Tuesday 25 September 2012

Not So Great Expectations

A Victim Of Her Own Poor Personal Choices? Why are middle-class New Zealanders so eager to visit the sins of struggling working-class parents upon their innocent children? And why are the comfortable so blind to the social consequences of punishing the poor?

MY NEPHEW is a policeman. For the last two years he’s been part of the beefed-up policing effort in South Auckland. He has his share of “better work stories”, but most of the policing he does is “domestic related”.
When he told me this, I pictured him stepping between angry men and women. That’s certainly a big part of his job, but what shocked me were his stories about children.
“The first thing we do is check to see that the kids are all right. So, it’s: ‘Where’s the fridge?’ No fridge. You’d be amazed how many houses I’ve been in that didn’t have one. So you look for the pantry. Nothing. No food. And there’s five kids in the house.”
My nephew isn’t judgemental. He simply tells me: “It’s a totally different world. People’s expectations are completely different. If you haven’t seen it, you just can’t imagine it.”
Our failure, as a nation, to respond to the reality of poverty, especially as it affects children, is, overwhelmingly, a failure of imagination. There are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who simply cannot conceive how a family could live without a fridge. How a pantry could be empty of food. How children could be left to go hungry.
Following an item on TV3’s Campbell Live showing the full lunch-boxes of Year 6 pupils at a Decile Ten primary school and the almost total absence of lunch-boxes (and lunches!) among children of the same age at a Decile One school, the letters columns of the daily press were filled with parental indignation.
This wasn’t evidence of child poverty, the letter-writers railed, this was evidence of parental failure and neglect.
The people who take this position aren’t heartless and judgemental right-wingers (as some of my hard-line left-wing brethren have been quick to brand them) they are simply working from a different set of expectations.
It is probable that they have never experienced a prolonged period without money. It’s equally unlikely that they have ever faced weeks or months without enough food to eat or a place to live. The chances are similarly high that they have never been forced to beg a state servant to provide these things for themselves and their family.
If no one you know has ever been penniless, hungry or homeless; if your expectations of an income, a well-stocked refrigerator and a warm and comfortable home have always been met; then it is actually very difficult to attribute the absence of these necessities to anything other than poor personal choices.
And if someone allows their children to depart for school hungry and without a full lunch-box simply because they’ve made poor personal choices, then that person is guilty of neglecting – even abusing – his or her children and deserves to be punished severely.
This is clearly the thinking behind the present government’s welfare reforms. Poor personal choices are being tackled head-on. Any repeated failure on the part of a welfare beneficiary to meet a very basic set of social and familial expectations is going to be punished – hard.
But self-righteous retribution is a poor substitute for empathic imagination. It does, however, allow us to kid ourselves that we’ve answered the biggest question arising out of the poverty debate: How does this happen? Once we’ve decided that poverty is the result of poor personal choices, then the search for evidence can cease. We all know the causes: time to concentrate on the remedies.
But we don’t know the causes – not really. We don’t like to think about the expectations that poverty hard-wires into children, or of its effects on the people attempting to raise them. We don’t factor in the consequences of domestic violence on childhood development, or the impact of poor nutrition and the diseases of poverty on the little human-beings growing up in houses without fridges, where the cold and damp weakens immune systems. We don’t grasp the effect on a child’s education of always being hungry, or having to move house every few months. We can’t imagine what it’s like: always being a stranger in the classroom; an outsider in the playground. We don’t think about the sort of person a child like that grows into.
Are these really “poor personal choices”? Did these children ask to be born into poverty? And do we ever stop to think what sort of people (with what sort of expectations and addictions) they will grow into? Because children do not remain children forever. As the sapling is bent, so grows the tree.
Only a handful of us: schoolteachers, nurses, doctors and, yes, policemen, move freely between the two nations that New Zealand now encompasses. If only our hearts and minds would open as wide as our eyes when we learn what they have seen in the nation of the poor.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 25 September 2012.


Gerrit said...

Sadly none of the investigative journalists (or the local bobby)is able to report to household income and the "other" spending habits of the parent (or parents).

No money for food because there is no income? or no money for food as it is spend elsewhere.

