Child Poverty

January 8th, 2012 at 2:44 pm by David Farrar

Judy Callingham blogs:

Today  the Herald published a story lamenting the extra cost of local, free-range and organic foods, the very foods we’re being encouraged to buy and eat.  They estimate that the clean, green Kiwi options cost us on average 25% more. For people on a limited budget, that isn’t an option at all.

Indeed. So worth remembering that when people call for certain types of food (battery hen eggs, intensive pig farming) to be banned, the result hits the poorest in society the most.

The Taranaki Daily News got closer to the heart of the problem with a story headlined ‘Free food draws poor kids to class’.  It quotes principals from Taranaki schools who say that some of their students rely on their school to provide breakfast and even lunch, just to survive.

Poverty in New Zealand is a problem we often conveniently ignore, preferring to see our country as a land of milk and honey.  Unfortunately, milk and honey are off the menu for hundreds of thousands of Kiwis. More than 200,000 of our kids are living below the poverty line; over 48,000 of them go to school without breakfast. 

The poverty line is of course the relative poverty line. As the median income increases, the poverty line increases. A family may have their income increase more than the cost of living increase, but still fall below the poverty line because other people’s income has increased even further.

A relative poverty line is normally 50% or 60% of the median wage. I tend to think this is not that useful a measure of poverty – it is more a measure of income inequality – and they are not the same thing.

I find the most useful measure is the four-yearly Living Standards Survey by MSD. It actually asks a representative sample of 5,000 households questions such as whether they have stuff such as phones, cars, contents insurance, enough space, a computer, warm clothes, proper meals etc and whether they would like to have them if they could afford them. This measures actual deprivation over 42 criteria. They also ask if people do various things to save money such not filling prescriptions to save money, buying second hand clothing etc. It is (in my opinion) a far more sophisticated measure of families suffering deprivation due to low income, than merely comparing household income to the median household income.

This is a disgrace. No child in this country should go hungry. No New Zealand child should be cold or ill-clothed or living in an unhealthy or overcrowded house.  No child should be denied an education just because learning is too hard when you arrive at school cold, wet and hungry – if you get there at all.

I agree no child should go to school hungry. However the reasons why more children are going to school hungry is more complex than just assuming it is because they can’t afford it. Even using Judy’s figures, 3/4 of those with incomes below the poverty line do send their kids to school fed. So how do they manage to do so, yet not other families?

Over the last 20 years, the welfare state has given more money to those on welfare who have children. I don’t have exact data (yet), but the level of support has increased beyond inflation.

The government has prioritised a number of policies to stimulate the economy in an effort to get us out of the current recession. None of these policies, to my mind, tackles head-on the most urgent task of all – eliminating ‘child poverty’.

This should be the number one priority. Nothing is more important. Nothing is going to stimulate the economy better in the long run than having our kids grow up healthy and well educated.  It’s a damn sight more important than ultra-fast broadband and super-highways.

Without an growing economy, then we do not generate sufficient tax revenue to help lower income families.

So long as child poverty is based on the flawed relative to the median income measure, we will never “eliminate it” unless we wish to have an economy such as those of the old eastern bloc where doctors could only be paid so much more than parking wardens.

What we can do is use the more sophisticated measures of deprivation, such as the living standards survey and set out to reduce certain indicators within it (such as the proportion of families who say they miss certain meals because they can’t afford it).

‘Child poverty’  is a misleading term. It implies that the only people affected are the children.  But every child living in poverty is part of a household that is also living in poverty.  Whether that’s the result of generations of welfare dependency or a lack of jobs is not the issue.  The issue is how to break the cycle and get these kids into a situation where we can be confident they have a better future – by giving them a better present.

Breaking the cycle is the key. The problem is that it is a problem often that takes a generation or more to fix, as income is merely part of the problem. Education, child abuse, parenting skills are all part of a very challenging mix.

Cultural differences

November 16th, 2011 at 12:40 pm by David Farrar

Judy Callingham blogs this photo as an example of the cultural differences at the Toronto G20 🙂

Key’s formula

September 12th, 2009 at 2:48 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes in the Dom Post:

If they could bottle what John Key’s got and sell it, National would make a killing.

It might be a seemingly innocuous brew of good humour and affability, rather than the traditionally more coveted mix of charisma and skilled oratory, but it clearly works.

