Another academic tells Judith Collins she’s wrong

Dr Elizabeth Stanley is the director of the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington. ?She’s been compelled to stick her oar into the debate:

Police Minister Judith Collins faced a barrage of criticism recently for her dismissal of poverty as a “driver” of crime. For the minister, crime problems are “primarily” linked to “a lack of responsibility” among parents.

Responsibilisation has become a dominant feature of the Government’s approach to significant social problems.

Can’t afford housing in the place you and your children were born? Solution: move to another island and start over.

Struggling to cover weekly basic necessities on a poorly paid full-time job? Solution: enhance your “flexible working” with different employers or take out a Government loan.

And the alternative is? ?Give them more money? ?If we could spend ourselves out of poverty and crime, we would have done so already. ?In fact, during most Labour governments, spending goes up in these areas, with no noticeable difference in these kinds of problems.

…our best research repeatedly tells us that other crimes, including family violence or youth crime, are linked to poverty and inequalities.

The crimes we label, police, control and punish tend to be committed by those who endure significant economic disadvantage. In New Zealand, this has a further layer, as Maori suffer multiple levels of marginalisation.

Certain populations are made more responsible than others: Maori children and young people are four to five times more likely to be apprehended by the police than non-Maori. Over 60 per cent of female prisoners are Maori.

Like our poverty rates, these realities have become an unremarkable part of New Zealand life. And, like poverty, we regard these outcomes as the primary result of individual, whanau or cultural deficits. Yet, they have their roots in poverty and disadvantage.

Our current talk on responsibilisation insists those communities with the highest levels of poverty have to deliver solutions for their “risks”.

But the real solutions for poverty and all its attendant problems – poor health (including obesity), insecure housing, family stress, mental health problems, limited educational achievements, some offences – will come from the “top down”. In this respect, we might encourage the Government to step up and take responsibility.

Many options are already on the table – social assistance reforms, reconfigurations of child supports, increased social housing, the development of liveable wages. There is no “poverty of ideas”. Rather, the political challenge seems to lie in the “poverty of responsibility, the poverty of caring”.

To suggest that I will start beating my kids, robbing the local petrol station or start a P lab when I am sufficiently destitute is rather fanciful. ? The Prof seems to infer that lack of money, resources and hope turns people to crime.

People who haven’t “researched” this area know that lack of money doesn’t turn you into a criminal, a wife beater or a rapist. ?It simply exposes or amplifies inherent behaviour that those scumbags already have.

Yes, there is a link between low socioeconomic status and crime. ?But to suggest causation is fanciful.

As?for combating this problem, the government is working at both ends. ?It is getting people into work. It is getting people off the downward welfare dependency spiral. ?And for horses that refuse to drink after being led to water, the government is increasing police and prison capacity.

Personal responsibility comes into it at some point.

For the Professor to say that research shows that being a blight on society by and large not the fault of those that are being a drain on public money and resources, but in fact a product of it, doesn’t pass the sniff test. ?Unless you are sniffing a nice chardonnay from the luxury of the academic ivory tower.


– NZ Herald