Un­fair treat­ment is un­de­served

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Why is there an ‘‘ un­de­serv­ing poor’’?

Given how the Rugby World Cup is dom­i­nat­ing the news agenda, it was ei­ther brave or fool­hardy for the Child Poverty Ac­tion Group to re­lease its child poverty re­port on the first work­ing day af­ter the World Cup open­ing cer­e­mony.

The con­clu­sions of the re­port are dis­turb­ing. One in five New Zealand chil­dren live in poverty, with ef­fects on their health, ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment, and pro­duc­tiv­ity – to the point where early and ef­fec­tive in­ter­ven­tion could add $2 bil­lion to $4b to the na­tion’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct and up to $1b to New Zealand tax rev­enues.

More­over, it says, the sit­u­a­tion is be­ing per­pet­u­ated by the pol­icy em­pha­sis on paid work as the only ef­fec­tive way out of poverty.

But dur­ing a re­ces­sion, work op­por­tu­ni­ties com­pat­i­ble with good parenting prac­tices are few and far be­tween. Such an em­pha­sis, the re­port con­cluded, was there­fore bound to fail.

The re­ac­tion from So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Paula Ben­nett was hardly her finest hour. At first, she de­clined to com­ment, say­ing she hadn’t read the re­port – although it had been re­leased un­der em­bargo the day be­fore, pre­cisely to give the me­dia and politi­cians time to read the ex­ec­u­tive summary at least.

When Ben­nett fi­nally got around to com­ment­ing, she dis­missed the re­port as a po­lit­i­cal doc­u­ment and a re­hash of work the au­thors have done be­fore.

Child poverty? Yawn. She’d heard it all be­fore.

Just as pre­dictably, Labour leader Phil Goff sniped away at the Key Govern­ment’s re­luc­tance to raise the min­i­mum wage sig­nif­i­cantly, or to sup­port early child­care ed­u­ca­tion and ad­e­quate fund­ing for child­care.

In ad­di­tion, the Child Poverty Ac­tion Group re­port urged free child­care for all chil­dren un­der six and bet­ter fund­ing for lower decile schools.

Yet the re­port’s main rec­om­men­da­tion – that Work­ing for Fam­i­lies tax cred­its should be made avail­able to ben­e­fi­ciary fam­i­lies as well – is op­posed by Labour and National alike. In fact, it was the Clark Govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to of­fer its Work­ing for Fam­i­lies pro­gramme only to those fam­i­lies in paid work that first ra­tio­nalised a dis­crim­i­na­tion against ben­e­fi­ciary fam­i­lies, which the Key Govern­ment has been more than happy to per­pet­u­ate.

In that sense, Labour and National seem to be agreed about lend­ing a help­ing hand only to the chil­dren of the ‘‘de­serv­ing poor’’ (in other words, where par­ents are in paid work) while deny­ing the same as­sis­tance to the ap­par­ently un­de­serv­ing chil­dren whose fam­i­lies rely on ben­e­fits as their main source of in­come.

This dis­tinc­tion – as the Child Poverty Ac­tion Group ar­gues – is per­pet­u­at­ing ex­treme hard­ship among the very fam­i­lies most in need.

So long as Labour con­tin­ues to present it­self as the cham­pion of only that seg­ment of the poor who are in paid work, it can hardly be a con­vinc­ing op­po­nent of the next round of wel­fare re­form that National is promis­ing will be a hall­mark of its sec­ond term.

Re­gard­less, Labour does not seem will­ing to of­fer fam­ily tax cred­its to the tax­pay­ers re­ceiv­ing a ben­e­fit. This makes lit­tle sense.

Dur­ing boom times, ben­e­fi­ciary numbers de­cline sharply as peo­ple read­ily take up the work avail­able.

Un­der cur­rent eco­nomic con­di­tions, how­ever, to in­sist on dis­crim­i­nat­ing against ben­e­fi­ciary fam­i­lies seems wil­fully blind to the hard­ship cur­rently fac­ing many New Zealand par­ents, and their in­no­cent chil­dren.

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