I’m going to return back to what Tracy wrote, but want to cut over to another story that I think is a superb example of what Tracy is on about. It is this one about firefighters protesting outside the opening of a new fire station by the Prime Minister, over their pay claim.

Now this is the sort of issue that would normally prompt a discussion in the PMs Office and the PM. You will be worried about the negative message getting in the way of the positive message about funding a new fire station.

Now I can say with some certainty that the way previous National PMs would have handled the situation is to have the Minister of Internal Affairs do a press release and briefing the day before the briefing setting out how the Firefighters Union is misleading over their pay claims, and that with their various allowance they rake in $70,000 and spend so much of their time sleeping on standby, most can easily do a second job, and that their total pay per hour actually spent working is well over $50 an hour. This would then put the pressure on the union and protesters to respond, and take the heat off the PM.

Again with some confidence I can say former Labour PMs would handle it very similarly. The key difference would be that they wouldn’t have the Internal Affairs Minister release the information publicly, as they don’t like to be seen crapping on the unions that fund them. Instead a press secretary would give the relevant information to a journalist, and they would rely on the rest of the media picking up the story.

So what did John Key do:

The firefighters, in their yellow protective clothing, waved placards, chanted and pressed themselves against the station’s glass roller doors as Mr Key spoke.

After the opening, he went outside and addressed them through a megaphone.

He insisted he had not yet received a recommendation on wage rises from the Fire Service.

“All we’re saying to you guys is we’re living in a backdrop where a hell of a lot of people are losing their job, where the Government is running big deficits and where we’ve all got to be reasonable.”

Mr Key said that if insurance levies, which pay the Fire Service’s wages, went up then more pressure would be placed on taxpayers, already struggling with the recession.

“At the end of the day what we’re trying to do is make sure there isn’t huge pressure on a lot of people that are losing their jobs,” he said.

Union spokesman Boyd Raines said Mr Key’s response was “fairly predictable in terms of the Nats’ party line”.


However, Mr Raines added: “It was good to see that he actually had the balls to come out and actually front up to the crowd.”

And quite a few of the protesters would have said the same thing. Don’t get me wrong – they are not going to suddenly convert to National because of what Key did. But they will say, “Hey at least he did us the decency of listening to us, and talking to us- rather than just attack us”.

And this is what is a strength of Key’s. He comes across as so reasonable. Apart from some of the authors of The Standard (and some of the commenters on this blog!), most people can see that and respond to that. They think he’s a nice talented guy, who tries to reasonably engage with everyone – even those who are there to protest against him.

So back to what Tracy said:

This is what has Labour strategists scratching their heads. As the party heads into its annual conference in Rotorua this weekend, it faces the same dilemma National once faced: when your opponent’s most potent weapon is its leader, is an old-fashioned contest of ideas going to be enough?

Maybe it’s that “what you see is what you get” quality to Mr Key’s leadership that strikes a chord with voters. It is hard to find artifice in a man who makes verbal gaffes, has a nice line in self-deprecating humour, talks about his kids a lot and has never worried too much about looking statesmanlike.

Again, one could imagine it easy to have someone advising the PM that whatever you do don’t pick up a megaphone and talk to the protesters. The arguments would be that it is undignified, it puts you on their level, it might look bad on the news etc etc. But he doesn’t worry about that very much.

Politicians have never underestimated the power of a friendly smile and an open and engaging face. Helen Clark crawled out from under the ignominy of dismal poll ratings as Opposition leader by smiling more and softening her voice under the tutelage of Brian Edwards and Judy Callingham. The remarkable thing is that she even had to be taught; in a more relaxed setting, Miss Clark loves nothing more than a good laugh, and does so boisterously and often. But she almost had to unlearn years of political training to unlock the person within and even then never managed to drop the shield completely.

Of course, spin doctoring can only go so far and, in the wrong hands, a politician’s smile can be an unmitigated disaster. Take British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He cemented his unpopularity only after an attempt to connect with voters by smiling scarily and at random through an infamous YouTube clip.

Simon Hoggart, in The Guardian, likened it to “the smile a 50-year-old man might use on the parents of the 23-year-old woman he is dating, in a doomed attempt to reassure them”. Even Mr Brown’s own colleagues could not hold back from poking fun at him.

Ha that is a great analogy.