Untill we see some solid reporting on the budgets of these "poor" households, the whole concept of "lack of food for kids" is questionable for accuracy.

Lets see some figures for the "poor" budgets.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I think the right are correct to identify poor personal choices as a primary cause of poverty. Most of us have been poor at one time or another, but most of us are capable of planning ahead. One reason that people stay poor is that they are hyperbolic discounters - they spend today rather than plan ahead.

Now, there are many comparatively wealthy people who do the same - they have everything on tick and a ridiculous mortgage - but they have enough continuous income to keep afloat and to insure themselves against risk. Those on lesser incomes do not, and tend to suffer poverty.

The right are wrong to treat this as an issue of personal responsibility. Chronic fecklessness is largely incurable, and should be treated as such. Threatening to cut people's benefits is idiotic because the major reason they are on a benefit is precisely because they can't respond to incentives as normal people do, and are unable to budget for the mid to long term. This cannot be fixed.

The same right wingers who think that the left are engaged in a utopian project to remold human nature fail to recognise that their punitive attitude towards welfare is an attempt to do the same. It won't work.

There are hopeless people. They cost the rest of us money. We have to live with that. C'est la vie.

Scintilla said...

Absolutely a failure of imagination. It is also a reflection of how threatened the comfortably-off feel - they're desperately hanging on to what they've got.

Young ones need someone to believe in them until they can believe in themselves. They can't see a meaningful future unless someone shines a light on it and walks beside them awhile.

All the attacks on education, the money wasted on yet more NS measurement that COULD have made a real difference. Do we have to stigmatise the needy? Can't we just provide breakfast or lunch in schools so it becomes a communal table where we all share?

We already know that students struggling with literacy (across all media) need intensive support that is best delivered in small groups by expert teachers with high expectations who can also relate to students in an authentic, caring way. IMO, the place to catch "the tail" is Year 7 & 8, before they get to high school, merging into year 9 if needed.

DeepRed said...

"It is probable that they have never experienced a prolonged period without money."

Or if they have, then they've joined the ranks of the Nouveau Riche plutocrats and taken the ladder with them, so that no one else has a chance to move up and surpass them. And going back further, 19th century economist Friedrich List first described "kicking away the ladder".

That kind of hypocrisy is deconstructed in Chris Hayes' latest book "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy", where the meritocratic elites have become a plutocratic law unto themselves. Just like a few pollies closer to home.

"And do we ever stop to think what sort of people (with what sort of expectations and addictions) they will grow into?"

In the geopolitical lab experiment that was Cold War-era South America, many such people grew up to become armed guerrillas, and we know how that worked out. In a worst case scenario, will there be something like the Troopers of the United Pasifika & Aotearoa Resistance Army?

It seems in the world's most unequal nations, the haves and have-nots only ever see each other from barbed wire fences, riot helmets, or rifle scopes. The longer all this is allowed to fester, the higher the barbed wire fences will rise.

Mark Harris said...

I don't often agree completely with you, Chris, But this is very well said.

Amanda said...

It is indeed a different world. We hear people say there is no poverty in New Zealand, and nearly everyone has a roof over their head. Crappy roof if you ask me! I taught in two very low decile schools, and boy, was it an eye-opener for me and my family.


Anonymous said...

As one of the evil non-Labour voting people, I'm genuinely curious - why is it not the parents' fault?

My nicely wealthy, working-in-IT friends all provide for their children just fine, but equally, if something bad happened, I can't envisage any kind of scenario where they'd let the children go without food, short of them being trapped under rubble.

If there's genuinely not enough money from a benefit to buy *food*, then someone should be savagely beaten. I pay taxes, plenty of them, partly to prevent this shit.

However, if someone moderately interested in putting their children near the top of their list of priorities *can* feed them, given that income, then why isn't it neglect?

Anonymous said...

John Key came from a poor background and look at him now. Or did he? There is child poverty in NZ because parents do make poor choices, it seems to me. Our welfare state is very good, one of the best around.

guerilla surgeon said...

