncaring and uncompassionate are now wearing the same clothes.
The CPAG report packs a lot of punch. It’s a heavyweight challenge to whoever is in power. Its detailed, thorough analysis explodes the usual anecdotal myths about poverty and sheets the responsibility home to the policymakers.
The links between poverty, poor housing, poor health, educational underachievement and general social deprivation are starkly presented in the report.
Paediatrician Dr Innes Asher who spoke at the report launch was irate. She gets angry at seeing children brought to Starship Children’s Hospital with diseases and infections we usually associate with poverty in the Third World. Here in this rich country of ours, kids are as sick as the government policies which keep them ill.
The effects of poverty cycle on through education. The long tail of underachievement in our schools is the long tail of poverty. Despite this, the Ministry of Education focuses on changing teacher attitudes and introducing personalised learning as the solutions to under achievement. Even today, the Minister of Education, Chris Carter, trots out the meaningless mantra that the differences within schools are greater than the differences between schools. He believes poverty is a side issue and it’s important for the Government to believe this myth because any other interpretation would force dramatic changes in policy.
Instead, Labour has made a conscious, deliberate decision to sacrifice the children of beneficiaries in favour of what Don Brash would have called middle New Zealand.
Interestingly, the CPAG report launch was attended by the National Party’s flinty social welfare spokeswoman, Judith Collins, who listened silently through the presentations. It could be that National, in its attempts to brand itself as compassionate and caring, will develop some policies to outflank Labour on the Left. They have done so several times recently on other issues such as their decision to invest heavily in broadband. They could hardly do worse than Labour in supporting the children of beneficiaries.