Monday, September 26, 2022

PM spends 0.2 percent of her time on Child Poverty Reduction?

 A reader sent me the following quote from a Bryce Edward's article at the BFD:

The Prime Minister took on the portfolio of Child Poverty Reduction, as a way of signalling her ambitions to fix the problem. But clearly she has had other priorities.

This was exposed in the release of ministerial diaries last month, which give an indication of how much time ministers spend on any particular portfolio. Between October 2020 and June 2022 Ardern was recorded as spending only 14 hours on this portfolio – an average of only 40 minutes per month. One calculation put this at a meagre 0.2 per cent of her working time on what she said was her most important portfolio.

Yes, I did check the calculations which would have her working eleven-hour days, seven days a week.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

On child poverty, racism and colonisation

A just-published Listener article asks, "Why doesn't middle-class NZ care about child poverty?" It gathers views from half a dozen people including a principal, a teacher, an advocate against child poverty, a charity head, a Māori provider chair and Pasifika social worker. Apparently, they told the Listener that the middle-class has become indifferent to child poverty. Yet a careful reading of the piece finds it is primarily the Child Poverty Action Group advancing the idea that, "For middle white New Zealand, poverty is equated with being brown. This is where the indifference comes from." The Chief Executive of the Auckland City Mission goes further claiming active hostility to solo mothers, especially Māori: "As a society, the narrative is 'how dare you raise a child alone? We are going to make it as hard for you as we can - we will punish you.' And secondly, in our country, poverty has a colour. It is about racism and colonization."

In fact, there are more NZ European children in material hardship than all other ethnicities put together. The table below shows there are 53,000 NZ European compared to a total of 47,000 combined other ethnicities (these are the most recent data reported in June 2021):

Click to view

So poverty doesn’t have a colour. Saying poverty has a colour is a convenience for those who want to blame racism and colonisation.

The next thing of note from the above chart is that Asian children have relatively low rates of material hardship. Is this due to higher incomes? No.

The following chart shows that the percentage of Asian children in the poorest households is on par with Māori at 15%:

Click to view

So low household income does not have a direct relationship with material hardship. How money is budgeted and what it is spent on matters. Asian families are also more likely to derive their income from work. The Ministry of Social Development long ago established that, “Standard of living data show that poor children reliant on government transfers are more likely to be subject to restrictions in key items of consumption than are poor children in families with market income.”

And yet both the head of the Auckland City Mission and convenor for the Child Poverty Action Group call for more government transfers. The former wants anyone raising children to receive in-work tax credits and the latter wants more tax from the “richest ten percent” to fund a universal child benefit (oddly missing that a universal child benefit would go to the children of the richest ten percent.)

The social worker from South Auckland would like to see the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group established four years ago implemented. Either he or the writer of the piece claims a review “found that the Government had made no progress on implementing the report’s 42 key objectives.”

That is totally incorrect. For instance, sanctions for not naming the other parent were removed; the ‘subsequent child work obligation’ was abolished: the child support pass-on is implemented; benefits and abatement thresholds were increased; benefits were indexed to wage inflation and accommodation supplements were raised. (This is not an exhaustive list.)

The social worker who wants the recommendations implemented then goes on to argue that “Accommodation supplements hide the fact that rents are too high, so essentially the government is pouring money into private rentals.” High rents are at least partially a result of the government imposing unrealistic housing standards and scrapping tax deductibility, policies he would doubtless approve of.

This disconnect with economic reality characterises suggestions made when those “who see deprivation up close on a daily basis” are asked for their solutions to child poverty. Despite decades of redistributing wealth, the problem persists. Perhaps the prescription is wrong.

If the diagnosis is wrong, it probably is.

If the Chief Executive of the Auckland City Mission stopped for a moment blaming “society” for the poverty of sole parent children and instead reflected on where their fathers are, and why they are absent, a real remedy might reveal itself. Perhaps replacing fathers with the DPB all those years ago wasn’t such a good idea after all?

If the Māori provider chair stopped insisting that child poverty is the “product of colonisation” and reflected on why the children of low-income Asian parents do not suffer disproportionate material deprivation, a real remedy might reveal itself. Perhaps the strong work ethic that typifies immigrants to this country could be celebrated and emulated?

And if indeed the middle-class has become “indifferent to child poverty” perhaps it is because they can see through the many excuses for why it exists.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Likelihood of getting off a benefit decreasing

The longer people are on a benefit, the harder it is to get off it.

The following graph illustrates that. Someone who has been benefit-dependent for 1-6 months has a much higher likelihood of leaving for employment than someone with a duration of a year or more. Although the graph was released this month (September 2022) it only contains data to June 2020 unfortunately:

Two concerns.

In each of the years shown, the likelihood of leaving a benefit for employment has decreased.

Compounding that, in June 2017, 74% of all beneficiaries (203,772) had been on a benefit for more than a year. This grew to 75% in June 2022 (257,490).

For Jobseeker beneficiaries the respective percentages climbed from 57% (67,479) to 61% (104,985).

Most disturbing is this growing dependency is happening against a backdrop of employers across the board crying out for workers.

This scenario seals it. The welfare system has morphed well beyond a last-resort, safety net.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Self-responsibility surcharges?

 As it is now common practice to accord sentencing discounts to criminals with childhood experiences beyond their control, what about surcharges for not exercising self-responsibility?

Every individual has the ability to exercise personal agency. It might be argued for some it is reduced to a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea but it is usually evident that arriving at that impasse could have been avoided.

Compassion is one thing. But excuse-making is another. It is the latter habit that now defines this country and the wrong-headedness holding sway. 

Effort and persistence go unremarked while failure and indifference mark out the victims among us. And don't we love victims.

So long as, of course, the culprits are fashionable - colonization, capitalism, racism and patriarchal oppression.