Whenever poor kids are in the news it's always 'Where are the parents'from the right Listen to Jim Mora's guests like du Fresne and Black, it's very predictable. They never stop to consider that maybe their parents are working at nights and can't make sure that their kids are in, or working to a three jobs to try to make ends meet. They never ever think. Just their default setting.

Anonymous said...

The righteous middle classes never seem to realise that they are in their state of life because they had a pretty good upbringing by reasonably Ok parents. They were reasonably well provided for and most always fed, clothed and warm.Maybe their families weren't rich, but their parents had the genetic resources to make the best of what they had, and to work out suitable alternative solutions to pressing needs.

The desperate families we read about so often are disadvantaged in every way- poor beginnings, poor genetic stock (therefore unable to work out solutions to problems, understand when their approach to life is dysfunctional, don't value education because what good did it ever do for them?) They start off poor and get poorer. They need very closely involved helping agencies, who can virtually "re-grow" the parents while benefitting the children at the same time. This requires years for each family but it can be done.
People who quote "bill of rights" would probably have some criticisms of this kind of supervision, but it won't be accomplished without a certain amount of firm direction beyond what most of us would accept as reasonable.

Brendan McNeill said...


Right or left, our hearts do go out to all children who are hungry and neglected through no fault of their own.

The thorny question is what to do about it, and who best should do it?

If you want to tackle the causes of poverty, then I suggest we all familiarise ourselves with the 'five pathways to poverty' as researched by the centre of social justice in the UK.


One of them is the break down of the family, or what we used to call family, you know, a mum married to a dad who produced children, with grandparents etc.

That old construct.

It wasn't perfect of course, there were failures, but even today children raised in this increasingly scarce environment are many times less likely to be hungry, abused or neglected than those raised in other forms of 'family'.

Furthermore, the picture of the hardworking poor struggling to feed their children is the exception when it comes to child poverty in New Zealand.

Most child poverty is found in the homes of single mothers and this is closely followed by those on other forms of benefit. A very small percentage is made up from working families.

What is interesting to me is that the recent Children's Commissioners report into child poverty, which is a large document available on their website, simply dedicates a few paragraphs to the cause of child poverty in NZ.

None of their proposals seek to address the primary cause.

When we embraced moral relativism in the 1960's, and ceased to talk publicly about moral failure, except perhaps in reference to politicians and wealthy businessmen, we gave up all hope of ever reducing child poverty which by and large results from fatherlessness, and single parenting.

If you give more money to solo parents, you encounter the unintended consequence of attracting more teenage women into the poverty trap. Already MSD tells us that 33% of all new DPB beneficiaries are teenagers. Of course this does not count those who are under the age of 18 who keep their child - they don't qualify for the DPB, they get another differently named benefit. If you took their numbers into account, it would look more like 50%.

It's depressing, and nothing will change until we as parents start to love our kids enough to show them a better way.

Is that too much to hope for?

Anonymous said...

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. -Herman Melville

Scouser said...

So, my parents worked long hours including shifts, I was a latch key kid, I would feed my younger brother if my parents were not at home. I lived in area of true poverty and crime that makes south auckland look soft.

....... but I always went to school in clean clothes, I always had lunch money, there was always food on the table.

I had school mates having sugar butties for lunch i.e. sugar on bread. They often stunk of piss, got smacked around by their father and the mother would be too scared to say a word. You would not dare to go in to their houses more than once after you met the father.

True poverty (as opposed to the faux one measured in relationship to average wages) makes this more likely but can never be seen as a justification.

Some people are poor parents because of lack of capability but a surprising amount are not worthy of being parents and no welfare state can fix them.

The trick we have not managed yet is separating the two.

On a separate note I really dont get why we cant just feed kids at school for lunch. They are not adults.

Fred said...

