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Posts Tagged ‘Children’s Commissioner’

So “throwing money” at poverty does work, according to National?

17 December 2017 2 comments

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One of the most oft-used, parroted cliches in the right-wing lexicon…

Bill English said it;

The hard bit of that is reorganising Government – the way the Government works with our most complex families – because frankly, Government doesn’t do that good a job with people who have really serious needs.

So you shouldn’t expect waves of cash – that’s what everyone else is promising. We can tell you from years of looking at it hard, throwing money at intractable social problems won’t have an impact.”

And again he said it;

I suspect it will be a matter for public debate, because New Zealand First and Labour have a track record of throwing money at every problem and making no difference to those problems.

Paula Bennett said it;

Yeah well if throwing money was the answer to this problem then quite frankly we would see – you know the numbers are coming down significantly through those Labour years, because they put significantly more money into these organisations, but we haven’t seen fewer children being neglected.

And repeated it;

If I thought throwing an extra 30 or 40 dollars a week at beneficiaries would mean that those children were not abused and neglected, I’d be fighting with that with every inch that I’ve got. It is far more complex than that. Far more complex.”

Steven Joyce said it;

The Prime Minister set 10 challenging targets for public services in 2012. That is because we want results from spending, rather than just simply throwing money at problems.”

And again he said it;

Unfortunately, my dear friends at the TEU say we should keep throwing money at everything every time.”

Hekia Parata said it;

Unlike the Opposition, which is very keen to throw money at a problem…”

Gerry Brownlee kind of said it;

Labour’s first instinct is always to throw money at an advertising campaign, rather than fighting fire with fire.

And even National backbenchers like Melissa Lee added their ten cents worth and said it;

It is less about throwing money around on a problem and more about changing the way we work, so that the services we deliver are more effective.”

One of the most commonly parroted cliches from the rightwing of politics; “throwing money at the problem” – usually with the add-on; ” – doesn’t solve anything“.

Except, of course, when it comes to tax-cuts. Then it’s not so much “throwing money” at middle class and affluent voters – as labelling it a “reward” – as Joyce called it in May 2017;

The Budget 2017 Family Incomes Package will provide better rewards for hard work by adjusting the bottom two tax thresholds and lowering the marginal tax rates for low and middle income earners.”

Joyce’s proposed tax-cut wasn’t “throwing money” at families – it was described more like “… important that Kiwi families directly share in the benefits of New Zealand’s economic growth.

National ministers were adamant that “throwing money at problems… made no difference to those problems”. But – according to Joyce – throwing money at households through tax-cuts achieved a remarkable outcome;

The measures in this budget are expected to lift 20,000 households above the threshold for severe housing stress, and reduce the number of children living in families receiving less than half of the median income by around 50,000.

Perhaps there are two different forms of money being used; red money for the poor; blue money for the middle class? Perhaps National should have printed less of the red stuff, and more of the blue?

But what colour money was being thrown at invested in;

Obviously child poverty exists in this country. Despite former Social Welfare Minister, Paula Bennett, refusing to measure the size of the problem five years ago – by September this year, National’s (then-)new, Bill English was forced to concede that it was a serious crisis confronting our country. In the face of mounting pressure from a resurgent Labour, he finally admitted that at least 100,000 children were living in poverty;

The Package is designed to especially assist low and middle income earners, and will reduce the number of children living in families earning less than half of the median income by around 50,000. Labour showed their true colours by voting against it.

If we can get elected within two or three years we can have a crack at the next 50,000 children, getting them out of poverty.

Suddenly, it seems, National ‘discovered’ child poverty existed in this country. It’s amazing how focused a government can be at election time when opposition parties are nipping at their heels.

Perhaps we should have an election every year?

In 2015, National stole a policy page from the Left by announcing it would raise welfare benefits by $25 a week. (Actually, $23 per week after extra accomodation supplements were taken out. Can’t have “benes” wasting an extra $2 on milk, bread  or something equally silly.) Almost overnight, National went from “not throwing money at welfare” – to “throwing money at welfare”.

According to a Radio NZ report, an estimated  110,000 families, with  190,000 children, would benefit from the increase.

The result was a predictable (if slight) success: child poverty fell by 1%.

As reported by Teuila Fuatai for Newsroom;

According to the 2017 Child Poverty Monitor, released by the office of the Children’s Commissioner today, the number of children living in homes considered to be in income poverty has dropped one percent in the last year – from 295,000 (28 percent) in 2016 to 290,000 (27 percent) this year.

Other figures from the annual report, now in its fifth year, also show a dip in the number of children considered to be from New Zealand’s poorest homes – with 70,000 children (six percent) satisfying the threshold for experiencing severe material hardship, down two percent from 85,000 in 2016.

[…]

“In 1982, the percentage of children in families experiencing income poverty was 14 percent, compared to 27 percent now”, the report said.

Paula Bennett – who only five years ago stated categorically that “if throwing money was the answer to this problem then quite frankly we would see – you know the numbers are coming down significantly” – crowed about the success of a fall in poverty;

Judge Andrew Becroft has today confirmed that since the National Government increased benefits in 2015, there has been a drop in the number of children living in low income households.

This is great news and further consolidates National’s track record as a party that shows it cares, rather than just says it cares.

We were the Government that increased benefits for the first time in 40 years. Since 2010 we reduced the number of children living in material hardship by 135,000 and since 2011 we reduced the number of children in benefit-dependent households by 61,000.”

It’s “throwing money at the problem” only until it works. Then it’s a success story, according to a right-wing minister.

As if to allay any doubt, Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft,  confirmed the obvious; that raising benefits helped those at the bottom, of the socio-economic ladder;

It’s the first time we can say that we’re sure that things aren’t getting worse; it’s the first time there’s been a small drop and it’s genuinely encouraging and cause for cautious optimism.

