Friday, September 23, 2011

Child poverty - what is left unsaid

In the run up to the election, groups wanting the government to solve child poverty have been very active. A mix of academics, political activists, religious lobby groups etc. say that 200,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty thereby significantly increasing their risks of poor health, educational and social outcomes.

But who are these children? The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), authors of the latest report, Left Further Behind, are not specific about the group’s composition. They make observations like, “The[se] poorest children in New Zealand are found disproportionately in sole parent households…” and “Māori children are twice as likely as Pākehā to be living in a poor household … a fact the report identifies as reflecting the relatively high proportion of Maori children living in sole parent beneficiary families and households.” Some of the children also live in two-parent working households apparently.

Other sources, The Child Health Monitor 2011 for instance, provide further clues. It records that in April 2011 children reliant on the DPB numbered 180,845. Also, “During 2009, 75% of all households (including those with and without children) relying on income-tested benefits as their main source of income were living below the poverty line.”

Assuming an unchanged proportion, 75% of the 180,845 DPB-dependent children are living below the poverty line; around 135,600. So two thirds of the child poverty problem relates to DPB reliance.

Recent Ministry of Social Development research into sole parents on benefits found,"The research considered all sole parents in receipt of a main benefit at 31 December 2005 – around 114,000 people. Of this group: just over half had spent at least 80% of the history period supported by main benefits; a third appeared to have become parents in their teens."

Importantly, a third is a minimum estimate due to the method of calculation. The research also found that the ‘early starters’ tended to have larger families, more debt and greater hardship. Putting together the pieces thus far, conservatively 60,000 of the children living in poverty belong in welfare families which sprang from a teenage birth.

Surprisingly CPAG’s report mentions teen births just once and then only as an OECD indicator of child well-being, not as a significant source of child poverty.

The CPAG’s approach is one of government responsibility after the fact. It chides the Welfare Working Group for over-emphasising individual responsibilities rather than human rights. CPAG’s attention is on their cure - a greater shift of wealth into these families – and not prevention.

Given the increasing ability of young people to avoid early births, that is odd. Young people across socio-economic levels are having relationships and sex. But most of the births to teenagers occur in the poorest deciles – 56 percent in the lowest three and 23 percent in the poorest. Poor, uneducated girls have less to lose when choosing or failing to avoid premature parenthood. A benefit will pay equal to or more than working full time at the minimum wage.

Yet the major recommendation advanced by CPAG is to increase benefits. Given the above set of circumstances, it isn’t difficult to anticipate what raising benefits may do. Increase the number of children on benefits.

Does that matter? Yes. When the Ministry of Social Development studied whether the source of income mattered to the living standards of poor children in benefit households versus poor children in working households they found that, "The results demonstrate that there is considerable variation in the living standards of those below the poverty threshold, and suggest that poor children in families with government transfers as the main income source are a particularly vulnerable group...Poor children whose families are primarily reliant on market income are in an intermediate position."

This indicates that poverty, of itself, isn’t necessarily the problem. Yet CPAG, and their counterparts, seem quite reluctant to pin down the 200,000 children by family structure, employment status or ethnicity.

They certainly aren’t interested in a discussion about the long-term impacts of New Zealand’s high teenage birth rate, especially among Maori. If they were, a report into reducing child poverty would be the very place to have it.


Anonymous said...

The constant reference by these groups to 'child' poverty irks me. If the reference was to poor households then I wouldn't be so irked. It's the constant use of these emotional terms to drive a political agenda is a blatant attempt to distract the public from the real issues.

As we all know the only way out of poverty is hard work. Are CPAG really advocating child labour?

Thank you for continually highlighting the real issues behind the emotion.


Anonymous said...

This indicates that poverty, of itself, isn’t necessarily the problem.

Of course it's not. The problem is welfare

Stop the benefits and the problems go away.

Manolo said...

Excellent letter in today's paper, Lindsay.

The Dom Post will never stop calling you an ex-ACT candidate. :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh dear! You seem to be a bit behind the eight ball. Many of the 25% of impoverished children come from working families. We have a very low wage economy in New Zealand. Despite government subsidizing those low wages, the increased cost of living means many children go without proper food and clothing, not to mention heating their houses.

You seem to think that welfare is to blame for people living in poverty. You seem to believe that depriving poor people further will rectify the child poverty issue? How wrong you are. Cutting benefits will simply push people into undertaking crime to survive.

An elitist ideal that inhibits children of poor families from being properly sustained leads to further health costs and social dysfunction. The fascist propaganda that is being promoted here has already been hard fought in WW2. You lost! Get used to it.

James said...

Anon....I'd kick your arse all over this blog but Lindsay is quite capable of schooling you on the actual facts big time so I won't bother...

Lindsay Mitchell said...

"Oh dear! You seem to be a bit behind the eight ball. Many of the 25% of impoverished children come from working families."

Yes, I understand that. Where else would the MSD 2002 research have found a control group for the study I quoted?

"Cutting benefits will simply push people into undertaking crime to survive".

Not that I have advocated cutting benefit levels (just the indeterminate time benefits are available to capable people),
what do you base that on?

"The fascist propaganda that is being promoted here has already been hard fought in WW2."

Do you understand what fascism is?

Psycho Milt said...

No, he/she doesn't. To the thickos among my lot, it's a word that means nothing more than "something I don't like."

CPAG aren't willing to break down the numbers for exactly the reason you point out - it would reveal that a DPB career path is the biggest risk factor for child poverty. If the approach taken is solely to increase welfare payments, the result will be to make a DPB career path more attractive. It's obvious and inarguable, but for some reason leftists imagine that pretending it's not there will make it go away. Which doesn't work for something that's obvious to everybody, and leftists really need to work up the guts to actually address it.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

"...leftists really need to work up the guts to actually address it."

PM, I am not left/right tribal and perhaps naively hoped that Labour would (or will eventually) find the guts. It is Labour that traditionally drives reform for the right reasons. Not just for reasons that buy votes - what we have seen over recent years. Perhaps the new-generation National will don that mantle. It'll be interesting to see how far Paula Bannett can go next term. She isn't a conservative but neither is she treating CPAG etc with kid gloves.

Anonymous said...

We have a very low wage economy in New Zealand.

NZ wages are still nowhere near low enough to even match productivity with Australia, let alone China. In terms of what work you get out of NZ "workers" for the money, NZ wages are some of the highest in the world.

Cutting benefits will simply push people into undertaking crime to survive.

which is why a larger fully-armed police force with a legal framework to deal with bludgers, criminals, activists, protestors, etc is also required in NZ - and has been for years.

Not that I have advocated cutting benefit levels

Cutting benefit levels at least back to Ruth Richardson's levels would be a start - back in '91 the dole was around $100, now it's $200 so don't ever say the benefits cuts have been kept!

But really we need to cut all benefits, including super, health & education, to zero

Anonymous said...

So you're not going to put my comment through eh Lindsay? RWNJ's are such cowards!

Lindsay Mitchell said...

What comment? And what is a RWNJ?

Anonymous said...

Right Wing Nut Job.

Which - frankly - given Lindsay's keenness on keeping benefits, keeping state schools & hospitals, keeping a slightly limited DBP - and on and on and on - calling Lindsay "Right Wing" let along a "Nutjob" is a vast overstatement.

After all, she was thrown out of left-of-centre ACT party for being far too leftwing!

Remember: communists (like Labour) believe the state will lift beggars from poverty

Socialists (like ACT) believe private work will lift the beggars from poverty

Real right wingers don't give a shit about the beggars!