Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Child Poverty: The Manifestation Of Parental Sin?

Simple Message - Contradictory Response: In the minds of many conservative New Zealanders a battle rages between their instinctive urge to protect and defend our species’ most vulnerable members, and an equally powerful conviction that their children, as extensions of themselves, constitute a form of personal property – over whom the community and/or the state should exercise only a strictly limited authority.
 
WHEN IT COMES to children, the attitudes of New Zealanders are contradictory and hard to fathom. On the one hand, we respond with genuine anguish to media accounts of infants fallen victim to adult violence. On the other, we sign monster petitions demanding the right to administer corporal punishment to our own children. If asked, we will agree emphatically that “the needs of the child must always come first”. But, when welfare agencies and anti-poverty campaigners attempt to do just that, we attack them for undermining parental responsibility.
 
It’s as if, in the mind of every Kiwi, a battle rages between the instinctive urge to protect and defend our species’ most vulnerable members; and an equally powerful conviction that our children, as extensions of ourselves, constitute a form of personal property – over whom the community and/or the state should exercise only a strictly limited authority.
 
Nowhere are these contradictory impulses more clearly on display than in the current debate over whether or not our schools should provide their pupils with meals. Wrapped around this narrowly-focused proposal to “Feed the Kids” is a much wider debate about whether or not a substantial minority of New Zealand children (estimated at 270,000) are living in poverty.
 
Conservative New Zealanders take umbrage at the very suggestion that such a large number of their fellow citizens could be living in such conditions. They simply deny that child poverty exists. What they believe New Zealand is witnessing, in the children who arrive at school every morning hungry, unshod and ill-clothed, is evidence not of inadequate resources, but of poor parenting.
 
According to these conservative New Zealanders, thousands of Kiwi parents are making poor choices about their priorities. What’s more, the institutions of the welfare state, by failing to impose a more appropriate set of priorities and enforce more sensible parental choices, have ensured that the perfectly adequate resources allocated to welfare beneficiaries are both misapplied and misspent.
 
Underpinning this conservative view is what can only be described as an alarmingly eugenicist set of assumptions.
 
So many poor parental choices, the conservatives argue, is proof that a certain (and seemingly quite large) percentage of the population are simply not up to the role of parenting. The straightforward, and brutal, solution? Do not allow such people to breed – or, if they do, take away their children and place them with couples whose parental choices pass muster.
 
It was this sort of thinking that, in Australia, led to the “Stolen Generation”. Thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their parents and placed with God-fearing, upstanding, middle-class White Australians. The parental choices of the latter, it was assumed, would be far superior to those of Aboriginal Australians. The cycle of poverty and abuse which plagued indigenous communities could thus be broken, and in just a few generations the Aboriginal “problem” would disappear.
 
The colossal failure of imagination which the “Stolen Generation” policy represented; the singular lack of empathy which made its implementation such a shameful chapter in Australian history; similarly disfigures the analysis of New Zealand’s conservatives.
 
It is common to hear talkback callers and conservative commentators declare that no matter how hard family life has become and no matter how tough their financial circumstances, no parent should ever be excused for allowing their child to go to school hungry.
 
The mental, physical and moral disintegration afflicting individuals subjected to prolonged periods of social isolation and material deprivation is well-attested in the academic literature. The collapse of self-esteem; the recourse to alcohol and drugs as a means of deadening intense emotional distress; the increased propensity to explosive episodes of violence and self-harm: all of these symptoms – the entirely predictable consequences of poverty – are encountered by WINZ staff, police officers, social-workers, GPs, practice nurses and teachers every day of the week. They are not, however, encountered with any frequency by those who claim there is no excuse for sending a child to school hungry.
 
The conservatives have become intellectually immune to even the logical inconsistencies of their hard-line attitudes. They refuse to differentiate the weak and broken-spirited adults of their analysis from the innocent and suffering children. As mere extensions of the pathetic human-beings they were foolish enough to choose as their mothers and fathers, the children of poverty are clearly expected to go down with the parental ship.
 
The polarisation of New Zealand society into “comfortable” and “struggling” has been accompanied by a not unrelated polarisation of political convictions. Among the comfortably-off we are witnessing a wholesale rejection of the paternalism which characterised the politics of earlier conservative leaders like Gordon Coates and Keith Holyoake. In its place we find a new enthusiasm for the politics of exclusion, punishment and shame.
 
As if our children’s only role is to embody for posterity their parents’ blameless success or guilty failure.
 
This essay was originally published by The Press of Tuesday, 21 May 2013.

16 comments:

Tim said...

"As if our children’s only role is to embody for posterity their parents’ blameless success or guilty failure."
That best sums it up.