I grew up in a household with no refrigerator, no flush toilet and very little money; mother on a benefit and working part time but also she had "issues" [occassional drinking problem].
A stranger in several classrooms and school yards with a school uniform to mask the lack of a selection of other clothes to choose from.
However I was able to escape this by leaving school, which by law was necessary but for me a real waste of time and a prison I marked time in, at the age of 14 years just before my 15th birthday.
Then I was able to earn and control my own finances, to make my own choices, to continue my education in more useful ways.
However I left school in the late 1950s when times were different because there were many others in the same, or similar, situation.
Today I am retired, I have reasonable income, a home and car and no debts having worked, unemployed once in my working life, for three weeks but received no Government assistance, put my two children through University and retired at 67 years of age.
No it wasn't easy, yes I had to budget and count my pennies/cents and I also did some jobs that were "dead end" but they put a roof over my head and food on the table.
Did my siblings do the same; two died - one of alcohol and another suicide but two us are now retired.
Why this story? A lot of writing tells of many "oh dear, how sad" stories but in NZ how many successfully climb out of this situation?

Anonymous said...

I have to say when I was a young child, There was 6 of us living on a single income of around $500 p/w. That's less than $100 p/p for 2 adults, 2 teens, and 2 very young children... don't forget rent, power oh and the child support for another sibling (which was a lot more back then). I always had a school lunch, breakfast and dinner. My parents made sure of that! My mum worked when she could despite having 2 young children and being a step-mum to the older kids. My Dad eventually went on the benefit studied and got a better job 13+ years later he is on a six figure income (which he worked hard for!) My parents put in a hell of a lot of hard work to raise us and sacrificed having nice things for themselves.I have no idea what's happening now? Are the parents putting in the hard work?

Kat said...

The real problem is we have a PM who is just not connected with social realities to be PM. Either that or he is a two faced liar.

Anonymous said...

"My nicely wealthy, working-in-IT friends all provide for their children just fine, but equally, if something bad happened, I can't envisage any kind of scenario where they'd let the children go without food, short of them being trapped under rubble"

OK - let's just chance the circumstances of your nice friends at the point at which "something bad" happens:
- they have no savings
- they don't own a house
- they have no parents/relatives with enough discretionary cash to help for a while
- they don't own a house
- they have no car to sell or one that is worth less than $3k and they need to get kids to school or such-like
- one child has chronic illness or condition
- etc.
Hmmm - maybe just sometimes even your "nice" friends might struggle to feed the kids properly?
You display exactly the failure of imagination Chris describes, and more than that, you are extraordinarily exacting in your demands on these parents. They must exhibit a sort of steely determination and moral purity you doubtless don't exhibit yourself.
You are not evil - just limited.

Anonymous said...

Excellent as always Chris.

Annony at 4.10 inadvertently puts his finger on it:

My nicely wealthy, working-in-IT friends all provide for their children just fine, but equally, if something bad happened, I can't envisage any kind of scenario where they'd let the children go without food, short of them being trapped under rubble.

Of course you can't anon: your experience and mental state is so totally different from these parents that it is literally impossible. Just as you would be unable to envisage any scenario that would cause you or your friends to exhibit any of the behaviour of, say, a sufferer of dementia.

And just as we no longer accept "possession by the devil" as an easy explanation, surely you can see deeper than "innately evil parents" in this case. For where did that "innate evil" disappear to when we had near-full employment? Like the devil, it doesn't exist.

Here's an alternative explanation. When human beings are subjected to prolonged periods of deep insecurity and anxiety, they'll go bananas to varying degrees (or in the "evil" vernacular, "make poor choices"). Just a proven fact, Anon,and it doesn't matter if you're in the Somme, Helensville or Otara.

Ever looked after the kids when the wife went away for a few days Anon? Then try to envisage this: doing it for years, 24/7, alone, on the smell of an oily rag and constantly and utterly, terrifyingly, dependent for even that paltry whiff on the bumbling bureaucratic nightmare of DWI and the mood of the next unknown face in constantly shuffling parade of stressed case managers with six weeks training. 24/7.

Then on top of that chuck the coup de grace, the camel's straw: the 24/7 attitude of your society; as constantly rained upon you via talkback, press, anonymous blog commenters and most importantly, your government.

In aboriginal societies, "pointing the bone" was enough to kill. Even without the grinding anxiety. Evolution doesn't move that fast, and it is here, too. Beneficiaries get sick and die at an alarmingly accelerated rate.

You seem a reasonable bloke, so take it from me: there but for the grace of something goes anyone, including even IT guys.

