Child Poverty: Labour on track
Sad to say, these are the headlines that have been commonplace in our newspapers for the last few years,
National’s response to this obscene -but preventable - crisis has been,
- to “reform welfare” (as if welfare needed “reform – which it does not)
- implement purchase cards to prevent 16 and 17 year old beneficiaries from buying booze and ‘baccy (despite the law already preventing retailers from selling these items to young people)
- paint unemployed and solo-mums (but never solo dads) as lazy; drug-addicts; criminals; kidnappers, etc.
Even National’s election pledge last year, to create 170,000 new jobs is drowning in a wave of ongoing redundancies, day after day,
- ANZ; 1,000 redundancies
- Hakes Marine; 15 redundancies
- Telecom; 400 redundancies
- Brightwater Engineering; 40 redundancies
- Pernod Ricard New Zealand; 13 redundancies
- Depart of Corrections; 130 redundancies
- Summit Wool Spinners; 80 redundancies
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; 80 redundancies
- Cavalier/Norman Ellison Carpets; 70 redundancies
- IRD; 51 redundancies
- Flotech; 70 redundancies
- NZ Police; 125 redundancies
- CRI Plant and Food; 25 redundancies
- Te Papa; 16 redundancies (?)
- PrimePort Timaru; 30 redundancies
- Kiwirail; 220 redundancies
- Fisher & Paykel; 29 redundancies
- Goulds Fine Foods; 60 redundancies
- Canterbury University; 150 redundancies (over three years)
- Solid Energy; 363 redundancies
- Tiwai Pt aluminium smelter; 100 redundancies
- Norske Skog; redundancy numbers t.b.a.
- Goodman Fielder; redundancy numbers t.b.a.
- Dunedin City Council/Delta: 30 redundancies
Quite simply, National is struggling to address any of the inter-connected socio-economic problems currently besetting our country.
Why? Because National is trapped in an ideological paradigm of its own making.
National is heavily reliant on The Market delivering jobs – not central government – as John Key and his Party has maintained over the years,
“Nothing creates jobs and boosts incomes better than business growth. For New Zealand to build a more productive and competitive economy, we need more innovative companies out there selling their products on the world stage.”
Key may have a point. Sort of.
In good times, when the economy is strong, it is mostly business growth that delivers job growth. The two go together, hand in hand, as they did in the early 2000s,
But in bad times, when the economy falters and stagnates, it is the role of central government to step in and take up the slack. It is central government that can implement policies to keep people employed; small to medium businesses turning over; and keep workers off welfare, until the economy picks up.
The alternative is recession; mass unemployment; businesses going under; and people on welfare.
It should be fairly obvious to all but the most ardent National/ACT ideologues that society benefits from keeping people in work, rather than allowing them to be made redundant and unemployed. This blogger sees no social good or business gain in permitting high unemployment to blight our society.
National’s abandonment of any responsibility toward actively creating jobs during an economic downturn – as has been ongoing since 2007/08 - is an indictment on our Prime Minister; his leadership; and his Party’s ineffectual policies.
An ideological faith in the Marketplace is not a sound basis on which to grow a modern economy and generate new jobs. An ideological faith in the Marketplace is simply grown-ups indulging in “wishful thinking”.
The result of which is,
Problem: child poverty is resulting in children going to schools hungry.
Labour’s solution: feed them.
It’s that simple.
Cost to taxpayers to do this: up to $20 million dollars a year.
Cost of doing nothing (National’s option): 3% of GDP (NZ$5 billion per year)
$20 million to fix a problem vs $5 billion to do nothing. Most common sense people would agree that this is a no-brainer. (Hardline National and ACT supporters would probably opt for the $5 billion cost to our GDP to do nothing, but then again, extremist National/ACT supporters are not reknowned for common sense.)
The next argument used by the Selfish Mob is, that it’s the fault of parents for not feeding their own kids; that it’s no one else’s responsibility; that they shouldn’t have had kids; stop drinking and smoking, blah, blah, blah.
Which is all simply a way to say, “It’s too big a problem and I don’t want to deal with it”.
Let’s cut to the chase;
- It’s not a child’s fault which family they were born into
- Not all families are druggies, alkies, smokers, etc. That’s playing the Blame Game, and it is dishonest.
- We either spend a few hundred or thousand dollars now, on each child in poverty, or we spend $90,000 per annum on them – when they end up in prison. Your call.
As Shearer said,
“I hear people argue that this is the responsibility of parents. We can debate that endlessly, but it won’t change this reality: tomorrow morning kids will still turn up to school hungry.”
Labour leader David Shearer has found his mojo and reacquainted himself with Labour’s heritage; caring for people at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, and not just the braying middle classes.
His announcement of a bold plan to feed every child in the bottom Decile 3 schools - 650 primary and intermediate schools – in our country, is gutsy. It flies in the face of the current fad of Individualism and playing the Blame Game which has infected our society since the late 1980s, when Rogernomics decreed with chest-thumping triumph that ‘Greed is Good’.
Several media reports, political commentators, professional experts, et al, have stated that child poverty has been increasing in the last 30 years. By ‘coincidence’, Rogernomics and the Cult of the Individual began thirty years ago.
We all know that is no coincidence. It is an unspoken truth that child poverty has increased these last 30 years because of the unforeseen (?) consequences of free market policies; loss of jobs to overseas low-wage economies; de-regulation; undermining of trade unions; seven tax cuts that transferred wealth upwards to the upper- middle class and 1%; other right wing socio-economic policies, and the pre-emininence of Individual selfishness over Community good.
The consequences were indeed predictable, and a few lone voices like ex-Wigram MP, Jim Anderton, tried warning us where we were heading. (Anderton predicted in the mid 1990s that increased student debt of dentistry students would push up dentistry fees and make oral healthcare unaffordable for many. That prediction has come painfully true. See: Costs of dental care hurting.)
Shearer has promised that a Labour-led government would pledge,
- One meal a day for every child in a decile 1 to 3 primary or intermediate school. Cost: $3m-$19m a year.
- Extend Reading Recovery programme to all schools and put 5000 more 6-year-olds on it annually. Cost: $20m a year.
- Plain English report on schools.
- No class size increases.
Good stuff. This is a fine start to un-doing 30 years of neo-liberal damage and to wind back the jungle-like mentality of me-first Individualism.
This blogger supports 100% the concept of meals in schools. And why not? Our cuzzies in Europe, America, and other nations do precisely this. Not only have their societies not collapsed – but their standards of living are measurably higher than ours.
It is common sense really. Who could say ‘no’? Well, sycophants to National can.
A cursory check of some commentary opposing Shearer’s announcement is based on costings; where will Labour get the money from?
Interestingly, the same questions are very rarely asked of National, when they engage in big spend-ups on “must have” things.
For example, there seems to be plenty of cash to spend on “consultants”,
Plenty of cash found by National, to spend on the Rugby World Cup last year,
Plenty of taxpayers’ money on plastic wakas - a real “must have”, according to National. Why not spend up $2 million on another Rugby World Cup project? Money seems to be no object when it comes to our national past-time,
See previous blogpost: Priorities?
And who can forget this expensive little fiasco,
National can also spend millions on subsiding businesses when it suits them; ETS subsidies for farmers; millions on Ministerial travel; and much more.
It is not so much a matter of whether or not we have enough money to spend on our children, so much as prioritising.
A reader should ask him/herself, what is more important; investing in children and lifting them out of poverty?
Or spending on sports tournaments, Ministerial travel, consultants, business subsidies, etc?
What on Earth can be more important than the children of our nation?! And why the hell am I even asking a question like this in 2012AD?!?!
Once upon a time, even John Key advocated for a Food in Schools programme,
To repeat what John Key said in 2007,
” We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids. I want this to be the first of many schools and businesses that we put together.
I’m interested in what works and I am humbled by the support this idea has received already.
We are going to put together the package while in Opposition. We are not waiting to be in Government, because all our kids deserve better.”
What happened to John Key’s wonderful idea (no sarcasm intended)?
Simple. He became Prime Minister. And that was the end of that policy.
If Labour is to be the new government in 2014, it cannot rely simply on National dropping in the polls. There are too many unforeseen events that may work in National’s favour to rebuild their public support.
Shearer and his colleagues must give the Voting Public a new reason to turn away from John Key and look at Labour instead.
There must be a “brand difference” between National and Labour – something that gives the punters a very real point of difference to consider.
I offer this to Labour’s strategists; the public are starting to sniff the wind blowing from National, and there’s a definite “odour” wafting down from the Ninth Floor. Too many things are rotten in the National Party; too many things don’t add up; John Key’s smile and wave has worn thin; and his promises are amounting to nothing.
Even Bennett’s beneficiary bashing is starting to look for what it is; an attempt to deflect public attention from National’s failure to create jobs.
Because despite National’s slavish adherence to free market dogma, even Key slipped when he admitted,
“We agree with you, it’s the government’s responsibility to do everything within it’s powers to try to get people jobs.”
And they’ve failed miserably.
Which leaves a vacuum.
And as any High School student can tell you; Nature abhors a vacuum.
To the Labour Party I say this, don’t try to be “National lite”.
In fact, don’t even try to be something you’re not. Return to values upon which the New Zealand Labour Party was built.
Stay loyal to those values. Except for a group in our society of die-hard self-centered bastards who couldn’t care less about their fellow kiwis, most New Zealanders are decent, fair-minded, and long for a society that we can be proud of, because everyone gets a fair go.
If Labour stays confident and loyal to it’s true core values, then it need not pretend to be something it’s not. People will recognise that dedication and there will be no need to try to pander to the lowest common denominator to win votes.
That kind of self-confidence is what will win you votes. Lots and lots of votes.
Labour’s policy on child poverty is where we, as a country, turn the tide on selfish Individualism and the creed of “Greed is Good”. This is where we start saying that we can do better – but we have to change the road upon which we are travelling.
The road of the free market is leading us into a mire of income disparity; poverty; hopelessness on the part of the Have Nots; selfishness on the part of the Haves; and a general sense of feeling that… something is not right with this country.
People are leaving New Zealand in droves – but it’s not just the money. This blogger senses a feeling of ‘disconnect’ from many families and young folk departing our shores. It is as if they no longer feel a committment to, or from, this society.
The road to the Free Market has failed.
We need a new road. We can start with feeding the poorest children in our society. Because, goddamit, it we can’t – or won’t – do a simple little thing like that, then we are not a society any more.
As TV3′s Lachlan Forsyth wrote on his blog,
” … For too long we, as a country, have done nothing.
If you don’t think the issue of child poverty in New Zealand is a problem, you’re dreaming.
And you’re part of the problem. “
Previous related blogpost
Sccop.co.nz: National launches its Food in Schools programme
NZ Herald: Child poverty costs NZ $10b a year – expert
NZ Herald: Illiteracy a yearly $3 billion cost – report
Office of Child Commissioner: Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand
The Standard: A decent policy
The Dim Post: The Big Lie
= fs =
For a better New Zealand…
~ Cleaner rivers
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