Moi offspring are moi possessions and I'll raise then however Oi Loik -alternatively, however I like! and there ain't no nanny state that's gunna tell me otherwise.
They're the product of MY (Me me me I I I) loins; they're moi best frenz -I know them like no other.
I'm best suited to raise them - even if I do give them a clip around the ear (or belt them regularly) just as Victorian England did.
They're MINE dammit! MINE I say - they are my possession! They're the most important, loyal reflection of my inner self that I (I I I me me me) could possibly imagine. Yae - there can be no other!
And I'm not gunna have some bleeding heart liberal tell me otherwise.

Whether the plans I have for MY son to get an earn from the proceeds of a P-Lab; OR whether I (I I I me me me) have him carry on the trad doctor/lawyer/politician inheritance, they're fucking MINE dammit!

Psycho Milt said...

The conservatives have become intellectually immune to even the logical inconsistencies of their hard-line attitudes.

Awesome. You go from "poor parental choices," to how that means "Do not allow such people to breed," to how this is just like the "Stolen Generation," then you berate others for displaying logical inconsistencies. Top marks.

They refuse to differentiate the weak and broken-spirited adults of their analysis from the innocent and suffering children.

I'm wondering how exactly you think the "innocent and suffering children" get to become "weak and broken-spirited adults." Just random chance? Oppression by the boss class? Society's disapproval? I mean, obviously their home life can't have anything to do with it, that would imply some kind of parental responsibility for these children, as though they were personal possessions or something...

Anonymous said...

They deny child poverty by claiming it's not real poverty as well. Poverty in their estimation is starvation. Nothing less counts.

David said...

I have a theory that a lot of parents secretly enjoy the fact that they get to boss their children around. For most people, their children are the only people they get to tell what to do. Usually they are getting told what to do themselves

Frank said...

Yes, I've heard those same conservatives demand that parenting be licensed.

To which I politely ask them who they would like on the panel that determines if said conservatives can or can't have children, and how many. (Brian Tamaki? Judith Collins? John Banks?)

Then I suggest to said conservative that it took a totalitarian government such as the Chinese communist regime to implement strict laws on family planning.

Then I pop the $100 million question; do they want to live in a country where the State - via a committee of total strangers - determines how many kids they have? Or if they can even have kids?

The resulting silence is answer enough.

On a positive note, it appears that the Nats may be dragged kicking and screaming to some form (?!?!) of food in schools. I dread to think what abomination they come up with... but it does signal to the rest of the country that even National recognises that a problem (I refuse to call it an "issue") exists. In such a manner will the Nats drag their own along with them.

Jigsaw said...

Some really distorted views on display here. As a teacher for almost 40 years I didn't resort to physical punishment and did my best to stop parental violence whenever I was able (sometimes in the past the state agencies simply weren't responsive to requests-even demands.) Some people are simply not able to cope with everyday life, let alone to look after another human being and that's a fact. Blaming conservatives is simply rubbish. I have taught in a country that like most western countries supplied a midday meal-for a charge-I don't know of any country that supplies breakfast for students.Breakfast is something that parents should supply and supplying it would simply quite quickly ensure that many parents would shift the responsibility to the school. Children are not the property of the parents but they are their responability and they have to be held to that. The State makes a rotten parent.

Brendan said...

“Feed the Kids is a much wider debate about whether or not a substantial minority of New Zealand children (estimated at 270,000) are living in poverty."

After 80 years of the welfare state here in New Zealand we have arrived at 270,000 children living in poverty?

How could that happen?

Clearly we are not redistributing enough personal taxation into welfare. Lets check the Treasury tables.

2012 Total (PAYE) collected at source, $21B dollars.

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/budget/forecasts/befu2012/060.htm

2) 2012 Total Welfare payments, $21B dollars.

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/budget/forecasts/befu2013/079.htm

Really, does every cent gathered in PAYE taxation from working New Zealanders get transferred to their fellow Kiwi's who are living on welfare? Well if you can believe Treasury that's the case.

Forget health, education, justice, defence, and so on, they are all funded by corporate tax, GST and borrowing.

Approximately 40% of the Government's budget is spent on welfare, and we have over 200,000 kids living in poverty?

How much money does it take to fix this?

The answer is there is not enough money on the planet to fix this because money is not the problem, parental dysfunction is the problem, and while acknowledging that doesn't help these kids, I'd suggest to you that going to school without breakfast is the very least of their problems. 21,000 of these kids were confirmed child abuse cases in 2011, 83% of the abuse came from welfare dependent households. I'd suggest the figures would be the same or greater in 2012 and 2013....

For way to many of these kids, escaping the house before the adult(s) surface is their main priority and avoiding harm when they eventually get home becomes their next highest priority.

You cannot perfect people with more money, but you can possibly do something to restrict the numbers entering into the trap of welfare, dysfunction, poverty and abuse. This has to be where we start.