We’re probably seeing the first initial signs in terms of what the previous Government did, in terms of increasing benefit levels by $25 a week for families with children.”

Judge Becroft also attributed the fall in child poverty to dedicated hard work from community groups;

I think we have seen a real rise in the commitment by charities and NGOs and community groups. I think that is one of the untold stories; New Zealand, I think, understands the situation. There is much more of a humanitarian response. Communities are behind what is going on. Charities are doing good work. I think that is underestimated in all of this in terms of providing shoes, clothing, lunches, breakfast. I think the country as a whole is becoming much more involved, and I am encouraged by that.

When asked by The Nation’s Lisa Owen;

So that is charities. That is philanthropy. In terms of income poverty: barely a change. Charities can only give so much, though, can’t they?

Judge Becroft responded;

Yeah, that is true. I think the government has got the ultimate responsibility to put in a strong safety net.

Charities can apply band-aids like buying shoes for children or supplying school breakfasts. But it takes central government to lift incomes. Just as it took the previous National government to legislate to lift the wages (albeit over a five year period) of community support workers, home support, and aged-care staff.

Bennett was quick to claim credit  for  the fall in the number of children living in low income households by increasing welfare benefits.

It is time that National and other right-wing politicians abandoned their deceptive, emotionally-charged rhetoric that raising welfare benefits and other incomes is “throwing money at the problem”. Clearly it is not. Putting our taxes into unnecessary flag referenda, sheep deals for middle east businessmen, aluminium smelters, and cutting taxes for the rich – is “throwing money” away.

Constantly repeating the hoary “throwing money at the problem” cliche reminds us that the right is only too happy to use emotionally-charged rhetoric  to win public support. Even when it is a lie.

Putting money into alleviating  child poverty is not “throwing money at the problem”. The data has conclusively shown this to be a fact; additional money helps lift families out of poverty.

Ironically, by making such dishonest  utterances, they undermine their very real achievement in this area.

Shooting yourself in your own foot has never been so painful. Or stupid.

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References

Mediaworks:  No Budget ‘waves of cash’ to fix NZ’s social problems – English

Parliament: Hansards –  Oral Questions – Questions to Ministers

Scoop media:  Paula Bennett – offensive to say poverty causes child abuse

Parliament: Hansards –  Oral Questions – Questions to Ministers

Otago Daily Times:  Call for funding ‘unrealistic’ – Joyce

Parliament: Hansards –  Oral Questions – Questions to Ministers

Scoop media:  Anderton’s party should pay back $72,585

Parliament: Hansards –  General Debate

IRD:  Budget 2017

NZ Herald:  PM defends $30m payout to Rio Tinto

Fairfax media:  Flag referendum – Where does the $26 million go?

NZ Herald:  Saudi sheep deal – No evidence of legal threat from Saudi businessman

NZ Herald:  Filling the Cup – cost $500m and climbing

NZ Herald:  Bennett slammed over child poverty claim

TVNZ: Bill English says National’s families policy will lift ‘50,000 children above that poverty line’

Mediaworks:  Newshub Leaders Debate – Bill English commits to poverty target

Radio NZ:  Welfare increases – what $25 buys you

Newsroom:  Dip in NZ’s child poverty rate a start

National.org.nz:  Confirmation National’s changes halt child poverty

Fairfax media:  Why we shouldn’t celebrate child poverty falling for first time in years just yet

The World News:  On The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Judge Andrew Becroft

NZ Herald:  Government announces historic pay equity deal for care workers

Additional

Office of the Children’s Commissioner:  Child Poverty Monitor 2017 – Sustainable improvements needed

Fairfax media:  Why are you so afraid of tax?

Other Blogs

Boots Theory: No shit – money alleviates poverty

The Standard:  After nine long years National discovers there is child 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

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

Once were warm hearted

An unfortunate advertising placement, child poverty, and breathing air

Budget 2013: Child poverty, food in schools, and National’s response

National on Child Poverty?!

On child poverty, to the Sunday Star Times

The Negotiated Pay Equity Settlement for Care Workers – beware the fish-hooks amidst the hyperbole

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

Tracey Martin – The Children’s Champion

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 December 2017.

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Foot in mouth award – Bill English, for his recent “Flat Earth” comment in Parliament

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idiot bill english

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I won’t be wanting to see any hint of arrogance creeping in… One of the big messages I’ll be wanting to give incoming ministers and the caucus is that it is incredibly important that National stays connected with our supporters and connected with the New Zealand public.John Key, 22 September 2014

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It appears that Finance Minister, Bill English did not get the memo from Dear Leader Key’s office:  “Dont get arrogant!”

On 29 June, near two years after Key’s warning, Bill English’s cockiness has landed him in deep, fetid water when he responded to a question from Labour’s Grant Robertson in Parliament;

Grant Robertson: “Does he agree with the statement of Pope Francis I that “Inequality is the root of social evil”,  given that inequality has risen in New Zealand on his watch, and is it not time he got back to confession?”

Hon Bill English: “ There is no evidence that inequality in New Zealand is increasing.

A day later, interviewed by an exasperated Guyon Espiner, English again denied that inequality was increasing in this country. English’s tortuous mental and verbal gymnastics to deny rising inequality was utterly unconvincing and judging by the tone of his own voice, he wasn’t convincing himself either;

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Porirua family can only afford biscuits - bill english - radio nz - inequality - poverty

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English’s assertion that inequality in New Zealand is not rising beggars belief, when nearly every metric used has come precisely to that conclusion.

From the Salvation Army, last year;

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income inequality - salvation army - child poverty

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The Children’s Commissioner reported on increasing child-poverty, rising by  45,000 over a year ago to now 305,000  children now live in poverty;

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A third of NZ children live in poverty - childrens commissioner

 

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Statistics NZ’s report on the problem was unequivocal – “Between 1988 and 2014, income inequality between households with high incomes and those with low incomes widened“;

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income inequality - statistics nz - poverty

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1988 – When Rogernomics began in earnest. What a surprise.

