Will the Budget Realistically Address Poverty?


Finance Minister, Bill English, has indicated there will be extra spending in the forthcoming budget to address child poverty. While any extra money going to this issue should be applauded it is still clear that the Government has no real appreciation of the problem and nor does it really care.

The Government refuses to have any measures to define the extent of child poverty and identify needs and yet it was determined to do this for education through the introduction of National Standards (including the explanation that it would help to target resourcing). It is bizarre that every time Paula Bennett is questioned regarding how she measures child poverty or how the Government is judging how successful they are in dealing with it, all we get is laughter and the claim that "there is not a Government measure for poverty".

This is just utter nonsense, every teacher, business leader or welfare agency knows that to solve a problem you must understand the extent of it and then have some way of measuring your success in dealing with it. Bennett claims they are being successful because immunisation rates are up, more homes have been insulated and a dob in an abuser scheme has been implemented. This is not dealing with the causes of poverty, merely the symptoms.

Most homes that have been insulated are not the poor quality rental properties nor those owned by the poorest families. Rather than spending $3 million on developing a vaccine for rheumatic fever, surely it would be better to deal to the poverty that causes it. The dob in an abuser scheme doesn't address the causes of the abuse, it just identifies the abuser after the abuse has occurred.

We should be measuring how many families live in substandard housing, how many families are living below an income of $390 per week (the median weekly income for Pasifika Families) and how many children are regularly coming to school without having breakfast or having a lunch. We should also have some idea of how effective our Government support agencies are at identifying struggling families and providing timely and practical support.

Throwing token amounts randomly at a problem is just stupidity if we don't know where the priorities are and what will make the biggest difference. This Government doesn't actually care and I will be willing to bet that anything included in the budget to address poverty will tokenism and ineffectual. It has been estimated that child poverty costs us between $6-8 billion annually in health, welfare, justice and remedial education programmes and I don't believe even half that amount will be budgeted for it.

When the Government spent $3.9 million to save a private school while at the same time wiped an education programme that had significantly raised achievement for Maori and Pasifika students, it made it very clear where its heart lies. There is a clear strategy to avoid measuring things that will reflect badly on the Government and not support its economic priorities, that is why the five yearly environmental report has been wiped and why there is no attempt to measure the extent of child poverty. 

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