Will the White Paper address child poverty?

Submissions on the Government’s Green Paper for Vulnerable Children close tomorrow. Today is your last chance to have your say, which you can do with relative ease online here.

To give credit where it’s due, I applaud the Government’s efforts to solicit submissions on the Green Paper. From its online and social media presence, to the series of public meetings Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has attended around the country, to the poster I saw on my Wellington commuter bus the other day urging me to “say something“, this has been one of the most effective efforts at consultation (in terms of getting the word out) I have seen this Government undertake.

Thanks to these efforts, thousands of submissions will now be winging their way to the Ministry of Social Development. I hope the rumour that a draft of the resulting White Paper has already been circulated is not true, because submitters will have a lot to say, and their views deserve to be taken seriously.

One unintended consequence of the Government’s efforts to foster engagement in the Green Paper process is that there is a widespread perception that the Green Paper is about how to address the issue of child poverty in New Zealand. When I was in Whangarei in January at the same time as the Minister, the local paper called it a “poverty roadshow.”

In fact, it is anything but, though it should be. As you’ll find if you click through to make a submission, there’s nothing in the Green Paper about addressing family incomes, or material hardship, or child poverty, or inequality, even though we know these things are major contributors to the high rates of child abuse and neglect that the paper seeks to address. This is a major shortcoming.

Instead, it’s focused on quite narrow responses to child abuse, like information-sharing between agencies and mandatory reporting. There might be some improvements to be made in how agencies share information – though there are privacy considerations – but mandatory reporting could be downright harmful if it puts families off accessing support for fear that they will be dobbed in. Many of the NGOs, social service providers and individuals I’ve been speaking to about the Green Paper in recent months share these concerns, and say they have robust information-sharing and reporting practices already.

Perhaps more importantly, many if not all of the people I have spoken to have indicated their intention to address the issues of poverty, material hardship, financial stress, poverty, and inequality in their submissions even though the Green Paper doesn’t ask for views on these issues, because they seem them as so fundamental to effectively tackling high rates of child abuse and neglect.

Still more will no doubt make submissions addressing these issues due to the widespread (and understandable) perception that these are what the Green Paper seeks to address.

My challenge to the Government is this: take these submissions seriously. You’ve made a mammoth effort at consultation, now listen to what the people have to say. If they ask you to address child poverty, if they say that family incomes and financial stress are major contributors to child abuse and neglect, if they ask you to address these things in the White Paper – then do it! You owe the children you’re trying to help that much.

I tried to secure a commitment from the Minister that such submissions would be taken into account in my first question in Parliament earlier in February.

Paula Bennett was away and Judith Collins answered on her behalf. Her answer was that the Minister “is also going to look at what the submissions actually say before she comes to a conclusion.”

Jacinda Ardern asked a similar question the following week, this time answered by Chester Borrows, who said: “We look forward to everyone engaging with this process and bringing his or her submissions to the table, including submissions around child poverty.”

I hope very much that what these acting Ministers have said on behalf of Paula Bennett is true, and we can look forward to a White Paper that addresses the root causes of child vulnerability – poverty and inequality.

11 Comments Posted

  1. nzmr2guy says “If youre in poverty, DONT HAVE KIDS YOU CANT AFFORD….simple !!.”

    Nail on the head.

    If you want to have a family, FIRST –
    1/ Work to get qualifications or experience that will get you a job that pays enough to support a family.
    2/ Work and save to get yourself into a secure financial position
    3/ Have a long term secure relationship that will survive the difficulties of raising a family.

    THEN have children.

    So many people do none of the above, but expect the poeple who do, to pay for their family as well via tax.

    We spend billions on taxpayer dollars supporting people who have children despite never woring themselves into a position where they could actually support them.

    But do we spend even a single dollar on trying to get people to do the right thing?

  2. nzmr2guy

    Sure WFF alone only ensures someone can provide for a family while renting. But for some two income couples and some one income couples it’s the difference between being able to afford the mortgage and not doing so.

    The only way to do more than WFF and parental leave, is to

    1. supplement the minimum wage level parental leave with a social wage/dole equivalent till the child is 1.
    2. pay the social wage to one (non working) parent of children under 5
    3. make non working parents with children over 5 eligible for the dole/work tested.

    (So each partner has equal rights to the dole when not working, we are in a two income cost world after all and one income for 2 adults is a form of poverty)

    To use a Laila Harre phrase these are the many “more good things” that were left undone when parental leave was brought in.

  3. SPC….WFF is a bloody joke, you cant goto a single income, raise a child and pay mortgage, power, food etc even with WFF, it just doesnt work.

    @Janine, its a known fact that troubled children are more predominant in lower income families (drug, alcohol, crime, teenage pregnancy, unemployment) all higher.

    and Yes middle class and rich people can lose jobs, but there is no support there for them, and thats why many are choosing not to have kids and leave it to the poor unemployed people to do, thus feeding the cycle.

    Pfft empathy, ive got more than all of you put together, I have a child that I raise and pay for with my own money, I help my parents financially and adopt unwanted pets from the SPCA, im overflowing with empathy.

    My empathy ends with drop kicks who want a free ride in life and expect others to pick up the tab…oh and liberalist greenies…empathy level = zero, hate factor = 10.

  4. How can you remove the child from child poverty? Do the Herod thing? Does no-one on your little middle-class planet lose a job, get sick, make a mistake? Who said middle-class people (whatever they are) have a better standard of child? A child is a child, not a designer object for the rich. Actually, it isn’t worth discussing this with you as you appear to have no empathy with other people at all, let alone children.

  5. Ive said it once and ill say it again, remove the child from the equation then you at least solve child poverty.

    If youre in poverty, DONT HAVE KIDS YOU CANT AFFORD….simple !!.

    Fact is the middle class and rich people have better standard of kids anyway, if youre gonna help someone how about helping the middle class financially for those first 12 months so they choose to have kids, you know the people paying off mortgages who have careers.

    We need to encourage the DINKS (double income no kids) to breed.

  6. As to inequality and child poverty, there is a link – once inequality grows and establishes itself, as it has, it becomes a political issue. Then politics gets in the way of addressing child poverty.

    Those who justify inequality as necessary for there to be the right incentives, move onto saying that we should not help children out of poverty as this requires “dependency” on the state/public/taxpayer. This is related to their argument that adequate benefit payments (above subsistence levels) would encourage “dependency”.

    Yet the same economic system that allows inequality to flourish (and thus divides us), is premised on local labour being priced out of productive jobs. And thus it is this that creates the income dependency, not the provision of welfare.

  7. Just like the terms of reference for submissions on welfare reform – that excluded addressing poverty, the same thing is occuring here, while this adderesses the issue of abuse – it again excludes any focus on child poverty itself.

    We know healthy homes (compulsory insulation of rentals would help) and food in poor area schools would alleviate poverty and yet it is not government policy – nor it is it Labour policy either.

    No wonder we have failed to address child poverty for 20 years now.

  8. Actually, according to current research, it does matter. Poverty is relative within a society, not across the globe, and the bigger the gap between the top and bottom, the bigger the social problems in that society.

  9. What makes child poverty is poverty – not “inequality”. It doesn’t matter if there are billionaires out there if the bottom level can still sleep and eat well.

  10. I may be cynical but I view the enthusiasm behind the consultation to be more related to delaying immediate action than a determination to act on the input. I guess we can only wait and see, but as so many of our children are already in need of immediate support, I’m not holding my breath.

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