Don't be a bone-pointer Anon. It's not just lazy and dumb, you're actually, truly, starving kids and killing people.


Anonymous said...

When does the innocent child become the despised adult who deserves to suffer for their 'poor personal choices'? So many people can't seem to comprehend the significance of one's upbringing. They lack imagination, as you say, and a basic understanding of child development and sociology. It's depressing.

guerilla surgeon said...

We seem to be getting bogged down in "Hole in't road? We would have killed for hole in't road." And we were not all poor at one stage. Many of us at one stage in our lives lacked money, possibly because we were engaged in getting the qualifications to make it. Many middle-class people claim to have been more, but always seem to forget that their families had money. And then there are those who live on the benefit for a week, without having a kid get sick or need new shoes for school, and say it's easy. I think you should all read some Sen. Here's a start:http://harvardmagazine.com/2011/01/who-is-poor.

Anonymous said...

How many countless nights as a kid I would've woken up and heard my mother weep at the kitchen table, looking over bills and stressing about how to make ends meet.

My father worked long hours as a taxi driver, my mother never had less than 2 jobs.

My parents never bought things on HP, they always tried to buy fresh fruit and veges from the Otara markets, for years we never owned a TV, our lunches would often consist of two slices of bread and a slap of peanut butter, clothes were bought at the big second hand clothing warehouses in Mangere.

We would look in the bins of the local shops to look for aluminum cans for collection so we had a few more dollars to buy food for the week. We would visit my great aunt for dinner on nights my parents struggled to stretch her last dollars. Holidays always occurred within the Auckland area, never overseas.

But I've realised looking back, that my parents were living on a knifes edge. We were lucky, not because of the personal choices by my parents, but that we grew up when the economy was relatively healthy.

We made it through the tough 90s, and my parents were fortunate enough to have kept their heads above water to keep mortgage payments going, and have had their property value increase. This has helped fund me and my siblings' education. We are now all University graduates.

But not everyone has the same story to tell. At any point our path could have taken a different direction due to economic and political decisions.

Plenty of families today will make the same identical decisions my parents made. But the economic and political environment will not be as kind as they were to my parents.

Fern said...

I cannot believe people are still talking about policy. Feed the children NOW and let’s talk policy later.
Incidentally, one fact that is never mentioned is the cost of sanitary products when a girl starts menstruating. No doubt there are households where DIY hygiene arrangements are used because reliable modern products are unaffordable. It’s appalling that a kid has to put up with such a situation.

Anonymous said...

How about Salvation Army/city mission/ ??? WINZ/DSW(I worry about bureaucracy) setting up a task force (like the old District nurses who had access) to go into all the homes and teach the families how to cope and look after their chn, and access money from winz, there are benefits available, if needed.Education not penalties!And continuing follow up. It is cheaper than all the negative effects on the families.........

Anonymous said...

If it were solely a case of lack of parental responsibility, welfare and poverty numbers would only fluctuate as much as social conditioning evolves, very slowly and in little amounts.

Why then does the amount of "bad parents" dramatically increase following an economic downturn? Where are all these extra "bad parents" during the boom years, when child poverty is a far rarer issue? The parents can afford to feed their kids in those years, that is the ONLY difference. So the fact is, this is SOLELY about economic woe, not simply personal responsibility. You fix one of these problems (economic) and you fix both (hungry kids). People forget, its not about the bad choices that are being made, its that those choices have to be made in the first place; that is the problem. Its not always cigarettes and liquor that is the priority, sometimes it is rent, unexpected doctors bills, mechanic bills - these can throw limited budgets out of whack completely. The cigarettes and liquor excuse is based on a huge unfair assumption. Personal responsibility, in relation to economics, is an unfair call in a deterministic world. Poverty stricken kids will likely grow up to be poverty stricken adults, if they somehow manage to escape they have managed to not be influenced by anything around them - their parents, their neighbourhood, their way of life, that would be an almost superhuman feat considering we all behave the way we do because of our experiences. The reality is these kids never really had a fair chance to begin with, that seems to be quite a hard concept to grasp for a lot of people.

