Saturday, June 01, 2013

Truth column May 24

My Truth column May 23. It's not on-line yet but I thought I'd put it up anyway. Despite being over a week old it seems somewhat topical:

We're told 270,000 children are living in poverty. That's the number of children living in homes below 60 percent of the median household income after housing costs. Some argue that income isn't as indicative as spending. Amongst that 270,000 are children not experiencing hardship because their parents prioritise and budget. In any event, using the 60 percent measure, child poverty actually declined from 2001, and plateaued after the Christchurch earthquakes and global financial crisis. So why do we constantly hear about growing hunger?

Benefits are adjusted annually for inflation to keep up with living costs. Rents are a big consumer of income but the aforementioned improving data is after housing costs. Also, New Zealand's had it tougher before. The early 1990s recession was deeper than the GFC, yet there was no clamour about hungry children then.

There's one consumable with a price that has risen significantly, and is set to rise further. Low-income people, especially Maori women, use a lot of it. Tobacco. Ironically the tobacco tax hikes have been driven by the Maori and Mana Parties, whose leaders are determined to price cigarettes (scheduled to rise to $20 a packet by 2016) out of the reach of Maori and Pacific people. The reality is, though, most don't kick the habit.  Add to tobacco the drought-induced escalating cost of cannabis, also used more by Maori than other ethnicities, and it's entirely reasonable to speculate about the contribution this makes to foregone grocery items.

I'm not denying that children are suffering, often from experiences worse than hunger. But there's too little honesty about why. The hypocrisy of high-earning leaders who deliberately ratchet up costs for their already skint constituents, and then carp about the consequences for the kids, is breathtaking. And to rub salt into the wound, on April 1 this year, the tobacco hike was omitted from the inflation adjustment to benefits. Not a very funny prank.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For many parents on welfare, first comes ciggies, alcohol and drugs... then food for the kiddies.