Saturday, March 09, 2013

Talking up child poverty

Talking up child poverty is not an unusual practice. But it normally comes from the mouths of any number of people who make their living  documenting or advocating as part of the ' child poverty industry'.

An opinion piece in the NZ Herald earlier this week by the former head of Telstra Clear, exhorted business to get more involved in solving the social problems of NZ children:

Let's look at the facts. Today, a quarter of children live in poverty in New Zealand. That means going without a doctor, good food, shoes, raincoats and decent housing. If you look at Pasifika children, that statistic rises to 51 per cent; and more than half of Maori families are dependent on benefit incomes.


Firstly, Mr Freeth has defined living in poverty by the 'reduced living standards measure' which is where his 51 percent of Pasifika children comes from - MSD's  2008 Living Standards Survey. So, 51 percent of Pasifika children experienced (or didn't as the case may be) 4 or more of the following

  • A good bed
  • Ability to keep main rooms adequately warm
  • Suitable clothes for important or special occasions
  • Home contents insurance
  • Presents for family and friends on special occasions
Economising ‘a lot’ (to keep down costs to help pay for other basics)
  • Continued wearing worn out clothing
  • Continued wearing worn out shoes
  • Went without or cut back on fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Bought cheaper or less meat than wanted
  • Postponed visits to the doctor
  • Did not pick up a prescription
  • Put up with feeling cold to save on heating costs
  • Went without or cut back on visits to family or friends
  • Did not go to a funeral (tangi) you wanted to
And there are other measures mentioned like not being able to have friends to a party of your own bedroom when aged 10 plus. It's all very subjective stuff. BUT experiencing reduced living standards does not condemn a child.

Just for some balance, if the OECD measure of child poverty was used the percentage would immediately drop to around 12% of NZ children.

Then he says that, "More than half of Maori families are dependent on benefit incomes." Say what?

I'd be the first to agree that Maori are disproportionately dependent on welfare and it's not good for their children. But the percentage is not that high.

At December 2012 around 112,000 Maori received a main benefit. There were around 375,000 18-64 year-old Maori in 2012. So just on 30 percent of the Maori working age population receives a benefit.

The proportion for Maori single parents on a benefit is higher but even the highest age group - 20-29 - doesn't exceed half.

I have no idea where he got his statistic from.

Ironically later in the piece he writes:

Our statistics are not simply unacceptable, they are truly outrageous. They are beyond comprehension. And where, as business leaders, have we been, I wonder, as more and more reports are released showing more issues with children and youth health and welfare?
Probably getting on with their first priority - running a business - and feeling suspicious about media reports exaggerating child poverty.

1 comment:

JC said...

The thing that stood out for me was this comment:

"The challenge for business is not "should we?", but how far we can actually legitimately go to support programmes and activities using our shareholders' money?'"

I can think of a number of high profile criminal court cases where buisnessmen and women had a similar elastic view of shareholders money.

Also, I question his seriousness.. one of the things professional fund raisers told me over the years is that the "Wont somebody think of the children" approach doesn't work too well compared to the developed plan that says to the target business "This is what we can do for you".

The first approach is to sentiment using dodgy, boring or unverifiable facts and the second recognizes that diverting shareholder funds has to supply some sort of trade and benefit.. otherwise why would shareholders agree to it?, after all, shareholders have their own personal ideas and plans for charity too.