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National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

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Recently obtained OIA figures from the Ministry of Social Development reveal that 836 schools currently participate in the Kickstart food-in-schools programme. The programme began in 2009, between Fonterra and Sanitarium, to address a growing child poverty crisis.

According  to MSD’s data, over 100,000 breakfasts  are served to 27,061 children on a weekly basis.

This is in stark contrast to John Key’s claims on 5 November 2014, that hungry children in schools was only a minor problem;

“I do not believe that the number of children who go to decile 1 to 4 schools who do not have lunch is 15 percent. I have asked extensively at the decile 1, 2, 3, and 4 schools I have been to. Quite a number of principals actually even reject the notion that they need breakfast in schools. Those who do take breakfasts in schools tell me that for the odd child who does not have lunch, they either give them some more breakfast or provide them with lunch. But what they have said to me is that the number of children in those schools who actually require lunch is the odd one or two.”

The odd one or two” is contradicted by the ministry’s own figures which states that from 13 December 2013, “more than 5.9 million breakfasts  have been served since expansion“.

This would tally from Key’s own admission, on 18 October 2011, that poverty in New Zealand was continuing to worsen under his administration;

Mr Key made the concession yesterday when asked about progress with the underclass, saying it depended what measures were used but recessions tended to disproportionately affect low income earners and young people.

He said he had visited a number of budgeting services and food banks “and I think it’s fair to say they’ve seen an increase in people accessing their services. So that situation is there.”

National expanded the Kickstart programme in May 2013, in response to growing public disquiet and clamour to address the spectacle of children turning up hungry in our schools. It was also in response to Hone Harawira’s  Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill (aka, “Feed the Kids” Bill), which had been included six months earlier in the private member’s ballot system.

As Harawira explained in May 2014,

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"I know this bill isn't the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa. "All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done."

I know this bill isn’t the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa.
“All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done.”

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National’s subsequent, watered down programme to feed hungry children was derided by then-Labour leader, David Shearer;

“National’s been dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line on this. It’s only through public pressure and the pressure of Opposition parties like the Labour Party that’s got them there. But overall, it’s good for those kids who go to school hungry.”

In June 2013, then Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, assured Radio NZ that only another hundred schools would take up the expanded Kickstart programme.

By the beginning of 2014, the programme was expanded to include all decile 1 to 10 primary, intermediate, and secondary schools.

However, MSD’s Deputy Chief Executive, Murray Edridge,  revealed that there had been a “47 per cent  increase since the expansion of the programme” in 2013;

“82 per cent of all participating schools are now providing KickStart breakfasts for more than two days per week and 58 per cent of schools are serving breakfasts for all five days of the week.”

This is at variance with Key’s assertions – made as late as 19 March last year – that hungry children going to school was not a problem. In minimising the problem, Key said;

“These are the facts,” Mr Key said. “At Te Waiu o Ngati Porou School, Ruatoria, Decile one, how many children came to school without lunch – answer – zero.”

At Sylvia Park School, decile two – there one or two kids, and at Manurewa Intermediate, a decile one school with a roll of 711, perhaps 12 had gone to school with no lunch.

Yes there is an issue where some children come to school without lunch. That number of children is relatively low.”

The rise in demand for KickStart breakfasts occurred at the same time as those on  welfare benefits was cut dramatically;

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said today the 309,145 people on benefit at the end of the December 2014 quarter was 12,700 fewer than last year.

“This is the lowest December quarter since 2008 and the third consecutive quarter with such record lows,” Tolley says.

Numbers on the Jobseeker Support benefit had fallen by more than 5500 since last year and had declined consistently since 2010, even as the overall working age population increased.

Even children with disabilities did not escaped this government’s culling of welfare recipients;

More than 11,000 disabled children have lost access to a welfare benefit that is supposed to support them, as officials try to rein in previously-ballooning costs.

A Child Poverty Action Group report on disabled children, launched in Auckland today, said children supported by the child disability allowance almost trebled from 17,600 in 1998 to 45,800 in 2009, but were then cut back to just 34,500 last June.

The cut has been achieved both by tightening criteria and by simply not publicising the allowance.

The problem of hungry school children drew John Key’s attention as far back as 2007, when he was still Leader of the Opposition;

National launches its Food in Schools programme
Sunday, 4 February 2007, 1:21 pm
Press Release: New Zealand Government

John Key MP
National Party Leader

3 February 2007

National launches its Food in Schools programme

National Party Leader John Key has announced the first initiative in what will be a National Food in Schools programme.

“National is committed to providing practical solutions to the problems which Helen Clark says don’t exist,” says Mr Key.

During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.

Mr Key has since received an approach from Auckland-based company Tasti foods.

“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.

“We’re putting Tasti and Wesley Primary together. This is a fantastic first step. In addition to this, Tasti has indicated they may wish to expand their generous donation of food to other schools in need, and we’ll be looking to facilitate that.

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”

Mr Key is also inviting other businesses to contact National so it can work on expanding the programme.

“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.”

According to National,  this was a critical problem in 2007.

Yet, on 19 March, National and it’s coalition supporters voted down Mana’s “Feed the Kids” Bill (which had been taken over by the Green Party after Hone Harawira lost his Te Tai Tokerau seat in 2014). The Bill was defeated 61 to 59, courtesy of National, ACT, and Peter Dunne.

MSD also disclosed that 26 applications for participation in the KickStart programme had been declined. This included Early Childhood Education (ECE) providers. No reason was given despite the OIA request specifically asking the basis for which applications were declined.

This indicates that pre-schoolers are presently attending ECE facilities and going hungry.

The MSD also admitted that Charter Schools – which are funded at a higher rate than State and Integrated Schools – also participate in the KickStart programme. Their information did not reveal how many or which Charter Schools were participating. The MSD statement confirmed that “the provision of the [KickStart] programme  does not affect a school’s funding“.

Kidscan currently lists fourteen schools that are still awaiting “urgent support, that’s 1,661 children waiting for food, clothing and basic healthcare“.

In contrast, several European nations provide free meals to school children;

The school lunch provides an important opportunity for learning healthy habits, and well-balanced school meals have been linked to improved concentration in class, better educational outcomes and fewer sick days. Given the importance of these meals, what is being done across Europe to ensure all children have a balanced and enjoyable lunch?

Many countries in Europe have policies to help schools provide nutritionally balanced meals which also reflect the general eating culture of each nation. Often, lunch is eaten in a cafeteria-like setting where children receive food from a central service point (e.g. Finland, Sweden and Italy).

In Finland and Sweden, where all school meals are fully funded by the government, lunches follow national dietary guidelines including the ‘plate model’. An example meal is presented to guide children’s self-service…

Finland – which consistently scores highly in OECD PISA educational rankings – introduced free school meals in 1948;

Finland was the first country in the world to serve free school meals. 1948 is seen as being the year when free school catering really  started, though catering activities on a smaller scale had been around since the beginning of the 20th century.

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Section 31 of the Basic Education Act states that pupils attending school must be provided with a properly organised and supervised,  balanced meal free of charge every school day.

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The role of school meals is to be a pedagogical tool to teach good nutrition and eating habits as well as to increase consumption of  vegetables, fruits and berries, full corn bread and skimmed or low fat milk.

Interestingly, the Finns describe free school meals as an Investment in Learning;

In Finland, we are proud of our long history of providing free school meals…

… A good school meal is an investment in the future.

With rising housing and rental costs, and wage increases  at or below inflation, not every family can successfully balance budgets to ensure a nutritious meal for their children. When it comes to a decision whether to pay the power bill, or cut back on groceries for the week – it is often the latter that is sacrificed.

The Salvation  Army recently  outlined the problem of the phenomenon known as the “working poor“;

Every week 314 new people contact the Salvation Army for assistance, and those who are currently working are often at risk too.

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The Salvation Army says it is meeting more and more responsible people who have experienced misfortune that has derailed their lives.

It believes the cost of rent is a dangerous factor, even for those working.

“It doesn’t leave a lot of room for something to go wrong,” says Jason Dilger, a representative for the Salvation Army. “I do believe there are a significant number of people out there who are vulnerable.”

It says an increasing number of Kiwis are living pay-by-pay, but ideally everyone would have a financial safety net set aside to help with any unexpected hiccups.

“So many people aren’t even in a position to think that way because they’re just trying to meet expenses week to week.”

In a 2014 report, the Salvation Army stated;

Given the recent growth in the number of jobs available and the gradual decline in levels of unemployment, we should have seen a  tapering off in demand for food parcels from food banks. We have not seen this. Such demand has remained virtually unchanged since 2010, which suggests that many households are still struggling to pay bills and feed their family despite the economy recovery. Overall living costs of low income households appear to be moving in line with general inflation.

Which illustrates that the problems faced by poor, lowly-paid, and beneficiary families is not choices in expenditure – but low incomes which fail to meet the many day-to-day, week-to-week, demands placed on them.

From the 1950s through to the  1970s, a single income was often sufficient to raise a family and pay the bills.

In contemporary New Zealand, this is no longer the case. Falling rates of home-ownership is just one indicator that incomes are not keeping pace with rising costs of living.

Growing child poverty is another symptom of the increase in inequality since the mid-1980s. Prior to the 1980s, food banks were practically an unknown rarity;

Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999).” – “Hard to swallow – Foodbank Usage in NZ”, Child Poverty Action Group, 2005

Shifting responsibility for this ever-growing problem onto  victims of inequality and poverty is a form of denial. It is little more an attempt to evade the problem, especially when no practical solutions (other than class-based eugenics) are offered.

Addressing the real causes of poverty and working-poor will be a tough call. Ensuring that all children are provided nutritious meals at school is the first step down this road.

As John Key said nine years ago;

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.

… all our kids deserve better.”

Indeed, John. I couldn’t have said it better.

Postscript

The MSD response to my OIA request also confirmed that the increased up-take of the KickStart programme was not restricted solely to low-decile schools;

Since the expansion [in 2013] 170 schools rated decile five or higher have joined the programme.

Which indicates that schools in middle-class areas are now requiring State assistance to feed hungry children.

 

 

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References

Email: OIA Response from Ministry of Social Development

Kickstart Programme: Home

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – November 5

Scoop media: Hone Harawira – Feed the Kids Bill

NZ Herald: Harawira’s ‘feed the kids’ bill begins first reading

Radio NZ: Govt gives $9.5m to expand food in schools programme

Radio NZ: Government to expand food in schools programme (audio)

Kickstart Programme: FAQ

NZ Herald:  Government votes down ‘feed the kids’ bill

Radio NZ: Parliament rejects free school lunch bills

Fairfax media: Beneficiary numbers fall again: Government

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme

Radio NZ: Ministry says charter schools “over-funding” is $888,000

Kidscan: Supporting Schools

European Food Information Council: School lunch standards in Europe

Wikipedia: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – 2012

NZ Federation of Family Budgetting: Why are so many of us struggling financially?

Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand

Additional

Fightback: Feed the Kids, end the hunger system

NZ Herald: Number of Kiwi kids in poverty jumps by 60,000

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

Once were warm hearted

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 February 2016.

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Letter to the Editor – Rightwinger caught out parroting his own garbage

9 January 2016 7 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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From the NZ Herald, ex-ACT leader Jamie Whyte had his usual Right wing nonsense about “no real poverty in New Zealand“;

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Jamie Whyte - Poverty statistics suffer from paucity of common sense

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… and the usual cliches, prejudices, and other garbage spouted by a man who has little inkling what poverty is like, and how it crushes the human spirit.

Then came this startling revelation;

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Jamie Whyte defends 'self-plagiarism' claim

 

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To which I replied with  this letter-to-the-editor;

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: NZ Herald <letters@herald.co.nz>
date: Fri, Jan 8, 2016
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
NZ Herald

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Regarding former ACT-leader, Jamie Whyte’s self-plagiarism (“Jamie Whyte: Poverty statistics suffer from paucity of common sense”, 7 January) – the fact he re-used a ten year old piece he’d written previously, and simply changed a few key identifiers, speaks volumes about his view on poverty.

It implies that he is not so much interested in looking at the facts and data, as simply re-stating his prejudices. His use of two boys (10-year-olds “Jimmy” and “Timmy”) who are inter-changeable between Britain and New Zealand, implies that his examples are made up fantasies, plucked from his imagination, and little else.

The real problem here is that after thirty years, the Right cannot admit that poverty exists in New Zealand. Nor that it has increased since the late 1980s.

To do so would be a tacit admission of failure, and that the whole “trickle down” notion is a fraud.

That is why the Right will argue, like AGW skeptics, that poverty exists.

Because to admit it, the next question must logically follow: what to do about it.

-Frank Macskasy

 

 

[address and phone number supplied]

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References

NZ Herald: Jamie Whyte – Poverty statistics suffer from paucity of common sense

NZ Herald: Jamie Whyte defends ‘self-plagiarism’ claim

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Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act

7 December 2015 2 comments

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A formal complaint has been laid with the Ombudsman’s Office after Education Minister, Hekia Parata, failed to comply with the Official Information Act.

A OIA request was lodged with the Minister’s Office by this blogger, seeking details of National’s Food In Schools programme, which was announced in May 2013. The limited programme, costed at $9.5 million, offered low decile 1-4 schools free milk and Weet-Bix throughout the school week. It would be run in conjunction with Fonterra, Sanitarium and children’s charity KidsCan.

The $9.5 million would be spread over a five year period, from 2013 to 2018.

More critically for National, the expanded “Kick Start” breakfast programme was promoted to directly counter Hone Harawira’s more comprehensive Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill which at the time was rapidly gaining traction throughout the country.

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food in schools

 

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ

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Mana Party leader and then-MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira, said on 24 January, 2013;

It’s a pretty simple bill really. Invest in making sure the 80,000 kids going to school hungry each week are fed and ready to learn and realise the benefits in better educated and healthier school leavers down the track”.

In Parliament, Harawira was clear on the benefits of his Food in Schools Bill;

It is nice to know that KidsCan feeds some 10,000 of them on most days, and that the KickStart Breakfast programme feeds about 12,000 a day, but the reality is that even with the Government’s announcement in last year’s Budget, nearly 80,000 children are still going to school hungry in Aotearoa every single day. Yes, schools around the country have started their own breakfast clubs with support from teachers, students, parents, local businesses, and the wider community, but they tell us that it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of goodwill to keep them going, and that having secure funding would be a godsend.

The really embarrassing thing is that nearly every country in the OECD, apart from us, already runs programmes to feed kids at school. Some countries like Finland and Sweden provide fully State-funded meals to every school student as part of a wider framework of child well-being. It is a commitment that sees them regularly top the international surveys in child health and educational achievement. Some countries provide free meals to kids with parents on low incomes, and others provide free meals to schools in areas of high deprivation. But although the approaches differ, they all share the same view, backed up by the same kind of research and information from teachers, doctors, nurses, and policy analysts that is available to us here: kids need a good feed every day if they are to develop into healthy and well-educated adults. New Zealand really needs to join the rest of the enlightened world and make a commitment to feeding our kids, starting with those in greatest need, to help them to grow well and learn well.

Harawira’s Bill was supported by a range of diverse groups and individuals ranging from Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation, the NZ Educational Institute, as well as Child Poverty Action Group, Every Child Counts, Unicef NZ, Save the Children, IHC, Poverty Action Waikato, the Methodist and Anglican Churches (Methodist Public Issues and Anglican Action), Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora (Māori Women’s Welfare League), PPTA, NZ Principals’ Federation, CTU Rūnanga, the NZ Nurses’ Organisation, and Te Ora – the Māori Medical Practitioners’ Association.

Harawira’s Bill was estimated to cost upwards of $100 million.

This contrasts with the  Children Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, which reported in December 2012 that the total economic costs of child poverty ranged up to $8 billion;

Currently, the economic costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 billion per year
and considerable sums of public money are spent annually on remedial interventions. Failure
to alleviate child poverty now will damage the nation’s long-term prosperity. It will also
undermine the achievement of other important policy priorities, such as reducing child abuse,
lifting educational attainment and improving skill levels.

In July 2013, Herald journalist, Kate Shuttleworth, reported;

In December 2012 the Expert Advisory Group on solutions to Child Poverty – a group comprising policy, public health and law experts – recommended that a food programme starting with decile 1-to-4 primary and intermediate schools, be implemented as one of their six initial priorities for immediate release.

[…]

Figures show 270,000 children in New Zealand – one in four – live in poverty.

Dennis McKinlay, Chairman of ‘Every Child Counts‘,  stated that 169 countries had a food in schools programme.

Shockingly, the Bill was eventually defeated in a Parliamentary vote of 61 votes to 59, with ACT and Peter Dunne also voting against it. The New Zealand government spends billions on school infra-structure, but not to feed hungry school-children from poverty-stricken families.

On 27 October, this blogger lodged a OIA request with Education minister, Hekia Parata. The request sought answers to the following;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

By 12 November, after no response or even an acknowledgement, this blogger wrote again to Minister Parata;

On 27 October, I lodged this OIA request with your office. I have recieved no reply or even an acknowledgement.

Please advice whether or not you intend to respond to my OIA request. If not, I will proceed by laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

As at 29 November, no response had been forthcoming from the Minister’s office, and a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman’s Office. As this blogger pointer out in the complaint;

I do not believe it is satisfactory that a Minister of the Crown wilfully ignores the law and fails to follow her obligations under the Official Information Act.

Readers of The Daily Blog will be kept updated as this issue progresses.

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Addendum1

Parata has apparently “gone to ground” on this issue. It is not the first time she failed failed to respond to media enquiries; requests for interviews; or fronted at events for which she has direct responsibility.