Jigsaw said...

I was a teacher for almost 40 years-primary and secondary. Some people make really stupid choices in their lives. We all do but some make lots of them and in many cases repeatedly make bad choices. Of course their children should not be held responsible for those choices but unfortunately they are to a large degree. Being bought up in such a family means that the chances are they will also make more stupid choices. I really find it very difficult to understand why the left finds it so hard to acknowledge this so obvious fact.
As an example of the lack of knowledge such families have I recall a student who was leaving school for a totally unskilled job and when he told me (as a secondary teacher) the hourly wage he was to get-he went on to say "I'll bet that's more than you get". Nothing I could say would convince him that I got many times that amount. His family had told him that he should leave-that education was a waste of time. This was repeated many times over the years.
I remmeber going to a house to try and get a child to come to school only to hear as I started towards the house "it's the f***ing schoolteacher".
It's very hard for middle class people to understand how some families operate.

Anonymous said...

I have been unemployed for nine months. I am receiving the benefit and accomodation supplement but it is just not enough to cover my rent, power, water, food, internet and phone, car maintenance, insurance and credit repayments. I have spent the last nine months juggling money, cutting deals with the creditors and doing whatever I can to keep the power and phone on and the car warranted and registered. I raised two children with my Dads help and even with his income things were tight. I worked and studied while the kids went to school. I can't imagine the kind of poverty described above, as I have never really been there, and dare not judge those who cannot manage as I know how hard it is from recent experience. Intergenerational welfare dependancy is a problem that cannot be solved immediately, it takes a long term commitment to raising the bar for these families.Targeted interventions with wellbeing the goal, as opposed to these punishing reforms which only will increase misery and suffering of the innocent.

Anonymous said...

good post..

a must-watch is the native affairs from mon-nite..(available online..)

..they take the cameras into the grinding miseries of a caravan park in west auckland..

..where the poorest of the poor live..

..that..along with the campbell piece on school lunches have been two of the finest examples of current affairs journalism in some time..

..you'd need a heart of stone to sneer at those inhabitants in that dystopian caravan park..

..and of course it is worth noting that this hell-hole did not arrive with john key..

..it was as it is now..during the ignoring of the poorest of the clark years..

(funny story..!..apparantly clark has gone to the u.n...to fix global-poverty..

..is there such a thing as tears of irony..)

phillip ure @whoar..

guerilla surgeon said...

"Some people make really stupid choices in their lives."
I think a better question is why do the right always want simple answers? With questions like this there aren't any – get over it. It's not just down to choices, and you obviously have no idea what choices poor people are faced with. My parents arrived in this country with nothing, and they worked hard, and when they retired they had a house and $50,000. Hardly ranks to riches story. They make choices – they chose to travel rather than save , they chose a new fridge over a new jacket for me :-) and I tell you a kid looks bloody stupid wearing a jacket they bought aged 11 when his 14. THEY were choices. Yet they were never ever faced with the stark choice of paying for school shoes, or food, or buying a flagon of sherry and a Lotto ticket. I worked most of my career in teaching, I taught in the lowest decile schools for all of that career, and I still work with these kids. 99.9 % of their parents want what's best for them, even if they don't know what's best for them and can't articulate what's best for them. That since Lange and Douglas got hold of the economy most of these people have been out of work for generations. Their vision is restricted along with their choices. God if it was all down to choices none of us would be sleeping under bridges would we?

Anonymous said...

People keep asking for a budget from Beneficiaries to show where the money goes. The basic benefit for a single mother is $293.58 Family Tax credit is $166.42 for 1 tween & 1 Teen My rent is HNZ $94.00 my Power is $45 Ph & Internet $40pw the bills budget includeds wof reg sch fees, shoes, sch trips, exam fees, stationery etc etc....the amount I have left for FOOD, doctor, chemist, clothes, car repairs & any thing else that pops up is $135.00 per week. Sanitary items also have to come out of that. My kids get breakfast and lunch and dinner.

Jigsaw said...