In reality people have never been more able to control their lives than right now. There is more prosperity and choice than has ever existed.

If it were my call, there would be no discounts. They make a mockery of the free will that defines us. They are in direct conflict with the very reason laws exist. Worse, they send an ambiguous and confused message to offenders and society.

If they are going to be handed out, they should be delivered with a surcharge and explanation. 

"Yes, you had a terrible childhood, but so did many others who managed to avoid criminality. You knowingly chose the wrong path so here's a matching surcharge for not exercising the self-responsibility that others with similar backgrounds managed to."

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Enough now

Our time, the Queen died very early Friday morning. Mike Hosking, a proud royalist and huge fan of Her Majesty ran an excellent show dedicated to her passing. I shed a tear listening to her longtime friend and lady-in-waiting Lady Ann Glenconner describing how they had known each other as young as eight. Listening to personal loss always moves me.

But what the heck? It's now Sunday and still NZ papers are dripping with dross dominated largely by royal gossip. I can't be more specific than the headlines allow because I'm not reading it. 

Her passing should have been treated with the dignity and restraint that personified the exceptional woman the Queen was.

The longer this garish 'grieving' goes on, the less sincere it all appears.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Propaganda writ large

An advert plays incessantly on the radio telling me that "Wearing a mask is an act of intentional kindness."

An intention cannot be ascribed to an action by a third party. How does the creator of this advert know why I am wearing a mask?

If I go into the supermarket maskless I will be asked to don one or leave. So I take my own. It is an act of resentful compliance. I resent the rule, the enforcer of the rule and worse, myself for complying.

Every time I hear the ad these angry feelings are reinforced.

My strategy for dealing with unwanted emotion is to rationalize. What if the ad said, "Be kind, wear a mask" which at least eliminates the absurd idea that someone else can live in my head and know my thoughts. But what is kind about wearing a mask? I'm not a surgeon. I have no illness and even if I did, isn't sharing germs part of how we have existed together for eons?

Perhaps the rational response is to understand the message in its inversion, "If you don't wear a mask people will think you are cruel and uncaring."

That I think is what's really going on.

We've had five f------g years of this 'be kind' guilt-tripping propaganda shoved down our throats and everywhere you look the results are crippled systems and crippled people.

Now I'm getting confused over what it is to be genuinely kind.  Maskless, I gave a girl some money the other day. Broke my own rule. She said she wanted to get a feed. I checked she had a roof over her head at night and some sort of support system and then gave her $20. Maybe she'll go and buy a bottle of wine or whatever it takes to get off her face but why shouldn't she enjoy a few hours escapism? I'd like a few myself but my meagre daily alcohol ration makes that an impossible option.

Perhaps I should have walked up to this kid and said, "Excuse me. Where is your mask? You do know that it's an act of intentional kindness to wear one, don't you?"


Monday, August 29, 2022

Why Do Our Young Lead Developed World In Poor Mental Health?


28 August 2022

Report - Why Do Our Young Lead Developed World In Poor Mental Health?

In 2020, UNICEF ranked New Zealand last of 38 developed countries in child mental well-being. In a new report for Family First, “Child and Youth Mental Health: Why New Zealand's young lead the developed world in poor mental health”, researcher Lindsay Mitchell explores the UNICEF claim.

"What I found was NZ has the worst youth suicide, self-harm and bullying statistics. Mental disorders have risen significantly, as has consumption of antidepressants and anti-psychotics. These increases are above what is occurring in the general population,” says Lindsay Mitchell.

The report gathers data from the New Zealand Health Survey, Mental Health and Addiction Services monitoring reports, Pharmac, DHBs, various longitudinal studies, Oranga Tamariki, MSD and Youth 2000 surveys.

"On the available evidence, New Zealand undoubtedly faces a mental health crisis among the young. But this may be just part of the picture. For instance, the Growing Up in New Zealand study has lost touch with hundreds of children who are the most likely to be suffering poor mental health due to exposure to accumulating adverse experiences associated with transience; multiple parental relationship transitions; young, deprived, and poorly educated mothers who disproportionately experience hardship and depression.”

“According to Oranga Tamariki, '…the alcohol and drug issue is prolific / increasing' among Family Start clients, and various data suggests thousands of babies are exposed to alcohol and other substances in utero."

"This first scenario describes an environment that elevates the risk of children developing poor mental health,” says Lindsay.

"A second scenario is of a more pervasive depression and anxiety problem exacerbated less by mayhem and material deprivation, and more by recent developments such as social media-driven poor self-image, heightened sensitivity to parental and/or peer pressure, fear of failure, climate change anxiety and confusion over sexual and gender identity. The second group may also be dealing with separated parents, torn loyalties, school and home-life upheaval and adapting to stepsiblings."

“Based on the extensive data presented, both of these groups - which no doubt overlap - are growing, along with unmet need and wait times for treatment. New questions are arising regarding the effectiveness of medication and lack of alternative therapies. There are suggestions that over-reliance on medication is reducing capacity for self-help.”

"But most importantly, a reversal of this upward surge demands a wider appraisal and acknowledgement of societal changes that have lessened the likelihood that children will experience material and emotional security and stability throughout their formative years. If children were genuinely placed at the centre of the family, given time, given unconditional love, given space to explore but surety to return to, there may still be no guarantees. But the odds of that child developing good mental health will massively increase."

Sunday, August 28, 2022

More children unsafe under Ardern's watch

Jacinda Ardern in 2017:

“...we are small enough that we can absolutely introduce child wellbeing policies so that New Zealand is once again a great place to bring up children and be a child.”

Since then, more children are being investigated for family harm incidents:

More children are victims of intentional injury and sexual assault:

Yes, I am being selective but so is the Prime Minister when she announces: