Becroft’s target is a reasonable one

Stuff reports:

Cut the 150,000 children living in poverty by 10 per cent by the end of next year?

It’s a target the new Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft wants the Government to back but Prime Minister John Key won’t put that number on it.

Key told RNZ on Monday that he wasn’t “rejecting” Becroft – someone the Prime Minister says is doing a good job and was appointed for his skill set – but disputes that a number and a target can be put on .

“We’re very focused on reducing that number. We don’t have one agreed measure…let’s accept (Becroft’s) measure then my point would simply be that I can’t tell you today exactly what it would take to get a five or 10 per cent reduction,” Key said.

“My point is simply…it’s difficult to just have one measure.”

There are many different measures of poverty. Most of them are in fact measures of income inequality not poverty. They would be very stupid measures to target as you could achieve them by having a recession where poor people have a 10% drop in income and wealthy people at 20% drop.

But Becroft has chosen a sensible measure:

He wants to use the material deprivation index that has 17 indicators and when a child meets at least six they’re considered to be suffering severe hardship.

This is the measure the Government should focus on. Not a measure of envy and jealousy, but a measure of children not actually having some of the basics such as:

  • two pairs of shoes in good repair and suitable for everyday use
  • meal with meat, fish or chicken (or vegetarian equivalent) at least each 2nd day
  • home contents insurance
  • put up with feeling cold to save on heating costs
  • postponed visits to the doctor
  • in arrears on rates, electricity, water
  • borrowed money from family or friends more than once in the last 12 months to cover everyday living costs

I think the Government should be focusing on reducing the number of families in these situations. I do not think they should be focusing on reducing income inequality (a much better focus is social mobility).

Now the Government is probably nervous about such a target, as they can’t control many of the variables. Some (not all or even most) of those families who are in deprivation will be there because of decisions they have made – having further children, spending on non-essentials, parents involved in crime etc. Simply (for example) doubling the incomes of lower income families will not necessarily lead to no families in deprivation.

But the Government has been brave with other BPS targets such as reducing the reoffending rate. That is also an outcome which the Government can only influence but not control.

So I think Becroft’s proposal has some merit. It would focus on families in actual deprivation, not just measures of envy.

I’d possibly look at a measure that also takes into account social mobility (the fact that some poorer families become wealthier and some wealthier families become poorer) so would propose maybe a measure along the lines of:

That the number of families with children who have at least six of the 17 deprivation measures for a period of three years reduces by 10%.

If the Government doesn’t adopt such a target, then maybe other political parties will. I’d love to see political parties not just make promises about spending (inputs) but point to actual outcomes or targets they pledge to achieve.

The goals or targets the Government has are:

  1. reduce working age benefit numbers by 25% to 220,000 from 295,000 as at June 2014, and an accumulated actuarial release of $13 billion by June 2018
  2. In 2016, 98% of children starting school will have participated in quality early childhood education.
  3. Increase infant immunisation rates to 98% and reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever by two thirds
  4. By 2017, halt the 10-year rise in children experiencing physical abuse and reduce 2011 numbers by five per cent.
  5. Increase the proportion of 18-year-olds with NCEA level 2 or equivalent qualification. to 85%
  6. Increase the proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds with advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees (at level 4 or above) to 60%
  7. reduce the crime rate by 20% by 2018, violent crime rate by 20% and youth crime by 25%
  8. Reduce reoffending by 25%
  9. Business costs (effort) from dealing with government will reduce by 25% by 2017, through a year-on-year reduction in effort required to work with agencies and Government services to business will have similar key performance ratings as leading private sector firms by July 2017.
  10. An average of 70 per cent of New Zealanders’ most common transactions with government will be completed in a digital environment by 2017.

What I hope Labour, Greens and NZ First will all do next year is announce their own set of say 10 targets that they wish to achieve, so if they gain Government they can be judged against them.

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