Interestingly,  income inequality fell slightly in 2004, when Working for Families was introduced by the Clark-led Labour Government. Working For Families was the same policy derided by then-Opposition Finance spokesperson, John Key, as “communism by stealth“.

From the last bastion of “radical marxism”, the OECD, came this damning report on rising inequality in New Zealand impacting on our economic growth;

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income inequality - oecd nz - poverty

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The Report stated that “rising inequality is estimated to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off [economic] growth in Mexico and New Zealand“.

And even our Dear Leader once admitted that New Zealand’s “underclasses” was growing;

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key admits underclass still growing - poverty - foodbanks - homelessness

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So, is everybody – including Bill English’s boss – wrong?!

Is Bill English the sole voice-in-the-wilderness trying to spread The Truth, whilst everybody else – including faraway OECD – is wrong?!

Or has he run foul of Dear Leader’s prescient warnings not to become arrogant?

Enjoining the poor to ignore hunger and simply “Let them eat cake” did not work out well for a certain person 223 years ago. Bill English may not lose his head over his obstinate refusal to see the world around him – but he may lose the election next year.

So for Bill English, on behalf of those who are low-paid; homeless; unable to afford to buy a home; unemployed; poor; and will be spending tonight in a car or an alleyway, I nominate Bill English for a Foot In The Mouth Award;

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Foot In Mouth Award

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References

NZ Herald: Election 2014 – Triumphant PM’s strict line with MPs – Don’t get arrogant

Parliament Today: Questions & Answers – June 29

Radio NZ: Porirua family can only afford biscuits (audio)

Fairfax Media: Child poverty progress ‘fails’, Salvation Army says

Radio NZ: A third of NZ children live in poverty

Statistics NZ: Income inequality

MSD: Future Directions – Working for Families

NZ Herald: National accuses Government of communism by stealth

OECD: Trends in Income Inequality and its impact on economic growth

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Newstalk ZB: Demand for food banks, emergency housing much higher than before recession

Additional

Office of the Children’s Commissioner:

Previous related blogposts

When National is under attack – Deflect, deflect, deflect!

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

Why is Paula Bennett media-shy all of a sudden?

Park-up in Wellington – People speaking against the scourge of homelessness

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national's free market solution to housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 July 2016.

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

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Free Milk - Auckland School Children 1939c free milk 1937-1967 ATL

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1. We’ve had the ‘chat’

We should all know the facts and stats by now;

In 2006/07 230,000, or 22 percent, of New Zealand children were still living in poverty. That is, in households with incomes below the 60 percent median income poverty line, after taking housing costs into account. This is more than the entire population of North Shore City (205,605) or the Manawatu-Wanganui region (222,423) and means one adult and one child were living on $430 a week before housing costs. (see:  Brief Statistics on Child Poverty in New Zealand 2004-2008)

By 2011/12, approximately 270,000, or 25%, of New Zealand children were living in poverty. (see: Solutions to Child Poverty)

A recent UNICEF report placed New Zealand amongst the worst in developed countries for child wellbeing, ranking us 25th out of 34 developed countries.  We are  now behind Australia and Britain also for homicide rates, child health, and safety.  (See: NZ ranked poorly on child welfare)

The same UNICEF report rated our country  third for clean air and fourth for children’s education outcomes in reading, maths, science and literacy. I’m sure clean air and high achievements in readin’, writin’, ‘n ‘rithmetic, will mean a lot to young chldren going to school with empty bellies… (Note sarcasm.)

In 2011, Dennis McKinlay, executive director at Unicef New Zealand, said,

New Zealand currently spends US$14,600 ($17,500) per child whilst, in comparison, Scandinavian countries spend US$50,000 per child under six. Other countries, like the Netherlands, spend less but have better outcomes. The stark reality is that poor outcomes for children are costing New Zealand $6 billion per year in areas such as health, welfare services, crime and justice.

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Study: Quarter of NZ kids in poverty

McKinlay was 100% on the mark when he said spending  on children should not be considered as a social cost but as an economic investment for the future of the country.

We have lost our moral compass when we demand tax cuts ahead of good policies that benefit our children.

The situation is so dire for many families that their households are often empty of food. After rent, power, and other fixed costs are  taken out of their meagre incomes, there is simply not much left for discretionary spending on things  like food, medication, clothing, etc.

As a blogger, “Burnt out Teacher” (Amanda Kennedy),  recently wrote on The Daily Blog,

You have $440 dollars after tax from your minimum wage job. $290 of it goes on your rent. You have $150 left. You pay $198 towards your power bill. Your car needs registering at a cost of $290.97. You owe Watercare $58.20 for last month. You need at least $15 of petrol to get to the doctor and back (the doctor will cost another $20 per child) because your children have asthma and your house is damp and cold. Both kids need new shoes for winter. Your boyfriend just beat you up. You are crying. How much debt are you in, and what are your kids going to eat today?

Acknowledgement:  The Daily Blog – Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

To those who care enough, I encourage you to read “Burnt out Teacher’s” full blogpost. It makes for sobering reading.

2. More ‘chat’?

On 7 May, Children’s Commissioner, Dr  Russell Wills, wrote an op-ed piece for the Dominion Post;

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Time for a chat on food in schools

Acknowledgement: The Dominion Post – Time for a chat on food in schools

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As Dr Wills said,

We need solutions that recognise the many complex causes of child hunger and poverty if we are to use the limited resources we have to make a real difference to children’s education and health outcomes.

Blaming parents is unhelpful and simplistic.

So far, so good.

