Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Domestic Violence, Poverty and Children


When I was a child in the 60's domestic abuse still occurred and dysfunctional families existed but most families could easily survive on a single income and most mothers stayed in the home and their primary role was caring for children. Communities were much stronger in those days, young families were the heart of them and inequity was less obvious. The minimum weekly wage for a man in 1969 was $42 (the equivalent of $673 now, and $100 more than the current minimum).

The Government had poured much money into child health and we led the world in our approach to caring for our children. In 1946 a universal family benefit was paid to mothers at 10 shillings a week for each child (this would be the equivalent of $40 per child now). In 1958 this was increased to 15 shillings and the money could also be saved and capitalized up to 1,000 pounds (equivalent to $43,500) to buy or improve a home. We had dental clinics in each school and provided free milk.

The 60s weren't perfect, women lacked equality and racism defined immigration policy, but we did value children and the importance of families. The standard of housing was good for the time and home ownership was around 75% (now in Auckland it is 58%). Even if a child came from a struggling family, a minimum income could still allow them to fully participate in their schooling and extra-curricular activities and a strong state housing sector provided good homes for those in need.

Since the 1960s we have become one of the worst in the OECD for the welfare and safety of our kids, with one child killed every five weeks, 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before they are 15 and 1 in 7 boys are abused.

So what has change since the 1960s that has put pressure on families and has had a negative impact on children?
  • It is harder for parents who choose to look after their children at home to do so, two incomes are now necessary to support a family and the cost of housing has dramatically increased. 
  • Successive Governments have encouraged women to get back into the workforce as soon as possible but child care standards are mixed and the minimum requirement for qualified teachers in early childcare centres is only 50% and there is a funding cap at 80%. The Government supports corporate care (Kidicorp) over community based care. 
  • Inequity is growing in New Zealand at a faster rate than all other OECD countries and the poorest communities are seeing their real incomes dropping considerably. The median income in Mangere-Otahuhu dropped by 14% when including inflation between 2006 and 2013 and is now only $19,700 a year or $378 per week. Almost half would be earning less than that. 
  • Unemployment was near zero in 1960 and now 20% of our workforce is either unemployed or under employed. Young families tend to to be more financially challenged and 50% of children experience poverty at some point in their childhood.
  • Working hours have increased for those in full-time work (often those on lower wages) and many parents now work in weekends. 
  • Primary schools were seen as community hubs and the viability of a school was not just seen in economic terms. The welfare of children is better served when strong communities exist.
  • State housing has not kept up with our population growth or demand and the private sector has been subsidized to provide it instead. There are no minimum standards for private rentals and poor housing is seen as a major contributor to a marked decline in child health with many presenting to hospitals with 3rd world illnesses.
  • Up to the 1960s poor dental health was a major concern and a huge investment was made in addressing it, dental nurses were trained and clinics built in all schools. While dental hygiene is still a concern in many communities it is now obesity in children that has reached epidemic proportions with 1 in 3 children either obese or overweight (27% of Pasifika children are obese). This will have costly health ramifications in future years, especially in Type 2 Diabetes. The same determination to deal with children's health no longer exists.
  • The availability of cheap processed food is much greater now and fresh fruit and vegetables and milk are more expensive. The need to provide healthy food in schools has been removed by this Government. 
  • Fewer children walk or cycle to school and Physical Education in schools has been made less important than literacy and numeracy through the promotion of National Standards. Physical Education advisors to schools have been sacked. 
  • Benefits have not kept up with inflation and the children of beneficiaries (unemployed or disabled) have pronounced disadvantages compared to those whose parents work. The parental tax credit for parents of new born children is not available for beneficiaries
  • Rather than providing a safety net for those in need, New Zealand's welfare and health systems create barriers to accessing support. 
  • Mothers with new born babies are sent home from hospital too quickly and often before they feel happy with breast-feeding or have support at home. 
  • Communities are far more segregated according to socio-economic background than in the past and those living in struggling circumstances are more likely to accept poverty as normality. This is supported by Government policy where social housing in more affluent communities is being removed
  • In the heyday of public broadcasting a social conscience existed and much was invested in making sure that what was provided for children on TV was suitable. Commercial imperatives dominate broadcasting now and children are often exposed to content that is unsuitable during hours that children are likely to be watching TV unsupervised. As a teacher I used to use newspapers as an education resource, I stopped having whole newspapers in classrooms some time ago when I realized that sensationalized and detailed reporting on sex crimes etc were becoming more prevalent, even on the front page.
The pressures on young families are much greater than they were in the 60s, work demands have increased, social segregation and the breakdown of communities is a reality and the commercialisation and underfunding of services are increasing. Poverty is something that 50% of children will experience and domestic abuse has become normality for too many families. For the sake of our children and our future, something has to change.

It was great to see Marama Davidson fronting a lot of the media as one of the key people behind the Glenn Report. The Green Party is leading the debate around child poverty and family violence and we need to be in Government if we are to gain major changes in how we address the issues.

(The image is of Terepo 'Popo' Taura-Griffiths who died of a brain bleed caused by a violent attack by  in 2011) 

2 comments:

David R said...

Another excellent blog, David. Minimum wages were,t always adhered to, and I can remember one full-time job I had in 1969-70 paying $32 per week. Left that to work on the wharfs at Bluff, and collected $119 for a lot less effort. We student sea-gulls saved the regulars from breaking their card games.

bsprout said...

My best paying student job was working as a postman and my worst paid was as a barman and wine steward for the ILT. They promised me extra pay for public holidays and then changed my status so that they didn't have to. That was in the 70s, I hope they are better employers now.