We live in a society of benefit bashing. This is not only done by the uneducated, but by a wide range of people which includes the attitude of successive governments. This has resulted in the creation of a flawed in work tax credit, worth up to $60 a week, that while good for some families with working parents, discriminates against beneficiaries and so only assists some of the poor.
Our leaders have created a system that has left 27%, or 260,000 of our children being raised in poverty and a large percentage of those children come from families of beneficiaries.
This is basically the choice and the will of the people of New Zealand who are sufficiently hardhearted to say, Go get a job! Where are all the jobs! And where are jobs with appropriate hours for parents, especially women with young children?
How many of our political parties have made child poverty an election issue?
New Zealand has normalised poverty and is turning a blind eye to our future, because our kids are our future and they are the innocent victims in all this.
We have also not registered the feminisation of poverty, as it is mostly women who are on solo parent benefits. These benefits, unlike national superannuation, are not linked to inflation. Those in poverty are becoming the new class, the precariat, where life is precarious!
Research from the University of Auckland supports recent claims that many low-income families are unable to afford even a basic nutritious diet for their children. A paper published in Nutrition and Dietetics in December 2010 found that low-income families may not be able to afford meals recommended by the national nutritional guidelines, especially if there are teenagers in the household whose meals cost a lot more. We all know that soft drinks are cheaper than milk!
In 1994 after the results of Ruth Richardson’s punitive Mother of all Budgets benefit cutting started to hit, Auckland University’s Dr Susan St John contacted Julie Timmins and suggested the formation of the Child Poverty Action Group. The aim of this organisation is to work towards the elimination of child poverty in New Zealand.
Julie has a Masters in Equality Studies, with First Class Honours, from the School of Social Justice at University College Dublin. She has now worked for CPAG for many years in both a voluntary capacity and in the role of Administrator/Communications Officer. In this role Julie expanded the profile of CPAG by developing a new website and a communications process using social media. She was also involved in networking extensively with other social justice groups, parliamentarians and the media. Julie worked on research for CPAG, wrote press releases and contributed to publications. She also gave many presentations in a wide variety of forums. In 2013 Julie worked on the Family 100 Project for the Auckland City Mission- a ground breaking project that has given voice to people in Auckland who are living with limited material resources.
In this interview Julie states that the time for reports is over and the time for action is NOW. The charity models, such as Kids Can, can only go so far.
Providing a hot nutritious meal in schools is one way of helping our children. However if it is only available to some children it stigmatises those children, and parents may not be comfortable with their children participating. Therefore nourishing meals in schools must be universally available to all children, as was started in Britain after the second world war. How this is paid for will be up to the government but shouldn’t the fact that our children are suffering take priority over almost everything else?
New Zealand is one of the most poorly performing countries in the OECD in terms of outcomes for children: 28th out of 30 countries. We also have one of the lowest rates of public investment in children in the OECD.
As citizens of New Zealand it is OUR CHOICE as to whether we allow this sad state of affairs to continue, or whether we heed the wake-up call that CPAG is giving us.
We need to lay at the feet of each and every one of us, the need to change the discriminatory way in which our poor and our beneficiaries are perceived, as if it is somehow their fault that manufacturing jobs are increasingly being sent off shore. Is it somehow their fault that cycles of poverty persist, when people unable to afford a car cannot drive even a short distance to find work, if there is any, when there is poor public transport?
It is the children who suffer if the parents are irresponsible. It is the children who suffer when a family’s circumstance changes for the worse for whatever reason a redundancy, a marriage split, a death of a parent etc. We must not lump all the poor and beneficiaries into one category.
It is election year. We need to demand justice for our children from our politicians. It is up to us to decide what sort of society we want.
Julie Timmins asks if we want to live in a community or an economy?
Where are the hearts of the people of New Zealand?
Links to websites
Why the precariat is not a bogus concept
Child Poverty Action Group
Family 100 project
This interview was sponsored by The Awareness Party