From a blogpost published on 18 January 2013;

Muppet #1 – Hekia Parata

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I actually think she’s a very effective communicator; in fact if you look at her history in politics, she’s been one of the smoothest communicators we’ve actually had.” – John Key, 18 January 2013

See: Parata safe in her job – Key

Prime Minister John Key says Education Minister Hekia Parata will be safe in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, … because she is hugely talented and one of National’s best communicators.

See: Parata’s job safe in shuffle

*snort!*

I’d be a happy chappy if the Nats DID have more like her in Cabinet!!

If she’s one of the Nat’s “best communicators”, I’d luv to know why she’s kept ducking calls for media interviews and instead sent Lesley Longstone to cover for Parata’s f**k-ups,

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2 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (2)

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3 October 2012

Ministry of Education admits some errors in data

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4 October 2012

Education Minister avoids her critics

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26 October 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (3)

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29 October 2013

Longstone challenged to find solutions

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14 November 2012

lesley longstone fronts instead of hekia parata (1)

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28 November 2012

lesley longstone Schools still beset by Novopay problems

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When Lesley Longstone’s resignation was announced last year on 19 December, Hekia Parata was still nowhere to be seen. The announcement was handled by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie (see:  Education secretary quits),

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19 December 2012

lesley longstone Education secretary quits

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20 December 2012

lesley longstone Parata, Key refuse to front over education debacle

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Parata’s office explained why she couldn’t front,

Parata is currently on holiday and has refused to front on Longstone’s resignation, but in a statement released this afternoon she thanked Longstone for her efforts in leading the Ministry.

See: Education Ministry boss quits after ‘strained relationship’

Hmmmm, judging by Parata not fronting for most of last year, was she on holiday for most of 2012?!

“Smooth communicator…”!?

Ye gods, this deserves a Tui billboard.

Roll on 2013 – it’s going to be a great year.

Addendum2

In January 2013, Hekia Parata’s responsibilities surrounding Novopay were transferred to Minister For Everything, Steven Joyce. Joyce was not above publicly denouncing those responsible for the Novopay debacle;

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government-sticking-with-novopay-for-now

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References

Kickstart Breakfast Programme

Radio NZ: Food in schools ‘could get good results’

Feedthekids: Support grows for MANA’s Feed the Kids Bill

Parliament: Harawira, Hone: Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Feedthekids: Feed the Kids Bill a “good initiative” – Jamie Oliver Food Foundation

NZEI: Food in schools bill will help children learn

NZ Herald: Food in schools bill delayed for second time

Commissioner for Children:  Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty

NZ Herald: Head boy disappointed in Dunne over food bill

ODT: Joyce to take on handling of Novopay

Every Child Counts

Radio NZ: Government sticking with Novopay for now

Previous related blogposts

Parata, Bennett, and Collins – what have they been up to?

Karma for Key?

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The hypocrisy from world leaders overCharlie begins to rattle observers. NZ's John Key's words of January 8 in particular raised many eyebrows amongst the'4th Estate'. Rod Emmerson 14/01/15

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 December 2015.

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Wellingtonians say; “Everyone deserves a home – no more homelessness!”

28 November 2015 1 comment

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“Housing is a basic human need and access to decent quality, affordable and safe housing should be seen a human right. This means that our society and more specifically the State has an obligation to ensure that everyone living in New Zealand always has access to adequate and secure housing. We further believe that this obligation means that housing needs to be considered as more than a commodity whose allocation is decided entirely by markets and the profit motive.” – Hikoi for Homes/Child Poverty Action Group

Wellington, NZ, 21 November – Around two hundred people gathered in Cuba Mall, central Wellington, as part of a nationwide day of protest at growing homelessness; poor standards of housing; state house privatisation, and lack of long-term stability in rental accomodation;

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After safety instructions were issued by Ian Harcourt, one of CPAG’s march organisers, the protesters set off through the streets of Wellington, headed to the Civic Square;

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Throughout the entire event, there was only a brief, sole police presence as one lone police car halted traffic to allow marchers to cross a busy intersection;

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Greeting the marchers at Civic Square, Nigel Parry and Ruth Prentice,  sang a song dedicated to Emma-Lita Bourne, who perished  in August 2014 whilst living in a damp, cold house infected with toxic mould. Nigel and Ruth page tribute to Emma-Lita, and to the coroner, who had the guts to speak the truth as to why Emma-Lita died needlessly;

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The number of protesters had swelled to around 300 people and constituted  a wide cross representation from the community, including many families with children. These were citizens concerned at the direction New Zealand was heading toward;

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Banners flew from the various groups involved with the day’s event, including UNICEF, one of the  organisers;

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Labour’s Grant Robertson was present;

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The first speaker, Dr Nikki Turner, from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), addressed the crowd;

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Dr Turner reminded people that twenty years ago, New Zealand signed the UN covenant on the rights of children. She said this included a duty of care to ensure safe, decent housing for children. She asked, “so why are we here today?

She said that this is a national shame that New Zealand are not providing basic human rights for families in need.

Dr Turner said that as a General Practitioner she was seeing people turning up at her clinic daily, sick, from unsafe houses. They were “sick and recurrently sick, because the houses were not adequate“.

Dr Turner listed poverty-related diseases that were common to people living in damp, cold houses; asthma, colds, chest infections, pneumonia, rheumatic fever, chronic lung diseases, saying that  “our housing makes our children sick“. She said cold affects our immune systems, making people more vulnerable to moulds  and diseases shared through over-crowding.

If we fix our housing, we’re going to go a long way to improving our health in New Zealand,” said Dr Turner.

Dr Turner then listed seven issues necessary for government to implement, saying they were achievable;

  1. To stop the sale of all state and council houses,
  2. A one billion dollar provision to build more public and social housing,
  3. Minimum standards for all rental houses,
  4. Greater tenure protection for all tenants,
  5. A rent freeze for five years,
  6. A statutory right to be housed, as a human right,
  7. State subsidies for modest income-earners for home-ownership, as New Zealanders had a right to a home.

