Tuesday, 29 April 2008

left behind

it's been a pretty hectic day. aside from my normal workday (and unexpected childcare crisis in the morning), i attended the worker's memorial day event in hamilton, then went to the monthly board meeting for community radio and finished off the day by driving to auckland (and back) for the launch of the child poverty action group report "left behind".

needless to say, i'm pretty tired just now, so will give random impressions of the day.

the workers memorial day service was pretty moving, especially with the attendance of the fire service to commemorate the recent death of their colleague derek lovell. also present in numbers were the rail and maritime transport union, remembering the death of one their workers in hamilton last year.

it was a pretty good turn out with some excellent speakers. the figures were quite sad, particularly ACC figures around the numbers of workers who go on to long-term compensation each year because of a workplace injury. sorry, i'm too tired to go looking for them now.

noticably absent were any employer groups. to be fair, it may be because they weren't aware of the event. in future years, i'd like to see the employers and manufacturers association there, as well as federated farmers (given that the agriculture industry has a relatively high number of deaths). as the speaker for the RMTU said, issues of health and safety can only be resolved when all groups make a joint effort to deal with them.

the CPAG launch was interesting. enjoyed hearing tapu misa speak - she's a writer i admire greatly. i didn't agree with everything said at the launch but there were some very pertinent points.

the approach this government has taken to reducing poverty is to get people into work. it's by far the best option, as it restores dignity, gives purpose and puts people on to a career path which will lead to an improvement in their situation. combined with this is the focus on training and upskilling, particularly with the modern apprenticeship programme, intererst free student loans and the cap on tertiary fees.

however, this approach does not address the poverty faced by children of beneficiaries. the massive gap created by the ruth richardson "mother of all budgets" has never been reversed. i understand that the government of the time did some research into the minimum income required to survive. the benefit was then set to 80% of that amount.

since then (possibly before then as well), the narrative around beneficiaries has been that they are all lazy bludgers, sucking off the state, using up the money earnt by the rest of us hard-working taxpayers while sitting on their bums doing nothing. this is the attitude that has prevailed, with few serious challenges. ms misa acknowledged the role the media has played in perpetuating this myth. it's something that needs to be turned around if we are going to be serious about dealing with child poverty.

i think back to one of my earliest posts, where i made the point that nz'ers are not nearly as generous as we like to think we are. when it comes to people on benefits, we're not very generous at all. while some beneficiaries will fall into the narrative outlined above, i would say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times, and plenty are genuinely unable to work. (i'm meaning all benefits here - disability, domestic purposes etc.)

i wonder how many nz'ers would today, if asked, be prepared to give up tax cuts this year and next year in order for that money to be paid out for the children of beneficiaries? the CPAG report is clear about the effects of poverty on the development of children. money is not the only solution, but money can start making things happen.

for example, one speaker made the point that the neighbourhoods where the poor people live are the neighbourhoods where the least amount of services are provided. he gave the example of early childhood education centres. few of these are located in poor suburbs, as compared to affluent suburbs, because so much ECE is privately provided. private providers know that in poor suburbs, they won't be able to earn the profits they need so will not set up solely to provide the 20 free hours. the way to deal with this issue is to adequately fund community-based not-for-profit centres, and that needs money. taxpayer money.

there's a lot to think about, and i hope to read the report in the coming weeks. the important point is that we, as a society, need to be serious about removing income inequalities if we want to give every child a positive start in life.

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