It seems to me it's the left that think that there are simple solutions-give the adults more money and there will be less/no poverty. Yeah right! If you bothered to examine the economy when 'Lange and Douglas got hold of it' you would realise that we were going broke at the time thanks to the mismanagement of Muldoon. In fact many of those reforms are still in place through nine years of the Clark government.

BekahJayne said...

This was articulated really well, so thanks! I am a first year nursing student and I feel like my eyes have been opened up so much this year (ignorance truly is bliss). Countries with greater difference between rich and poor have higher health inequities. We are pretty high up for health inequity considering our "social structure" and the fact that we are a developed nation.
There are cracks in our systems though - kids born on the streets who don't "technically" exist. In order to get a WINZ benefit, one must have an address. Our greatest areas of deprivation are rural, these people don't have WINZ down the road, or an abundance of jobs in their area.
. It's unfortunate that the blame gets forced on these parents all the time, when they are product of a social construct.
Rather than people opening their eyes to the problem, it seems they would rather blame it on the parents, rather than taking a close look at the severity of what is actually going on in our nation. Yes, we have a better social welfare system than many countries. I don't argue that. However the mentality that assumes that this solves all problems of poverty aside from those who "choose" poverty; I abhor. Unless the mindset of New Zealanders starts to shift, I find it hard to believe that there will be change. Which is sad. Heart breaking to be honest. Kids are growing up sick because we aren't prepared to look at ourselves and move out of our comfort zones to make a difference.
Also, there are plenty of neglectful and horrid parents who are not living in poverty. So why don't we make an effort to deal with the problem as a societal problem, rather than stigmatising those who live in poverty regardless of how they treat their children?

Ahh, just my thoughts :) probably not very cohesive, but this was pretty cathartic!

Olwyn said...

For the commentators here who have worked hard and made good choices themselves, who blame the poor for their bad choices, I would like to remind you that neither the value of your house, if you have one, nor the price of labour, if you employ anyone, is of your own doing. These things have been granted to you by policies that you did not make.

Secondly, I would like to remind you that people cannot plan, and lose the talent for planning, when the criteria on which they might make plans is continually being changed or removed.

Thirdly, I am not sure how well your own confidence would withstand it if you and your kind were subject to daily vilification in the news media. Given the wailing and that the slightest threat evokes, like talk of a CGT for example, I suggest that you would probably not cope all that well.

One thing the Aussies have over us is that even their right wingers (Gina Reinhardt excepted) largely understand that everyone will suffer if you degrade people to such an extent that they no longer feel they are part of the wider society. Many kiwis seem to think that they can dish out hardship and contempt till the cows come home, with no risk of backlash on themselves.

guerilla surgeon said...

And if you look at the economy after Douglas took over your find that he destroyed the village in order to save it. I think Brian Easton's pretty conclusively shown this. Other countries managed to cope without the drastic effects New Zealand had.
Giving people more money is only part of the problem. Obviously you need education, sadly lacking in the right wing solution, but more money is necessarily required. I remember when it was Labour's ambition to give beneficiaries enough to take a full part in society – that went by the board.
If some of the laws and regulations brought in by Douglas are still in place it's because Labour has become gutless, moved right, and big business put pressure on them, rather than any intrinsic value there.

CosmicRocketCultivator said...

If you take a step back and look in on the lives of all New Zealanders as a collective you will see huge discrepancies in levels of income. When we talk of income it is how much you earn. I could never look up to the wealth holders as idols. Why have more than you really need? This is the issue to me...having more than you could possibly use in your life time while there are so many desperate unheard voices crying out for real attention and help.I say more community garden organisations , more generosity from wealth holders , less denial from the politicial claw hands and more positive interactions with needful families on a personal level.No,not nanny state interventions but genuine human help...from you and me.

Alan said...

Fred - how can you compare the 50s or 60s with today?

Those were years when there was no unemployment, when tariffs protected industry, skills, and jobs. Unions were strong, wages were high, public education and public health were funded from taxation than wasn't being poured into welfare or prisons. Those were times when schools were equipped with baths to teach children how to swim, and where "Jack's as good as his master" was a popular saying. When was that last heard?

You are comparing an apple to a lemon.

