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.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Truth column Feb 28 - March 6

The Truth site is now up-to-date and I should be able to post my column weekly again.

The 'living wage'  idea poses more questions than it answers. Apparently the proposed non-compulsory hourly wage of $18.40 is based on the needs of a family with two children, with one full-time and one part-time worker.

But someone with dependent children who is currently earning less than the living wage will almost certainly be receiving  Working For Families assistance. As well, someone without children might be receiving accommodation supplement which helps with rent, board or a mortgage.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Farmers likened to "solo mums" - Helen Kelly

Regarding the government assistance available to farmers in officially drought-ridden areas, in a column titled  "We are all beneficiaries now" Helen Kelly writes,

Solo mums are a bit like these farmers. They are working but not earning and need community support to do that....  The drought shows how important social protection systems are.  When the unexpected happens – your farm dries up, you get sick, you lose your job, you find yourself alone raising your kids – the community steps in by way of tax funded Social Protection. 

I wonder how farmers feel about being compared to people who default to a welfare lifestyle in their thousands every year?

Tax-paying farmers are subject to the whim of the weather; many DPB mums are subject to their own (or their partner's) personal whims and wants. But Kelly can't differentiate between people who are  products of a habitual hand-out regime and people who need temporary help.

Shoring up support for a debased benefit system on the back of drought-stricken farmers sucks.

(Should farmers get government assistance? A tax break to buy income protection insurance against such advents would be better).

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Truth Column Feb 21-27

My Truth column for February 21-27. The political poll referred to in this column has since been superseded by others.

Here's a scary headline: LABOUR, GREENS WITH MINOR PARTIES WOULD WIN ELECTION.  So said the latest Roy Morgan poll. Emboldened Green co-leader Metiria Turei shoved aside her education spokesperson to lead the charge against charter schools and pave the way to becoming Education Minister in 2014. Any charter school would be turned into a state school under her direction, she threatened. In other words she'd remove the "greater flexibility in exchange for greater accountability of educational outcomes" promised to partnership schools. Before the initiative has chance to prove itself, the Greens (and Labour) would trample it dead.
What else could we expect from such a government?

Monday, March 04, 2013

And a few words from the Minister...

Regarding Jacinda Ardern's claims and what the Herald on Sunday published, Paula Bennett has responded;

"Ms Ardern and the Herald on Sunday need to get their facts right. The Herald on Sunday reported today that changes to youth are progressing through Parliament and will be introduced shortly. Wake up - they passed through the House last year and were implemented in August 2012."
“This is shoddy journalism and scaremongering by Labour. They might not like the truth and prefer to talk down people's chances of finding work, but I believe in people and their abilities, and want to support and encourage them in their hunt for work,” says Mrs Bennett.

Note the Herald headline has now changed. From memory it was something like Benefit numbers swell. If I google that term said article comes up with a new title.

The print media turns over a lot of young journalists. Or moves them around different portfolios. It's a good thing the blogosphere is now around to hold them to account.

(Bennett should also be careful when talking about DPB numbers to explicitly refer to sole parents. As is stands her release has the potential to confuse when matched against MSD's benefit factsheets.)

Median time on welfare 7.4 years

I was reviewing some of the papers presented to the WWG back in 2010 and noted some important statistics relating to the degree of dependence on welfare in New Zealand. 

Of people aged 28-64 receiving benefit at June 2009 (for whom there is a full ten years since they turned 18), half had spent at least three-quarters of the preceding decade on benefit. Just under a quarter had received benefit for all of the decade.

- the median proportion of time spent on benefit in the preceding decade was 74%

- 23% had spent all of the preceding decade on benefit. 
- Māori were much more likely than non-Maori to be in receipt of benefit and had spent larger shares of time in receipt of benefit, on average, than non-Maori.

- Pacific people and people from “Other” ethnic groups in receipt of benefit had, on
average, spent smaller shares of time in receipt of benefit than both Māori and European benefit recipients.
(That last statistic is important because too often Pacific people get put together with Maori in a 'Polynesian' category. That does a disservice to Pacific people who aren't over-represented in the benefit system in either numbers or duration of dependence.)

A lot of left-leaning commentators and politicians play down welfare dependence by using statistics pertaining to  the total population use of benefits over time. Naturally many people do use welfare at some point and that skews the overall picture towards shorter periods in receipt. Here's an example from Jacinda Ardern:

"There are 112,000 sole parents on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. Most come off it within four years"
What she omits to mention is many go back on it quite quickly. The report linked to shows that at June 2009 73 percent of DPB sole parents had spent 50 percent or more of the preceding decade on a benefit. These are the numbers that describe long-term dependence - the problem welfare reforms are trying to reduce - and it is wilfully misleading  to use any others.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Children's Day dying a death

Today was Children's Day. News to me. This media release was the first I knew about it:

The future of New Zealand depends on the well being of every child. Child Poverty Action Group says Children’s Day this Sunday is a chance for New Zealanders to reflect on our collective responsibility for the well-being of all our children.
Hopefully people are tiring of annual, designated 'concern' days for everything and anything. The over-subscription to 'days' has cast a pall over their efficacy. Usually a socialist construct designed to put political heat on governments to 'do something', I look forward to their demise.

More bad stats from Ardern

Jacinda Ardern is clutching at straws.

In the NZ Herald today:

Labour spokeswoman for social development Jacinda Ardern said the highest unemployment numbers were at around 10 per cent in the early 1990s but support for solo parents and invalids have hit record highs during Bennett's reign as Social Development Minister.

Infoshare shows that DPB numbers reached a high of 113,329 in 1998.
In 2011 a new high was reached of 114,039.

However, not all people on the DPB are "solo parents".

The table below shows that at December 2011 100,266 sole parents were on the DPB...

December 2011
September 2012
December 2012
Quarterly change
Annual change
Domestic Purposes Benefits (DPB)

...compared to 106,881 in 1998 (contained within 2002 report here)


Domestic Purposes Benefit
– Sole Parent
Domestic Purposes Benefit
– Caring for Sick or Infirm
Domestic Purposes Benefit
– Woman Alone
Emergency Maintenance Allowance

So every thing else Ardern says in this article in relation to the DPB and sole parents, failure of work-testing etc is bunkum.

Let's look at the invalid's benefit. Using the same Infoshare table, yes, numbers reached a record high in 2011. But under National they increased from 85,197  2008 to 88,134 in 2011 - or 3.4%. Under Labour the increase was 51,173 in 1999 to  79,077 in 2007 or 54.6 percent. 

And as a percentage of the working age population numbers on the Invalid benefit have been trending down since 2009.

Ardern is quite pathetic.

But doesn't the reporter have some responsibility to dig a bit deeper?