Dr Turner said that the current situation was unfair; costly; and affecting our children. She said that many of the medical problems caused by inadequate housing led to permanent, on-going crippling that would last throughout their lives.  “We need to fix this for the future of our community.”

Dr Turner was followed by Dr Philipa Howden-Chapman, from Otago University’s Department of Public Health;

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Dr Howden-Chapman pointed out that about a third of New Zealanders lived in rental accomodation. She said that many rental homes were cold and damp, far colder than what was recommended by the UN. She said “they were built in another age, when someone was home most of the time, ventilating the house, and keeping the fires going“.

Dr Howden-Chapman said many homes were between 12 to 16 degrees, making them no warmer inside than outside. She said babies were particularly susceptible, being unable to shiver, and losing heat much faster than an adult. Older people also got colder faster than fit, younger people.

Dr Howden-Chapman said that around a third of houses had mould growing in them. She said that mould at certain times of the year release spores and toxins, some of which were the most dangerous substances known.

According to Dr Howden-Chapman, New Zealand spends $3 billion per annum maintaining the roading network.  But there were no equivalent regulations  required to maintain rentals at a set standard or provide adequate heating or ventilation. She said Emma-Lita Bourne‘s family had an insulated house, but could not afford heating. By contrast, Europe had solar-heating on houses that constantly prevented  homes from dropping below 18 degrees.

“But we don’t do any of that.”

Dr Howden-Chapman asked why we have Health officials going around coffee-bars to check on hygiene or WoF mechanics to check the brakes on our cars, but no one is responsible to check on the quality of rental housing.

It was pointed out that a third of housing-related ACC costs could be saved if unsafe steps and other parts of houses were fixed.

She asked  “does this government care”?

Dr Howden-Chapman said it was disgraceful that Bill English admitted that the National government was the biggest slumlord in the country and could “dismiss the whole housing stock”.

She said that a small country of 4.4 million people should be able to work together, with government, local bodies, and NGOs co-operating so  that everyone had access to warm, dry, safe housing.

Dr Howden-Chapman decried New Zealand in the 21st century where children were found to be living in cars, camping grounds, homeless in the streets, or containers, or crowded houses. She said it was no accident that children regularly  miss school and fall behind in their studies, or end up in hospital Intensive Care, where many die.

She said “we can do better, we must do better“.

Dr Howden-Chapman demanded security of tenure for tenants so that the problem of transient families could be reduced. She said families in Housing NZ homes should be able to stay in one house for as long as their children were at school. Dr Howden-Chapman said it was vital that families moved from a state house be re-housed in the same neighbourhood so that their community links with other people could be maintained, as well as allowing children to remain in the same school.

She acknowledged that many New Zealanders cared about this pressing social problem and asked the government, “do you care?

Ian Harcourt introduced a musical group, ‘Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘. He said that while this protest was about speaking truth to power, that they the singers he was introducing were here to “sing truth to power”;

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One of the group’s “novel” acts was to engage the audience with participation; to ask us to raise our hands; extend two fingers; and wave it in the direction of Parliament;

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Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘ was followed by Ariana, from the State Housing Action Network;

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Ariana spoke of the formation of the State Housing Action Network as a response to Bill English’s announcement that National was looking at selling up to eight thousand state houses. She called the move despicable, given that there was a critical shortage of state  housing in New Zealand.

Ariana announced a petition calling for a halt to forced evictions from state houses, calling it a form of social cleansing. She described the privatisation of state housing as National’s determination to make a profit from the sales. Ariana warned that if National had their way, they would sell the entire housing stock, worth around $15 billion.

Ariana described National’s rationale for the sale, based on the properties being “run down” as just an excuse and nothing more. She said that National had a “track record of selling state houses”. She also pointed out that lack of maintenance of state housing had been caused by successive governments.

Ariana said that it was important that not only new state houses were built, but that the current stock should be brought up to standard.

Ariana congratulated the good work done by CPAG and UNICEF, as well as political parties like Labour, Greens, and Mana giving support. She said we have to work together on this problem by forming a strong coalition to oppose the neo-liberal agenda.

Ariana further stated that when market rents for state houses were introduced in the 1990s, it was predicted that it would be the single biggest cause of poverty increasing. She said that current policies by National were an extension of  the 1990s.

She condemned taking money from those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, and transferred to those who were already wealthy.

Ariana called for an introduction of a capital gain tax instead of taking money from those who could least afford it. She said National agenda would eventually lead to charities taking over the role of providing for the poor, as in Victorian times.

Ariana said that the State Housing Action Network strongly endorsed the seven points put forward by Dr Nikki Turner (see above).

Ariana then led a chant,

“Everybody deserves a home!”

Following Ariana, was Martin, a state house tenant, with Kyrie in his arms (who seemed totally fascinated by the microphone in front of him);

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Martin described  a state house with nine people living in it’s three bedrooms. He said there was now seven people living in that house, including five adults. Of those people, Kyrie, the little boy in his arms, had athsma. He said such over-crowding was not conducive to good health.

He said he contacted Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennett, to complain of an open drain that was outside the property; the rotting windows inside; and the general state of disrepair. He said Paula Bennett passed him on to Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith. Martin said Nick Smith advised him to take his case back to Paula Bennett.

Martin invited Paula Bennett to visit Kyrie’s delapidated state house to look at the problems herself. Martin said she refused. (Though this blogger can report that Bennett is not averse to visiting state or social housing when there is a photo-op involving a “good news” story.)

Martin said he had to phone his local MP, Annette King, to try resolve the problem. He said that remedial work was undertaken, but that it was “cheap and shoddy, and they’ve done repairs that are of no fit standard for people to live in“.

He said this was happening all over New Zealand and would be our future. He said Kyrie deserves better.

He encouraged people to stand together; stand strong, and to hold this government to account.

