The Dominion Post reports this morning about children’s charity Variety’s new Kiwi Kid sponsorship initiative. For around $35 a month, donors can “sponsor” a New Zealand child living below the poverty line. The donations go towards things like school trips, doctor’s visits, books, and prescriptions.
Variety is not the first charity to offer a “sponsor a child” scheme in New Zealand – KidsCan have offered a $15/month sponsorship scheme for several years now, which provides food at school for a year, a waterproof raincoat, a pair of shoes, two pairs of socks, and basic hygiene items for each sponsored child.
In addition, private companies like Fonterra have also seen the need for action on child poverty and stepped in to provide Milk For Schools, starting with a pilot in Northland that will soon be extended around the country. While there are issues with this scheme (with reports that kids don’t like the taste of the UHT milk, and not all the waste is recyclable), there is no doubt that it is filling a very real need.
What does it say about our values as a country that we have allowed things to get this bad? Why should charities and even big corporates have to step in to provide the most basic necessities for our children?
There’s no doubt that these schemes will be a welcome relief to many families struggling to make ends meet and give their kids what they need. But it will probably also feel pretty rubbish for those parents knowing that they need private sponsorship just to ensure their kids get to go on school trips and visit the doctor. And, if not managed carefully, there could be significant stigma attached to being a “sponsored” child which would only compound the challenges these children face.
I would much prefer to live in a New Zealand where there was a social and political consensus that the state guarantees that every child has the essentials for a good start in life. When we can do that, we guarantee them the opportunity to grow up to make a great contribution, even from the most challenging circumstances.
That means ensuring a living wage for working parents and adequate support for those not in paid work, ensuring there are affordable, healthy homes for families to live in, whether they are renting or buying (on that score, check out our new housing proposals!), and working to close the widening gap between rich and poor. The investment in these policies would be recouped a thousand times over in the savings we would make in the health, education, and justice budgets from having healthy, happy children grow up into constructive, productive adults. It’s a no-brainer.
So yes, it’s good that Variety, KidsCan, and others have stepped in to fill the yawning chasm of child poverty that too many of our kids are falling into. But let’s take this as a challenge and demand governments that will eradicate the need for such schemes by guaranteeing the essentials for all our kids – not just those lucky enough to get a sponsor.