How to take the politics out of ?Child Poverty? and actually end up helping those that need it

Governments don’t like committing to anything they’re not sure they can achieve, and that can be counted.

That’s why Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft isn’t going to get the political consensus he has asked for.

Becroft wants the government and the opposition to agree on a formula for working out how many children are living in poverty, and then commit to reducing that number by five per cent to 10 per cent a year.

“The debate is bedevilled by cross-talking,” said Becroft.

“If only we could agree on a rate, then we could set a target – we need some doable, agreed policies.”

Becroft favours a formula called the material deprivation rate.

As he explains it, there are 17 criteria and if children are in families with more than six of those, they’re materially deprived.

Using that formula, he puts the number of children living in poverty at 149,000.

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister John Key doesn’t think that having “one single measure of poverty” is a good way of looking at the issue.

“My much stronger preference is to worry about the individual children rather than saying the number is x or y – you can have that debate all you like but I don’t think it achieves much,” he said.

It was in this context that Key used his unfortunate comment about it being easier to count rats than children in poverty, and said the government typically relies on a figure of 60,000 to 100,000 children suffering pronounced levels of deprivation.

He’s been roundly condemned by Labour, even accused of cowardice, for declining Becroft’s challenge.

Labour leader Andrew Little says he does accept the challenge, but then it’s always easier for parties in opposition to say what they’ll achieve if voters just give them the chance.

He accepts Becroft’s 149,000 figure, although he says it’s far less than Labour’s estimates.

“Labour will work with any party that is committed to ending child poverty,” said Little.

If we’re going to ‘end’ it, we first need to define what it is.

And 60% of the Median wage isn’t good enough.

Neither is “material deprivation” where one of the parents don’t live with the children, or children share a bedroom. ?(Among other rather relaxed measures)

The problem here is that every time the left whines about Child Poverty, they over-egg the pudding. ?As a result, we show how bloody thick they are, and kill their arguments dead.

But the victims are the kids who are actually in need of help.

There may be kids that have mum and dad and their own bedroom but are actually in poverty, while other kids that are bunking with siblings and living with mum are just fine.

There is very little true poverty in New Zealand that isn’t to some degree self inflicted through bad management, drugs and serious mental health issues. ?But it would be good to address those all the same.

Whining about kids sharing a bedroom that don’t have broadband Internet coming to their home simply isn’t doing those that really need help any favours. ?As far as that is concerned, the Greens and Labour are more interested in having a growing large number to quote instead of actually dealing with the ten or twenty thousand that truly do need help.

As it stands right now, they are getting lost in the noise.


Peter Wilson, RNZ