Following Martin, ‘The Ruths‘, entertained  the crowd with some beautiful singing. The songs were delightful, as well as political in flavour, in the best tradition of 1960s singer-activists such as Joan Baez. Ruth Mundy on guitar, with Ruth Prentice on violin;

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Following ‘The Two Ruths‘, Paul Barton, from the Christian Council of Social Services addressed the crowd;

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Paul spoke on behalf on the Living Wage movement, describing it as a response to the growing gap in our society between the rich and the poor. He spoke of the top 10% over the last thirty years having enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of us who have been told “we can’t afford higher wages“.

He said that the wealth gap is shown in the  housing crisis where “literally, this hits home”.

Paul said that the Kiwi dream of home ownership is fast evaporating with house prices rising and a growing number of the population resorting to renting. He pointed out that half the population now lives in rented housing. He said renters tended to be younger, poorer, and families.

It was pointed  out that the housing and wealth inequality problem was not due to “mysterious forces beyond our control”.  He said it has been a direct result of decisions our society has made how we share the bountiful wealth we have in this country. He said we needed to find ways to do things differently.

Otherwise, Paul said, we run the risk of a generation left behind in sub-standard housing.

Paul said the living wage was one response to this problem, where employers paid an income to live, not just “get by”. He said a Living Wage would not only allow people to pay their rent, but also save to buy their own home.

“And that way, paying a living wage overcomes part of the housing affordability problem.”

Paul congratulated the Wellington City Council for having the courage to pay it’s staff and security contractors the Living Wage. He said over 500 workers had had their wages increased from just above the minimum wage, to the Living Wage. He hoped that soon cleaning and recycling-collection contractors would also soon be covered by the Living Wage.

Paul related how workers and their families who had their wages lifted to a Living Wage were motivated to persist to make their lives better.

He added that the Living Wage has not happened “by chance” and that it was the result of a building movement for change. He pointed to the “wonderful support from you people here in Wellington” and said,

“We can achieve change but we need to work together.”

Paul said that people and organisations can work together to make a difference and reduce inequality, and that we did not need to wait for a change of  government or change the law.

He said that local authorities like the Wellington City Council played a major part in the Living Wage movement, and were an important part of our daily lives.  Paul said that Wellington City Council had a role in the kind of housing that we live in. He said that at the last 2013 local body election it was the Living Wage and building warrant of fitness that were the main political issues.

Paul encouraged Wellingtonians that next year’s local body elections also made housing, warrant of fitness, and social housing a major political issue. He encourage people to  get involved in “overcoming this awful housing problem“.

“Don’t say we can’t do something, because we know we’ve already proved we can make a difference.”

Deborah Morris-Travers from UNICEF and ‘Make our Future Fair‘ was the last speaker;

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The former Parliamentarian and currently National Advocacy Manager at UNICEF NZ, told the crowd that, as part of the United Nations, her organisation was mandated to stand up for children’s rights all around the world

Deborah stated that New Zealand Aotearoa was currently breaching the rights of its children by not providing an adequate standard of living, of which housing playing a major part.

She said that we all have a part to play in creating a nation that grants all New Zealanders safe and adequate housing, that lays the foundation for our communities and our society. She encouraged people to keep working together on these issues.

Deborah revealed that “the government is madly polling and running focus groups. They’re sensitive to the mood of the public.”

She said we have to keep building the public mood to ensure that our families are kept safe.

Deborah announced that UNICEF was launching the Fair Future Campaign and said that Radio NZ would be airing a story on children’s rights. She said that UNICEF would be working hard on this issue as National was about to start work on it’s next Budget.

“We have got to keep the message upfront in the news media, in social media, in our families, in our communities, that we will not tolerate our children being left behind.”

She said that every year $10 billion was spent on  “picking up the cost of child maltreatment and child poverty.” Deborah said this was unsustainable as well as being unjust.

Deborah asked, “What do we value in Aotearoa-New Zealand? What do we stand for? Surely it is be a fairer future.”

She said, “Housing is a fundamental human right. This about rights, not favours!”

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As the event concluded, a reporter from Radio NZ interviewed one of the  participants;

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As far as could be determined, Radio NZ was the only msm that sent a reporter to cover the event. Apparently TV1, TV3, print media, commercial radio, et al, were too busy still dealing with the global fall-out from Ritchie McCaw’s resignation from the All Blacks.

As the protest event came to it’s conclusion, this blogger turned to look up at the sky which had darkened with ominous grey clouds. Fluttering atop the Wellington Civic Building were the five flag-options for the present Flag Referendum;

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It was a sobering moment when one considered the symbolism of those five flags.

Notably the $26 million price tag that went with the Referendum.

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References

Fairfax media: Toddler’s death in damp state house a ‘broken promise’, says Labour

Fairfax media: Damp state house played part in toddler’s death

Interest.co.nz: Finance Minister English says govt… wants to reform state’s role as ‘biggest slum landlord’

Fairfax media: Social housing rollout opens doors for the disabled

UNICEF: UNICEF NZ calls on PM to make good on promise to children

Radio NZ: Hundreds march to demand action on housing

Radio NZ: Insight for 22 November 2015 – What More Can be Done for Children?

Additional

Radio NZ: Community interest sought for state housing

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

State Housing Action Network

Living Wage Movement

NZ Herald: New bill to give Government control over state houses

NZ Herald: Editorial – Housing hikoi sign of rising social unrest

Other blogs

The Standard: Hikoi for Homes

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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Salvation army - bill english - sale o=f state housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 November 2015.

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An unfortunate advertising placement, child poverty, and breathing air

2 September 2015 3 comments

 

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mike hosking - simon collins - 300000 plus kiwi kids now in relative poverty - nz herald

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I was reading Simon Collins’ piece on child poverty in the Herald, and a small advert caught my eye… (See image above)

I’m not sure if Mike Hosking wants to be associated with our mounting child poverty crisis. It’s simply not his style. More accurately, it makes people like him feel queasy and uncomfortable. Rich people don’t like feeling uncomfortable – that is what wealth is supposed to eliminate. It reminds Hosking, and others like him, that whilst he is enjoying their wealth, others are surviving their poverty.

That sticks in his mind, deep down, somewhere, in the places where his parents tried to instill values of fairness in him when he was a child. That makes him resentful.

That is why the affluent; the rich; the powerful; the Comfortable Classes,  hate the poor so much. Otherwise, why do they invest so much time writing so defensively and caustically, when a blogger like Chloe King airs her views, in defence of the poor and the powerless? What is Chloe King to them?

Why bother?

Because they feel guilty.

Especially when she reminds them why they should be feeling guilty.

When  Mike Hosking made his views on child poverty perfectly clear on 9 April;

“Children cost money. If you can’t afford it, don’t have them. It’s not hard.”

– he was in full vengeful retaliation mode.

This was Mike Hosking – mouthpiece for the Comfortable Class – sheeting blame for poverty to the victims who have to endure it.

It would be like the victims of the Great Depression being blamed for being out of work; no money; and relying on soup kitchens to survive each day.

Now, when I was young, growing up, we lived off my dad’s sole income; mum stayed home and herded us kids. Dad’s income paid for the mortgage, food, power (a bill once every two months!), fuel for the car (an American  gas-guzzling, noisy, metal beast that I swear was a reincarnated T29 Soviet tank  in a former life), insurance, doctor’s visits (medicine was free – remember that?), and even a camping holiday to Taupo or somesuch place. We weren’t rich by any means. But dad’s income was sufficient for the things that average Kiwi families enjoyed.

And funnily enough, we didn’t need mass consumerism or seven day shopping and other such nonsense to get by.

The point is this; not being able to “afford kids” is like telling someone they are not worthy to breathe the air or drink water.

When did an act of nature become dictated by the amount of money a person had? Especially in New Zealand – a country  once upon a time we thought to be egalitarian?!

If our fellow New Zealanders “can’t afford” to have children, I suggest it’s not the cost of having children that is the problem. It is the inadequart income being earned by New Zealanders that is the core problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) here.

In his article, Simon Collins presented two charts showing the growth (or lack thereof) of incomes since 1982;

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Table1

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Table2.

Notice how incomes for the lowest paid have stayed low – even after Working for Familes was introduced in 2004? The lowest ten percent have moved from $15,400 to $17,700. Last year, they failed to be counted as Collins pointed out;

The report does not include figures for the poorest 10 per cent of households, who include most beneficiaries, because the names of benefits changed in 2013 and some beneficiaries appear to have reported only how much they received since the new benefit names were created, missing out their incomes for the first half of the 2013-14 year.

Very convenient for the government, no?

Meanwhile, the top ten percent have increased their income by fifty percent, from $50,200 in 1982 to $75,400, last year.

Let’s be clear here. When right-wing ‘pundits’ and cheerleaders for the rich deride the poor for having children, this is barely-coded moralism and victim-blaming.

It is attempting to paint the poor as suffering “deeply flawed character”, almost to a DNA-level.

In fact, many right-wingers openly refer to welfare recipients as “inter-generational”; the subtle nod to ‘bad DNA’ being made without recourse to the more clumsy eugenics policies of you-know-who.

By blaming the poor for the temerity to have children, the Right shift the blame and deflect attention from the real question; why are people so poor that they cannot afford to raise a family as we used to, before the advent of Rogernomics?

Is it because, since 1986, Baby Boomers have voted seven tax cuts for themselves?

Is it because, as taxes were cut, GST was introduced and increased, as was user-pays in areas such as education?

Is it because simple things like medicine has gone from being free – to five dollars for each item?

Is it because trade unions are no longer able to advocate for their members, and wages have not kept pace with productivity, as this chart from the New York Times showed for US workers (and most likely applies here as well)?

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Yes. All of the above, and more.

The next time a right winger is ranting on about the “breeding poor”, remember that what they are really trying to say is;

… it’s their fault they are poor; they are unfit humans. Their bank accounts prove it.

… it’s not my fault I’m paying less tax than my counterparts did, thirty years ago. I just voted for it.

… only the Comfortable Class should breed. For we are superior because we have the moral fortitude (and good genes) to make money and keep it.

… don’t bother me about the poor. I’m trying to enjoy my Beluga caviar and Bollingers, thank you, without being reminded…

Well, too bad.

We will continue to remind you.

Don’t choke on your bolly.

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Create a society that values material things above all else. Strip it of industry. Raise taxes for the poor and reduce them for the rich and for corporations. Prop up failed financial institutions with public money. Ask for more tax, while vastly reducing public services. Put adverts everywhere, regardless of people’s ability to afford the things they advertise. Allow the cost of food and housing to eclipse people’s ability to pay for them. Light blue touch paper.” –  Andrew Maxwell, Irish comedian

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References

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

The Daily Blog: Now we got bad blood – being poor in a rich world

Newstalk ZB: Mike’s Editorial – The cost of a child

NY Times: Bill Marsh/The New York Times
Sources: Robert B. Reich, University of California, Berkeley; “The State of Working America” by the Economic Policy Institute; Thomas Piketty

Previous related blogposts

When the teflon is stripped away

Mike Hosking as TVNZ’s moderator for political debates?! WTF?!

Mike Hosking – Minister for War Propaganda?

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hosking - National - flag - wanker

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 August 2015.

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Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

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260,000 kiwi kids live in poverty

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When the so-called “reforms” of Roger Douglas – lovingly referred to as  “rogernomics” – swept the country; privatising publicly owned assets; cutting state services; introducing user-pays; down-sizing the state sector; closing post offices in small towns and large cities; and witnessing the wide-spread creation of Food Banks for the first time since The Great Depression, we were told that the restructuring of our economy would pay off with a higher standard of living.