However, in the next sentence from Dr Wills gave cause for concern,

I am not a fan of overseas models of fully state-funded school cafeterias. They tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence, cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere, take up school management time, and provide no role for parents, business or community organisations.

Dr Wills may or may not realise that by  issuing the statement that “fully state-funded school cafeterias… tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence…” – he is perpetuating several unhealthy prejudices which the politically rightwing and conservative religious groups use to oppose food in schools for children.

Namely the extremist neo-conservative group, the so-called “Family First”, which also stated,

It also creates a dependence on a service which may not always be able to be provided…

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It also creates a dependence on a service which may not always be able to be provided.

Acknowledgement: “Family First’: Food In Schools Will Feed The Problem

Hopefully it is a mere coincidence that Dr Wills’ comments seem to mirror the extremist views of “Family First”.

Where Dr Wills’ op-ed piece falls down is his proposals for how to provide food in schools. Dr Wills proposed that schools be responsible for growing their own food, and to operate in partnerships with businesses. He promoted philanthropy rather than state intervention.

I asked for feedback from the principals of  two low decile schools, and from Bryan Bruce, documentary-maker,  child poverty campaigner,  and producer of  the documentary, “Inside Child Poverty“, on Dr Wills’ proposals.

I first asked all three;  having read Dr Wills’ op-ed piece, “Time for a chat on food in schools”, what was their overall view on the points he had made?

Ruth O’Neill
Principal, Cannons Creek School

The points he makes are quite valid. I think he is right that we do need a different approach to the way cafeteria type models run overseas.  NZ general has its main meal in the evening – however in saying that these children often only eat what they are given at school and don’t eat much in the evening. To form a group to look into the best way to supply food is a good idea.

Mike Fackney
Principal, Taita Central School

 

Overall, his comments are generally valid and his suggested solutions have merit – but only if you regard the solutions as short-term solutions. The real solution to child poverty is for structural changes to NZ society and changed government policies, particularly ensuring a decent living income for all. With this approach, all families would be able to afford the food, afford the time to put into their kids (not working 2 jobs, or working early morning shifts, etc). Education for parents to help with budgeting, cooking, etc would also fill a gap. Without this approach, the proposed solutions rely on businesses, charities, and schools.

I then asked, what was their view on Dr Wills’ suggestions that,

I am not a fan of overseas models of fully state-funded school cafeterias. They tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence, cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere, take up school management time, and provide no role for parents, business or community organisations.

Ruth O’Neill
 

I think he is right.  We need to look for a nutritious alternative that does not take school time – we are there to provide education not food.  The food needs to be provided by an independent source that is reliable.

Mike Fackney
 

I worked in UK schools for 4 years from 1999-2002, and saw the ‘school dinners’ (lunches) programme in operation. I don’t know about the cost to the authorities, but I don’t think it took up much school management time. The food quality was variable, but this is easily changed with the right will, as showed by Jamie Oliver’s crusade to make school dinners healthy.

Bryan Bruce
Documentary Producer

You can find good and bad examples of state funded cafeterias. So we know how bad it could be – let’s regulate the process from the start and model ourselves on the best ones – like the one I visited in Sweden . It is in a migrant area and the food was nutritious, tasty and much enjoyed by the kids .

My next point;  Dr Wills suggested that, “in some schools parents and whanau are encouraged to help garden, harvest veges, cook and serve the food. This teaches gardening and cooking skills, and helps build relationships between parents, whanau and teachers

Ruth O’Neill
 

This is a glorious hope – but it wont work in the long term.  Yes it is great to grow veges and encourage parents to be involved but this won’t supply the lunches everyday. The parents are not reliable enough to turn up everyday and make lunch – for it to work properly it needs to be a commercial venture.  Schools have to have a fully guaranteed liunch programme everyday that they don’t need to worry about.

Mike Fackney
 

Great if it works. Problems include vandalism to gardens, and difficulty to have parents regularly available. Yes it may help with relationships but not necessarily – relationship are better built over students’ education.

Bryan Bruce
 

While I think its a very good idea to teach kids how to grow food, but the idea of sustaining a school food programme on a grow your own basis would take up most of the playing fields and leave the kids with little time for anything else .

I then asked, is this practical practical in the short term? Long term? Would gardening, harvesting veges, cooking and serving the food be more time consuming than the provision of fully state-funded school meals?  Where would vegetables be cooked?

Ruth O’Neill
 

I have no idea where the food would be cooked on a large scale.  You have to employ people who have the skills to provide food on a large scale everyday.  We would have nowhere at present that you could cook or eat on a large scale.

Mike Fackney
 

I believe it would be [more time consuming than the provision of fully state-funded school meals].

With the UK school dinners, the schools have commercial kitchens. This school [Taita Central School] certain doesn’t have the necessary kitchen facilities.

Bryan Bruce
 

Food is a fundamental health need. Let’s put in the Swedish model – full time caterers and school restaurants. This will create jobs, ( for chefs, cooks, builders) which will stimulate our economy, reduce our health spend on crisis care for obese, diabetic and future adults with dodgy hearts.

Dr Wills further claimed that,  “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food, so the programme is linked to learning goals. In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme.”

Is a Public Private Partnership a desirable proposal? Or reliance on a a current ideological fad?

Does reliance on “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food” take students away from an already packed curriculum and place more demands on teachers and other staff?

Ruth O’Neill
 

Teachers do not have time to do this on the scale that is needed to feed the whole school.  Being out in the sunshine gardening is lovely – but what about winter!!!  We won’t get to National Standards in Reading, Writing, and Maths if we are out gardening all day.  To have small class gardens that we have where children grow vegetables and take them home is great and teaches the skills of growing food but this won’t work on an everyday basis to feed everyone.