Anonymous said...

Brendan - 09:41 pm, 21.05.13:

Your information and comments do not quite stack up, I am afraid.

Total social security spending in NZ is about 25.5 billion and total budget spending about 93 billion, so that makes it roughly 27.4 per cent of total state or Crown spending!

See details via these links:

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/expenditure

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/government/financialstatements/yearend/jun12/018.htm

Total tax revenue in 2010-2011 was roughly 47 billion, see it here:

http://www.ird.govt.nz/aboutir/reports/briefing/briefing-2011/bim-11/bim-2011-administration.html

But tax revenue is only a major part of government income, as there are added to that other revenues through Crown investments, e.g. including dividends from SOEs and other sources.

PAYE is just part of total tax take, and with a maximum income tax of only 33 per cent, New Zealand has one of the lowest income tax rates around (in the OECD at least).

Retirement and social security spending in NZ compares rather favourably when compared with other countries:

http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/journals-and-magazines/social-policy-journal/spj36/36-nz-retirement-provision.html

Naturally a significant share of social security sped is also retirement incomes, same as sundry other services, including covering expensive accommodation costs for renters, disability and sundry costs for sick and disabled.

To argue like you do, a bigger picture must be seen. Naturally parental responsibility is important, but poverty breeds not just dependence and social ills, it is source of such issues. That affects kids of parents reliant on welfare.

NZ has like many countries growing marginalisation of casual and part time workers, unable to keep up with living costs. Property owning middle class also subsidise their standards by collecting welfare from welfare renters and so.

NZ is a high cost, comparatively low income and low productivity society, and those you may blame for failing do so, because there is insufficient job and income security for a start.

A self created catch 22 situation, from following short sighted economic and social policies.

HC

Anonymous said...

'Parental dysfunction' stems from poverty, as people lose hope of ever being able to do more than just make ends meet at best. I would say - rather than after 80 years of social welfare - after 30 years of neo-liberalism we have arrived at 270,000 children living in poverty. Because basically that's what it's designed to do.

Paulus said...

I understand that no more than 25% of low decile schools have accepted the donations from Sanitarium and Fonterra for Weetbix etc and Milk for breakfast.
I do not have time to confirm my source today but can there be a useful comment please as to why this is.
Is it because these companies see a value to New Zealand in this way ?

Kat said...

"insufficient job and income security for a start"
"insufficient job and income security for a start"
"insufficient job and income security for a start"
"insufficient job and income security for a start"
"insufficient job and income security for a start"
"insufficient job and income security for a start"
"insufficient job and income security for a start"

Exactly....!

peterpeasant said...

Beware Greeks bearing gifts.

An exhortation coming from some Mediterranean society in "classical Grecian" times.
The Greek city states were very actively colonising whatever terrestrial bits of their neighbourhood that could be exploited.

Schools resisting offers from Sanitarium and Fonterra are being wisely cautious.

Nothing in the Sanitarium range of products could be remotely described as healthy or desirable.

Some Fonterra products could be useful and or healthy. The remainder are highly questionable.

Both companies promote products that induce very high levels of glucose production and very little else.

The same effect is achieved by feeding soda pops, teaspoons of sugar, fruit juice to our kids 24/7.

Anyone wonder why we have a so called "epidemic" of obesity and diabetes?

To hand over responsibility to outsiders (with their own agendas)for feeding our children is a very fraught exercise.

Most of our children get fed a dodgy diet from home because their parents believe the marketing claptrap put out by various corporates and a comatose media.

Do we really want our kids sent off to school to accept sweeties (for breakfast) offered to them by strangers?

All corporates act in the interests of their owners, not children of the poor.

The long term health/education goals of a society are irrelevant to corporates.

Short term high salary bonuses and shareholder returns are the only things that matter.

Marie Antoinette could only offer cake (apocryphal).

Shonkey can offer Sanitarium and Fonterra.

danial young said...

Why do we not afford our children food to take to school.Could it be something about their parent or parents being unemployed.Could it be their parents employed with enough wage to service the rent,the mortgage.Could it be politicians serving their masters donation for their good and those lesser should be better educated.

uke said...

When poverty comes in the door, love goes out the window...

Anonymous said...

Natinal are not a conservative government anymore, they are hard left.
But they don't care about the kids.
True conservatives are rare.

reed said...

Simple Message - Contradictory Response: In the minds of many conservative New Zealanders a battle rages between their instinctive urge to protect and defend our species’ most vulnerable members, and an equally powerful conviction that their children, as extensions of themselves, constitute a form of personal property – over whom the community and/or the state should exercise only a strictly limited authority.

Are you saying the community and/or the state has unlimited authority over other people's children?