Instead, we ended up with this;

It is not only the government’s figures that reveal alarming levels of poverty. On top of the surge in demand for Income  Support grants is an explosion in food bank usage. Food banks have been described as the most visible face  of poverty in New Zealand. They are the only banks we now own. Only a few food banks existed before National’s election in 1990 on the hollow promise of a ‘Decent Society’. The first food bank in Auckland appeared in 1980, although researcher Adrian Whale noted in a 1993 thesis that throughout the 1980s, food banks were ‘predominantly small scale appendages to welfare services offered by city missions and other voluntary organisations’. But in the early 1990s, food banks established a ‘significant presence among the range of welfare providers in the community’. At least 70 percent of food requests to the Salvation Army  in 1992 were to support families with children. Figures from Presbyterian Support Services show that the number of food banks in the Auckland metropolitan area grew from 16 in 1980 to 130 in 1994.” – Mike Moore, “Children of the Poor”, 1996

Ten years ago, the Child Poverty Action Group reported;

Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999).” – “Hard to swallow – Foodbank Usage in NZ”, Child Poverty Action Group, 2005

In December, last year, the Waikato Times published a story on the growing need for foodbanks in their community. One particular comment stood out;

Humphry has worked with the Christian Combined foodbank for “so many years I can’t remember when I started”, but remembers when it opened in 1998.

“I can’t remember who the prime minister was at the time, but someone [from the prime minister’s office] came and opened the foodbank [in Hamilton] and I remember he said, ‘This will only be a short-term thing, people will only need the foodbank for a few months’.”

If the free market “reforms” of the 1980s and 1990s were such a success, one has to ask the obvious question; why do food banks still exist?

Mike Moore was correct when he pointed out nearly twenty years ago; “Food banks have been described as the most visible face  of poverty in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s poverty – like our domestic violence and child abuse – is best done privately, behind closed doors, and out of sight. The middle classes get queasy at the sight of poverty.

Little wonder that when Bryan Bruce’s sobering documentary, Inside NZ: Child Poverty was broadcast in November 2011, it raised a howl of furious indignation (mostly from the Right) that the election had been “politicised”.

Bryan Bruce reminded us just how far we had come, in the last few decades;

I’m a baby boomer. I went to primary school in the late 50’s when they gave us free milk, free health care and a free education. In those days, Kiwi’s were able to boast that New Zealand was a great place to bring up kids. So when I learned that we’d dropped to number 28 on the list of 30 OECD countries for child well being, with just Mexico and Turkey behind us, I decided to find out what’s gone wrong and what we have to do to fix it.”

Someone in history (the actual utterer remains uncertain) once said of the poor who could not afford to buy bread;

“Let them eat cake.”

Today, in 21st Century New Zealand, it is more like;

“Let them drink coke.”

It certainly is cheaper, as my trip to a local supermarket on 29 June demonstrated;

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Pak n Save (1)

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One of the most common moralistic exhortations by the Right is that the poor should be able to feed themselves and their families. They just need to “budget more prudently”.

Well, at 95 cents per 1.5L bottle of soft-drink, the poor have a much cheaper alternative than the more pricey (and healthier) option of milk.

It’s just a shame it will probably kill them through obesity-related diseases.

Is this what Roger Douglas really intended for his country, back in 1984?

There are six policy reforms which, if carried out, would go a long way to reversing the ingrained poverty caused by forty years of a failed free-market experiment;

1. Reverse the 1991 benefit cuts. This would allow the poorest families in New Zealand to at the very least buy milk instead of teeth-rotting soft-drinks, and turn the heaters on in winter.

2. Take GST of basic foods – fruit, vegetables, bread, milk, meat, fish, et al.

3. Raise the minimum wage to the Living Wage ($19.25/hr). The increase in take-home pay would be a boon to low-income families, as well as benefitting businesses throughout the country, as expenditure increased. As business turn-over increased; they would hire more people; leading to less paid in welfare, and more paid to the State in PAYE tax (helping Bill English finally balance those pesky fiscal books).

4. Implement Hone Harawira’s ‘Food in Schools’ Bill immediatly. Well-fed children learn better; succeed better; and contribute to society much better.  If our Scandinavian cuzzies can do it, so can we.

5. Build more State houses, and stop flogging them off to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who comes knocking on Bill English’s door.

6. Free healthcare for all children 13 and under.

Can we do it?

Of course we can. If we can implement radical policies that changed New Zealand from a Fortress Economy (ex Muldoon) to one of the planet’s most open economies (ex Douglas) – then we can implement social policies that will make us a better, fairer, safer country.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

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References

Amazon: Children of the poor – How poverty could destroy New Zealand’s future

Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand

Waikato Times: Big demand puts pressure on foodbank

TV3: Inside Child Poverty – A Special Report

Additional

J R McKenzie Trust:  Child Poverty Monitor

NZ Council of Christian Social Services: Facts about poverty in New Zealand

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 June 2015.

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Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches…

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child poverty graph 1982-2012

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One of the most constant cliches spouted by the naive; the well-meaning; and down-right simple-minded Right, is that the poor should be able to supplement their income by growing their own food.

This tenants in this house, located  in one of Wellington’s inner suburbs, grew their own vegetables and raised chickens. The planter-boxes were well-tended, and were well-filled with a variety of vegetables.

One day, a couple of months ago, I noticed that the furniture in the house was gone and the sound of the chooks was no longer evident.

This is what the once well-tended vege-garden looks like now;

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poverty - untended vegetable garden

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Weeds have become the dominant plants in the garden;

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empty house and gardens (2)

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Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.”

So said Herman Melville, author of ‘Moby Dick‘.

Lecturing the poor to grow their own food becomes a fatuous  exercise when the poor generally do not own their own homes, and are subject to eviction at whatever whim  takes the landlord. The tenants move on; the food is left behind; and goes to seed and rots.

When confronted with the problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) of poverty, the response from the well-meaning or politically deluded for the poor to produce their own food is little more than buck-passing. It is a barely-concealed attempt to salve their consciences by pointing the finger back at the poorest in our society, and blame them for their lot.

After all, if the poor are poor by their own lack of determination, then the rest of us don’t have to consider the problem at all. It’s their fault, not ours.

After all, why shouldn’t they be able to grow their own food?

They just need to buck their ideas up. And buy a house.

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Additional

J R McKenzie Trust:  Child Poverty Monitor

NZ Council of Christian Social Services: Facts about poverty in New Zealand

 

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give the rich tax cuts.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 June 2015.

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= fs =

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