Mike Fackney
 

To Dr Wills suggestion that  “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food, so the programme is linked to learning goals. In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme” – Mike Fackney responded,

This is fine, but not something which can really continue on an on-going basis, particularly with all the other expectations the government has on schools.

And when asked “Is a Public Private Partnership a desirable proposal? Or reliance on a a current ideological fad?” – he replied,

It’s never really a desirable proposal for schools to rely on private support.

Bryan Bruce
 

Bryan Bruce was even less enthusiastic at Dr Wills’ proposals,

We seem to be going back to the 19th Century idea of relying on charities and volunteers to look after the poor. Haven’t we learned anything ?

In my view it’s like this – teachers are not hired to be caterers. They are doing it out of compassion. Are we now asking them to be full time gardeners as well.

Dr Wills also said ; “In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme… It gives businesses an opportunity to give back to their communities, the cost to the taxpayer is reduced and the food is nutritious. Notice that these models leave responsibility for running and funding programmes with communities.”

He also states,

However, I think there could be two potential roles for government funding. First, there is a place for a co-ordination role to bring together schools and businesses, and manage the programme and the workload for principals and business owners.

Second, there is an argument to match government funding to philanthropy on a sliding scale.

For example, $3 for every $1 raised in a decile 1 school, decreasing for better-off schools.

Matched funding like this encourages communities to build and own their own solutions, and incentivises businesses to give to their communities rather than replacing philanthropy with taxpayer funding, which has the opposite effect. Funding could be made available only to programmes that adhere to agreed standards, raising the quality of programmes. None of this requires legislative change.”

Dr Wills appears to be promoting a State/Philantropy Partnership policy. Is this a practical means by which to promote food in schools, or is it an abrogation of duties which should be the State’s responsibility on this issue?

What happens where businesses or private philantropy is not forthcoming – especially in poorer areas with high unemployment and few businesses? And would private businesses expect a quid pro quo, ie, advertising on school grounds?

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Upper Hutt School

Photograph:  Upper Hutt School, Upper Hutt

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Ruth O’Neill
 

This again puts pressure on schools to spend time on activities other than teaching children!!  There is no money in the community. $10 is alot of money in Cannons Creek.  We do not charge more that $2 or $3 for a school trip and subsidise the rest with school money. We have no school fees and provide such things as sunhats, beanies, shoes, socks, etc ourselves.  I think there needs to be further investigation into how poor is poor.  It may only be small groups of decile 1 schools that need this support.

 

Mike Fackney
 

To Dr Wills’s comment that  “in many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme… It gives businesses an opportunity to give back to their communities, the cost to the taxpayer is reduced and the food is nutritious. Notice that these models leave responsibility for running and funding programmes with communities.”

Mike  replies,

A far easier way is that it’s organised through the taxation system (i.e. a fairer taxation system) and provided by government – as schools are.

As for the rest of Dr Wills’ comments above, Mike says,

All of this sounds like an organisation nightmare.

Bryan Bruce
 

If we want to rebuild a fair an equitable society where every child gets a fair go you can’t have kids in poor schools gardening to grow their dinner while kids in rich schools get their lunch provided and spend their school time doing maths and reading. If the public school system does not treat every child equally (and it already isn’t) then watch the gap between the rich and the poor get bigger and bigger.

Dr Wills also suggests that ,  “ … we need a small project to bring together schools, NGOs, officials and experts to reach a consensus on what food in schools done well looks like. From there we could develop guidelines and standards for food in schools programmes.
Is this a viable, necessary step? Or a case of “talking heads around a table” whilst the problem of hungry children goes unaddressed?

Ruth O’Neill
 

This sounds like a great idea – count me in. If this is going to be addressed properly and a long term healthy solution found then it needs a focused approach. With the right people and funding it could move quite quickly.

When I asked, can we afford Dr Wills’  suggestion “Maybe it’s time for a cup of tea on food in schools?“, Bryan Bruce was less than impressed,

Bryan Bruce

 

Forget the cup of tea and the charity and poor kids being constant gardeners – let’s get on and feed our kids properly so the teachers are freed to do their job and our kids can learn the 21 st Century skills they will need to earn money, pay their taxes and grow our economy.

Ruth also offered her thoughts on  matters arising  from Dr Wills’ ideas.
Questons such as; who cares and tends to the gardens during school holidays? Are school staff expected to tend to garden plots during holidays?

Ruth O’Neill

I can tell you that the class gardens all go to seed over the xmas break and then it takes all of term 1 when the soil is rock hard to get them up and running again.  Then in the winter they are like a bog!!! On any given weekend people will come into the grounds and trash them, throw alcohol and broken glass bottles in them. Urinate in them – would you want your child doing the gardening?? Or people steal the veges.

What about schools that have little or no spare land for gardens?

 Exactly??? Or who have high vandalism.

I then asked how much food can be grown to sustain anywhere from thirty to a few hundred school children in any given school? The respone from Ruth was fairly predictable,

You could not grow enough food to maintain the whole programme. It is also a question of having the right veges on the right day to make the soup or the sandwiches. You need lettuces and tomatoes everyday!!

And of course the also-obvious question which I put to Ruth –  what do children eat whilst crops are growing?

Exactly – totally impractical unless it is on a massive commercial scale for a big group of schools and the funding to buy in produce when needed to supplement supplies.

 

And is a “chat”  really necessary – or is it time to Just Do It; to get on with feeding our children and leave the “conversation” to some other time? (It’s easy for middle class professionals to want to engage in public debate. Especially on a full belly.)

Ruth O’Neill

It needs addressing and in a timely manner – the chat would need to lead to actions and funding.

Mike Fackney

All of the above are very valid concerns.

This blogger concurs with Bryan, Ruth, and Mike; Dr Wills has suggested some positive ideas – but the prospect of turning our schools into vast agricultural plots to feed hungry child is simply not practical.