We are all moulded by the social forces that swirl around us.. family, friends, neighbourhood; the positive and negative attitudes we encounter both there and in the workplace if indeed we have one. And the punitive attitudes that define so many New Zealanders today are part of a creeping fascism that is making deunionised workplaces so unbearable for many as well.

If the waters of that social pond are rancid, the health of all the creatures will suffer, even finally the fat frogs who think their lily-pad is above it all and immune from what is underneath.

The smug souls who in their heart of hearts just know that they are more motivated, more responsible,and more deserving than their troglodytic inferiors should really ask the question:"How did we ever get to this stage from a once inclusive society? In the list of 'more' it is 'intelligence' that they are missing.

In the midst of all of this is the injustice to children who once shared equally the same birthing facility, but unlike their peers finish up in the homes of the ignored, down- trodden, demoralised, purposeless, frustrated, and angry, where they will remain invisible to the sniffy elite unless broken by rage or graduating to prison.

If you don't listen to the howls from the other side of town, you'll one day find the disaffected on your doorstep.

YouthHealth Acedemic said...

Re; how many young people grow up in situations of poverty & make good? - Overall the research would suggest about 1/3 to 1/2. Not everyone has terrible outcomes, but on average, long term poverty in an unequal society is associated with higher early death, higher imprisonment, poorer education, lower income, and poorer health of ones own children. Its great that many people escape these consequences. But many don't.

Saige Vendome England said...

Another great article Chris. I'm educated and grew up in a comfortable middle class family but we are among the many scouring for jobs and the pay checks are erratic. We struggle quite often and yet consider ourselves fortunate compared to so many others. As a (relief) teacher I travel between the worlds you describe and I am thankful we have people like you who tell it like it is. Life is hard, almost intolerable, for many children in our increasingly disparate society - many are numb, hungry and traumatised (as are their parents) when they come to school - their heads are blocked so badly they can't even try to learn.

Frog said...

Campbell Live:
Expert Anton Blank:. ..*More than half of the 230,000 N.Z children living below the poverty line are Maori and Pacifica and in 20 years they will make up 60% of NZ's children
So I think we can conclude family size is a factor. So why do so many people feel Maori and Pacifica peoples shouldn't cop some flack? Is it because the left diminish our Presbytarian values (with or with out the religion) under the cloak of cultural relativism?
I recall in the Kahui twins case the faunau combined drew $1800 in benefits.
Campbell Live's subject was telling porkies
The Savings Working Group blames Government policies for high house prices citing immigration and tax breaks for property investors. Those immigration polices were supported by National, Labour and the Greens "anti immigration feeling has no place in the Green Party says [Father Christmas] Keith Locke".
In the great depression people could at least grow vegetables and that is how the Irish survived until potato blight.
Society needs to get away from the mentality that the economy is a big refrigerator were the big person opens the door and out comes the cat food.

Nevyn said...

Brilliant post! I've been struggling to say this to the people around me.

For the last 3 years or so I've been working within a decile 1A area in Auckland. One of the first things that you realise is that the psychology is VERY different. Within a state-dependency cycle, you've got a whole lot of people who've never known differently, don't know how to get themselves out, are disenfranchised due to the lack of understanding of their circumstances, have difficulty seeing themselves outside of the context of their own neighbourhood and community and have very little hope of things being different.

When they imagine themselves in different circumstances, they envisage tokens of wealth - cars, an entourage etc.

So while the mighty middle class are talking about making the wrong choices, one of the biggest things about the lack of money is the lack of choices. If you've never really had to make a serious choice, then making one can be horrendously foreign.

As for a solution - keep the government out of it. Ring fence it while funding is put forward for doing things like increasing interdependency (if me and my neighbours start growing food or sharing responsibilities like childcare... they're more likely to ask for help from multiple sources when things get hard), put the right people in to help with financing (understanding a contract can be huge), look for transformative experiences (blogging for example and seeing how many people are listening to what they have to say can have a huge effort on self esteem and context) etc.

I don't think these problems are insurmountable. I don't think we're going to get there with the almighty hammer that is government. I don't think it's going to be at all quick. But with the right people passionate and doing the right things, I think it is achievable.