Monday, 9 December 2013

Giving Children a chance in Aotearoa

Recently through a twitter argument I became interested in seeing what the true meaning of "Child Poverty" meant in relation to our country.  I read two recent reports, one from DomPost and one from The New Zealand Herald reporting on The Childrens Commissioner Russel Wills report on Child Poverty.

Now I am not going to defend either report as media tend to either sensationalise or misreport and to a degree bend the truth to fit their agenda.  Instead I'm going to argue that we do have an issue with deprived children but that deprivation is not poverty in the truer sense of the word.

Firstly, what is Poverty? Poverty means a dearth or lack of material wealth and largely seen as slum living in many parts of the world.  People that group together without the necessities of a decent life.   Sure this can be looked at as happening here in our country as reported, through our children and how they are forced to live.  But that's the key, forced to live.  That's not children choosing to live that life, that's down to adults making the wrong choices in a country that does have opportunity.

So why then do adults put their children at risk?  Well there are a number of reasons.  The first, lack of work for unskilled adults and teenagers.  This means the Dole queues are expanded.  And these good folks have nothing left apart from a benefit and creating children.  Too often in those two reports above there is reference to large families and children being presented in poor health.  That's not child poverty, that is parental choice.  If adults became more mindful of what they do and why we'd have less sick children the instance of child poverty/deprivation would lessen.

And that choice leads to other choices that permeate society.  Often young (and some older) adults choose alcohol and drug abuse to temper their situation, and money that should be spent on children to feed, clothe and give medical support is being spent instead on lifestyle choices.  No this is not a Maori and Pacific Island situation, this is across the board.  Child poverty is not new, it's been around since Adam was a cowboy.  What is new is the sensationalism given to it by media circles for capital gain, and by opposition parties for political gain.

I read in those articles quotes from both Labour and Greens.  I'll tackle the Labour one.  Labour were in two long term governments when this issue first became an issue (according to the reports) and claim they can fix it.  But they had that opportunity before and did little.  The truth of the matter is that whoever is in government has to balance the books across the board and some things will slip through the cracks.  Ok if by some miracle they do get into parliament next year they might, but I sense in all unlikeliness this will be enough.  And besides, money is not the key to solving this issue.

The one thing I see that will change society and it's sufferers is time and good legislation.  Let's start with heavily taxing alcohol (all alcohol) as happened with smoking and use that money to set up initiatives to get people to drink more responsibly and to save money for their kids.  Money garnered from alcohol taxes could be used for recovery programmes and also help fund Healthy Living Programmes targeted at adults so they are better prepared to give their children the necessities of life.  Let's also use that money to put in place Good Parenting Programmes in schools so our young teenagers grow up knowing that children are important and to be treasured and they as young mums and dads need to know they need to be healthy to have healthy kids.

And then, the big scourge on our society and why a lot of children are abused, maimed, killed and live in poverty.  Drugs!!  Zero Tolerance!!  It's a given.  This insidious preoccupation with substance abuse is crippling a lot of adults and children.  Adults through addiction.  Children through deprivation.  Everyone needs to change this scenario.  Dob in a Druggy and save lives.

But lastly and probably the most contentious.  The DPB.  Set a limit.Up to 5 children will be covered by a benefit. You have more, you have to feed and clothe that child yourself, no support.  Draconian maybe but then how many young mothers will have more than five children to different fathers?  And how many houses won't be overcrowded putting children at risk of respiratory and skin conditions?  How many kids will always be well clothed, wear their own shoes, and do well in school because they are loved and looked after ( not saying a 12 kid family isn't).

Radical?  Maybe but if we want to tackle this thing in a generation then we have to start now and we have to be tough in the choices we deem necessary to achieve healthy happy children.  And let us not forget, healthy happy children don't grow up and fill prisons and the courts.  Healthy happy children rarely commit police resources.  Healthy happy children grow up to be stable productive adults. Money is a factor, but what is a bigger factor is time, patience, legislation and a shift in society to have to want change.  Sell that one and we're on a winner.

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