Children go to school, first and foremost, to learn.

Those children from low-income or impoverished families should not be made to become mini-farmers.

Teachers go to school, first and foremost, to teach.

They do not expect to add Farm Manager to their C.V.

Child poverty is here, in our country. Whilst right wing conservatives  ‘tut-tut’ and wag their judgemental fingers at the problem (I refuse point-blank to call it an “issue”), children through no fault of their own are going hungry and their  learning experience is diminished.

As a nation, it is almost as if we have embarked on a deliberate course of increasing poverty and ensuring the advent of the next generation of impoverished New Zealanders.

If that is our aim, then we are exceeding all expectations. The UNICEF report referred to above proves that poverty is a growth industry in this country.

The time for “chat” is over.

3. “Feed The Kids” Bill in Parliament – Chat with MPs

The Mana Party in Parliament has a Bill before the House. The bill is designed to fund nutritional breakfasts and lunches to all their students in decile 1 and 2 schools.

For more info, see: Feed the Kids Bill

As their website points out,

  • Feeding the kids should be our first priority as a nation.
  • The Bill aims to set up government funded breakfast and lunch programmes in all decile 1-2 schools.
  • It’s a simple, easy and immediate way to address growing levels of child poverty in Aotearoa and has been a key recommendation of leading organisations such as the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.
  • The Bill is expected to come before Parliament for its first reading on Wednesday 5 June. So far Labour, Greens, Maori Party, NZ First, and Independent MP Brendan Horan have agreed to support it.
  • We need one more vote to get it passed and to a select committee for further consideration.

One more vote.

That’s all it will take.

Accordingly, Documentary-maker and child poverty campaigner, Bryan Bruce, is encouraging people to write to all MPs, asking that they vote for the Bill. As Bryan wrote on his Facebook Page,

You’re 7 years old. It’s winter. You haven’t had breakfast and you’re hungry. What do you want to hear?

“Why doesn’t your Mum feed you in the morning? I hope you’re not going to grow up to be a bad parent like her?”

OR

“Hey! Here’s some Milo. There’s toast over there and weetbix , milk and fruit on the table. Help yourself.”

We can’t change tomorrow if we don’t do the right thing today.

Please contact your local MP and ask them to support the Feed The Kids Bill. You will find their email addresses here:

http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/MPs

Bryan even suggests a pre-formatted letter to send,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

My name is…………. I live in your electorate . I urge you to commit to cross- party talks on how to end Child Poverty in New Zealand.

Please begin by agreeing to Cross-Party discussions on how we can implement a policy of supplying healthy meals in schools and show good faith by supporting the Feed The Kids Bill as a first step.

Yours faithfully………

Even something as simple as,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

Please support the Feed the Kids Bill. Nothing is as important as ensuring that all children have a decent chance in life.

Yours faithfully………

Or,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

Please support the Feed the Kids Bill. This is so important to me that I’ll be basing my vote at the next election for those candidates/parties who support this Bill.

Yours faithfully………

The MPs email addresses,

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Adams, Amy National Party, Selwyn
Ardern, Jacinda Labour Party, List
Ardern, Shane National Party, Taranaki-King Country
Auchinvole, Chris National Party, List
Bakshi, Kanwaljit Singh National Party, List
Banks, John ACT New Zealand, Epsom
Barry, Maggie National Party, North Shore
Beaumont, Carol Labour Party, List
Bennett, David National Party, Hamilton East
Bennett, Paula National Party, Waitakere
Blue, Jackie National Party, List
Borrows, Chester National Party, Whanganui
Bridges, Simon National Party, Tauranga
Browning, Steffan Green Party, List
Brownlee, Gerry National Party, Ilam
Calder, Cam National Party, List
Carter, David National Party, List
Clark, David Labour Party, Dunedin North
Clendon, David Green Party, List
Coleman, Jonathan National Party, Northcote
Collins, Judith National Party, Papakura
Cosgrove, Clayton Labour Party, List
Cunliffe, David Labour Party, New Lynn
Curran, Clare Labour Party, Dunedin South
Dalziel, Lianne Labour Party, Christchurch East
Dean, Jacqui National Party, Waitaki
Delahunty, Catherine Green Party, List
Dunne, Peter United Future, Ohariu
Dyson, Ruth Labour Party, Port Hills
English, Bill National Party, Clutha-Southland
Faafoi, Kris Labour Party, Mana
Fenton, Darien Labour Party, List
Finlayson, Christopher National Party, List
Flavell, Te Ururoa Maori Party, Waiariki
Foss, Craig National Party, Tukituki
Genter, Julie Anne Green Party, List
Gilmore, Aaron National Party, List
Goff, Phil Labour Party, Mt Roskill
Goldsmith, Paul National Party, List
Goodhew, Jo National Party, Rangitata
Graham, Kennedy Green Party, List
Groser, Tim National Party, List
Guy, Nathan National Party, Otaki
Hague, Kevin Green Party, List
Harawira, Hone Mana, Te Tai Tokerau
Hayes, John National Party, Wairarapa
Heatley, Phil National Party, Whangarei
Henare, Tau National Party, List
Hipkins, Chris Labour Party, Rimutaka
Horan, Brendan Independent, List
Hughes, Gareth Green Party, List
Huo, Raymond Labour Party, List
Hutchison, Paul National Party, Hunua
Jones, Shane Labour Party, List
Joyce, Steven National Party, List
Kaye, Nikki National Party, Auckland Central
Key, John National Party, Helensville
King, Annette Labour Party, Rongotai
King, Colin National Party, Kaikoura
Lee, Melissa National Party, List
Lees-Galloway, Iain Labour Party, Palmerston North
Little, Andrew Labour Party, List
Logie, Jan Green Party, List
Lole-Taylor, Asenati NZ First, List
Lotu-Iiga, Peseta Sam National Party, Maungakiekie
Macindoe, Tim National Party, Hamilton West
Mackey, Moana Labour Party, List
Mahuta, Nanaia Labour Party, Hauraki-Waikato
Mallard, Trevor Labour Party, Hutt South
Martin, Tracey NZ First, List
Mathers, Mojo Green Party, List
McClay, Todd National Party, Rotorua
McCully, Murray National Party, East Coast Bays
McKelvie, Ian National Party, Rangitikei
Mitchell, Mark National Party, Rodney
Moroney, Sue Labour Party, List
Ngaro, Alfred National Party, List
Norman, Russel Green Party, List
O’Connor, Damien Labour Party, West Coast-Tasman
O’Connor, Simon National Party, Tamaki
O’Rourke, Denis NZ First, List
Parata, Hekia National Party, List
Parker, David Labour Party, List
Peters, Winston NZ First, List
Prasad, Rajen Labour Party, List
Prosser, Richard NZ First, List
Robertson, Grant Labour Party, Wellington Central
Robertson, Ross Labour Party, Manukau East
Roche, Denise Green Party, List
Ross, Jami-Lee National Party, Botany
Roy, Eric National Party, Invercargill
Ryall, Tony National Party, Bay of Plenty
Sabin, Mike National Party, Northland
Sage, Eugenie Green Party, List
Shanks, Katrina National Party, List
Sharples, Pita Maori Party, Tamaki Makaurau
Shearer, David Labour Party, Mt Albert
Simpson, Scott National Party, Coromandel
Sio, Su’a William Labour Party, Mangere
Smith, Nick National Party, Nelson
Stewart, Barbara NZ First, List
Street, Maryan Labour Party, List
Tirikatene, Rino Labour Party, Te Tai Tonga
Tisch, Lindsay National Party, Waikato
Tolley, Anne National Party, East Coast
Tremain, Chris National Party, Napier
Turei, Metiria Green Party, List
Turia, Tariana Maori Party, Te Tai Hauauru
Twyford, Phil Labour Party, Te Atatu
Upston, Louise National Party, Taupo
Wagner, Nicky National Party, Christchurch Central
Walker, Holly Green Party, List
Wall, Louisa Labour Party, Manurewa
Wilkinson, Kate National Party, Waimakariri
Williams, Andrew NZ First, List
Williamson, Maurice National Party, Pakuranga
Woodhouse, Michael National Party, List
Woods, Megan Labour Party, Wigram
Yang, Jian National Party, List
Young, Jonathan National Party, New Plymouth

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I leave the final word to Bryan, from his Facebook page,

OK, let’s get some things straight about providing free healthy meals in schools.

1. First of all let’s decide on the principle before arguing about the detail.

Let’s admit there is a significant problem of children turning up to school hungry and that a lot of kids are eating low cost foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat , causing obesity , diabetes and long term health problems.

And at least get the Feed The Kids Bill to Parliamentary Select Committee. You can argue all you want about how it should be funded or what’s going to be on the menu there.

If you don’t think we have a community responsibility to feed children and/or educate their palates to healthy eating habits – then read no further it will only make you angry.

2. It doesn’t fill a hungry kids tummy to point at their parents and shout “Your problem is you have bad parents”. This page takes the view that kids don’t get to choose their parents and we have a community responsibility to ALL our kids to make sure they grow up healthy. And if that means feeding them for free- then that’s what we do.

3. No one is going to force feed any child food they don’t want to eat or is culturally inappropriate. If you watch the video below which I filmed in Sweden for the documentary you will see children from multi -cultural backgrounds CHOOSING their food. And Yes children with allergies are catered for and Yes children can still bring their own lunch prepared by the parents .

4.Free healthy school meals can be paid for without raising taxes. We just choose to re-distribute the existing pool of tax payer money and give up on some other things. Here are some suggestions, I’m sure you can think of other ways we could spend smarter.

(a) We could fund school meals out of the Health vote rather than the Education vote. In a document released under the Official Information Act I revealed that children under 14 receive 10% of the money set aside for health care. But children under 14 represent 20% of our population. So we could fund some of it – if not all of it – by giving kids their fair share.

(b )It is a well accepted health statistic that for every $1 we spend on preventing disease we save $4 in expensive hospital cure. So within a few years the scheme will fund itself out of what we save. If we DON’T do it, taxpayers will be spending much more than they are now on the Health budget in the future.

(c) We could make children a spending priority. National plans to spend a billion a year on Roads of National Significance over the next 10 years. What about Children? – aren’t they of National Significance? I’d much rather feed our kids than be able to by – pass small towns while driving to Auckland .

(d) We could pay the pension to people when they actually stop working and not just because they reach 65.

(e) We could spend more energy making sure people paid their taxes . Last year the IRD detected about a Billion dollars worth of tax evasion mostly by businesses. It’s estimated that the real tax evasion in NZ is between 4 and 5 Billion.


If you pay PAYE you can’t cheat your taxes. So we could easily pay for free school meals if more adults played fair.

Let’s impose greater penalties for tax evasion, and let’s stop thinking of tax as a bad thing. Tax is a good thing – it’s giving to ourselves. That’s how we can have schools and hospitals and yes even Roads Of National significance. Tax is the price of civilisation. Get over it.

Now whether you agree with some of the above, all of the above or none of the above , let’s at least agree that The Feed The Kids Bill should at least go to Select Committee after its First Reading so the issue can be properly debated.

Please contact your local MP today and urge them to support the Feed The Kids Bill.

You can find their contact details here, just click on their name :

http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/MPs

Thank you,
Bryan

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 May 2013.

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Acknowledgement

My sincerest appreciation and thanks go  to Bryan Bruce, Mike Fackney, and  Ruth O’Neill for taking time out of their busy schedules to respond to my questions.

Other Blog Posts

The Daily Blog: Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

References

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key (17 Feb 2011)

Scoop: Government Policy Impacting Child Poverty Levels   (30 May 2012)

NZ Herald: Poverty not only reason for suicide spike, says Key (30 Oct 2012)

Fairfax Media: Time for a chat on food in schools (7 May 2013)

Additional

Mana Party: Feed the Kids #fact sheet

Feed The Kids

Facebook: Community Campaign for Food in Schools – NZ

Ten Myths About Welfare

The Children’s Social Health Monitor: Child Poverty and Living Standards

Other blogposts

The Pundit: Children’s Commissioner fronts for Nats on food in schools: Corporate agenda rules

And from the nasty side of Conservative Rightwing politics

“Family First’: Food In Schools Will Feed The Problem

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“Dopey is as dopey does”, according to Dear Leader

31 August 2012 20 comments

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For a man who was raised in a state house; in a single-parent family; and who had all the benefits of a free tertiary education, John Key’s attitude towards those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale leaves a lot to be desired.

Let’s re-cap,

  • John Key’s father died, leaving his mother a solo-mum, to raise children by herself,
  • She would have received the DPB or widow’s benefit (and quite rightly so)
  • She would most likely have been eligible for the Family Benefit, paid to families with children until Ruth Richardson scrapped it in her  1991 “Mother of all Budgets”
  • John Key’s family  enjoyed a state house, with low-rent and security of tenure
  • And lastly, John Key was given a free, tax-payer funded University education (no student fees or debt)

When the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group (EAG) report was released, it’s recommendations included,

First, the group will call for a Warrant of Fitness for landlords. Given John Key has this weekend stressing the success of the Green-inspired home insulation scheme, but the disappointing uptake from landlords, it’s a timely bit of advice.

A WOF on rental homes would ensure poor kids don’t grow up in leaky, cold and unhealthy homes. Really, a safe, warm house should be a basic requirement if you’re going to charge rent. Who can argue with that?

Second, it’ll call for meals to be provided more widely in schools. Some, such as Deborah Morris-Travers from Every Child Counts says that’s a no-brainer. Children need food if they’re to learn and deal with the social demands of school. Some are less keen, however, arguing it takes the onus off parents and puts more pressure on teachers to feed as well as teach our children.

But another study shows this could just be the thin end of the school wedge. Every Child Counts’ Netherlands study this week talked about schools becoming a community hub, with not only meals but before and after school care, nurses, social workers and clubs.

It’s a bold prescription, but one that works overseas by helping working parents and keeping families connected to their schools.

Third, the EAG is expected to call for some form of long-term and universal state assistance for kids – maybe a Universal Child Benefit, or some money every week for every child born. Until 1991 we had such a thing – a Family Benefit. That went in the Bolger/Richardson years.

See: Tim Watkin: It’s time to talk about child poverty again

These three options could put a serious dent into child poverty. A Universal Child Benefit – along the lines of  the old Family Benefit – could add an extra $150  and  extra food on the tables of low-income families.

John Key’s response? In Parliament, responding to a point made by Greens co-leader, Metiria Turei [error correction], he bellowed with great gusto,

We are in an unequal society in New Zealand in her view because the rich are getting richer. And now she is on her feet telling me ‘give the rich families even more for their kids’. What a dopey idea that is.”

See: Key dismisses payment for all parents as ‘dopey’

What a mean-spirited, shallow-thinking man we have as a leader of our nation.

without a  doubt, John Key has a constituency of many other selfish, mean-spirited, short-sighted people in this country. There are a fair number of ill-educated and self-centered who think that the only solution to poverty is to do nothing, and let the poor struggle on. These people have no compassion.

That is the kind of  shallow-thinking that will eventually  doom a society to growing income-disparity; increasing gap between the Haves and Have Nots; and eventual social dislocation and violence.

Such people who think that the poor are poor because they deserve it are a far greater menace to the fabric of our social cohesion, than all the patched gang-members in our community.

For John Key to dismiss a proposed  Universal Child Benefit as “dopey” shows us only one thing; he has forgotten his roots. He has forgotten where he came from. He has forgotten not just the sacrifices of his family – but the strong community support that he benefitted from, and gave him the opportunity to make himself rich.

John Key is where he is because other taxpayers contributed to his housing, education, healthcare, and well-being.

He did not do it by himself.

This blogger does not begrudge Dear Leader’s bulging bank account of $50 million.

What I find reprehensible  is that he would deny other families the chance to access similar support to give their children a decent start in life.

Paula Bennett did the same with the Training Incentive Allowance. Bennett used the TIA to gain a free tertiary education for herself – and then cut the Allowance in 2009. Other solo-mothers can no longer use the same TIA to put themselves through University, and get of the DPB.

See: Bennett rejects ‘hypocrite’ claims

This blogger wonders at the like of John Key and Paula Bennett,  and  how they can deny others the same state-funded assistance that they themselves benefitted from.

What kind of human beings are these people?

How can they forget the assistance that they received when in need?

And what possible satisfaction  do they get when they deny state assistance to their fellow New Zealanders? Especially the same assistance that Key and Bennett personally benefitted from?

The greatest poverty that a society can endure is not monetary. It is a paucity of leadership. It is a lack of hope. And it is a disconnect in social compassion.

When we allow cruelty over compassion, then we are in deep trouble.

It is said that when facing a problem, the three challenges are,

  1. Identify the problem,
  2. Come up with solutions,
  3. Have the Will to implement those solution.

We know the problem.

We have the solutions.

Our leaders are still looking for #3.

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Previous related blogposts

Once upon a time there was a solo-mum

Hypocrisy – thy name be National

Hon. Paula Bennett, Minister of Hypocrisy

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