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.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Where are the offended old codgers?

That cartoon. The thing I noticed about it immediately is that it featured two old codgers also trying to get a free lunch. Old people demanding free this and that, or refusing to entertain giving up privileges other members of society don't enjoy, aren't uncommon. But they don't represent all over-65s. Haven't heard Grey Power complaining yet.

Metiria Turei, on the other hand, is being hysterical - and I don't mean funny. Her reaction is ridiculous. "Does our country really hate us?"

(Comments are "closed" because ... the Greens want an open exchange of ideas??)

Personally I didn't think the cartoon was very clever or funny. It was limp. If you are going to offend people it should at least be witty and worth it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Budget focus on teen parents

On Monday the government made a formal response to the Children's Commissioner Expert Advisory Group Solutions to Child Poverty which were very extensive and costly. Essentially the government has simply reiterated everything they have already done, but I thought it worthwhile highlighting the section about teen parents who are, to my mind, where much of the available government and non-government resources need to go. Generally teen parents get stuck in the welfare rut for longer than most and contribute to the intergenerational cycle more than most. They are teen parents for a short time but single, benefit-dependent parents for many years thereafter. Their children will almost certainly figure amongst the poorest, most deprived in the country:

Investing in teen parents

Budget  2012  set  aside  $287.5  million  over  four  years  for  the  first  phase  of  the
Government’s  welfare  reforms  to  help  more  New  Zealanders  into  work.   Much  of  this  is earmarked for supporting youth, including $80 million over four years for  early childhood education, childcare and the Guaranteed Childcare Assistance Payment for teen parents. Another $77.6 million was set aside to support the roughly 14,000 disengaged 16 and 17 year olds, to move them into education or training.

A new Youth Service and reciprocal obligations 

The Government has set up a new Youth Service to work with vulnerable young people. 
Community-based providers are funded to deliver wraparound support to teen parents and unemployed or disengaged young people, in order to improve their educational outcomes.  

One  of  the  groups  targeted  by  the  Youth  Service  is  16-18  year  old  parents  who  are receiving  financial  assistance  from  the  Government.    In  return  for  receiving  financial assistance, these Young Parent Payment recipients are supported to complete a range of obligations focused on improving their parenting skills, including: 

    completing a parenting education programme
    enrolling every dependent child with a Primary Health Organisation
    keeping every child under the age of 5 years up to date with WellChild checks, and
    ensuring  their  children’s  attendance  at  an  approved  early  childhood  education
programme or other suitable childcare while they are in education, training, work-based
learning or part time work.

Learning what works for young Māori parents

55% of Young Parent Payment recipients have identified themselves as Māori.  Alongside the  Youth  Service,  the  Government  has  invested  in  a  Supporting  Intergenerational
Success initiative, which provides tailored support for young single Māori mothers to move into meaningful training and employment opportunities.  This initiative is being run by Te Puni Kōkiri for one year.  Its focus is on harvesting information to find out what works and identifying the opportunities and challenges for this group.  

Supporting  Intergenerational  Success  was  designed  to  complement  the  Government's
welfare reforms and other initiatives that focus on young mothers with more complex and
entrenched needs.  Providers are working with single Māori mothers aged 16-20 years old
who are receiving the Emergency Maintenance Allowance or Domestic Purposes Benefit in
South Auckland, Rotorua, Waikato, and Gisborne.

More Teen Parent Units

The  Government  is  funding  the  establishment  of  a  further  5  teen  parent  units  in  2013, which  will  provide  more  educational  options  for  teen  parents  in  these  areas.    Not  every school can have a teen parent unit, however, so the Government is exploring alternative ways to incentivise teen parents to return to or remain in education.
Dedicated Intensive Case Workers

In  2010,  the  Government  invested  $7.9  million  in  Teen  Parent  Intensive  Case  Workers. These  Case  Workers  are  working  in  19  high  needs  communities  to  support  the  most vulnerable teen parents and their children.  

Their  aim  is  to  help  teen  parents  stay  in  education,  and  work  with  those  on  benefits  to prepare for future employment.  They link teen parents and children to the services and support  they  need,  such  as  antenatal  care,  services  that  help  prevent  repeat  teen pregnancies, housing, budgeting, and home visiting and parenting services (parents aged under 18 are prioritised for the limited available  places in Family Start).  They also help ensure children of teen parents are participating in Well Child services and early childhood education.  
Volunteer Neighbourhood Support

Volunteer  Neighbourhood  Support  initiatives  assist  the  Teen  Parent  Intensive  Case
Workers in nine priority communities.  They provide support for teen parents who are not facing  major  challenges,  but  who  may  be  isolated  and  able  to  benefit  from  greater
connections  with  their  neighbourhoods.    Improved  access  to  parenting  and  mentoring programmes has been a focus of most of these initiatives. 
Parenting Support for Teen Fathers

This programme focuses on helping teen fathers to be responsible and nurturing parents.
In  2010,  the  Government  provided  $730,000  for  it.    A  resource  created  for  service
providers  brings  together  what  is  known  from  research  and  good  practice,  and  enables examples  of  effective  parenting  support  to  be  shared.    This  resource  is  being  used  by communities across New Zealand to develop support services for teen fathers.  

The  Government  has  also  funded  support  services  for  teen  fathers  in  nine  high  needs communities.  These services provide teen fathers with information and skills to prepare for the  birth  of  their  child,  parent  their  children  effectively,  and  identify  and  respond  to  their children's health, education and social needs. 

Supported Housing for Teen Parents and their Children

In 2010, the Government invested $6.2 million in Supported Housing for Vulnerable Teen
Parents  and  their  Children.    This  initiative  provides  housing  with  adult  supervision  and support by trained staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It addresses the needs of the most vulnerable teen parents and their children.  

The houses are for teen parents (ranging in age from 13-19 years) who are unable to be
supported  by  their  parents/caregivers  and  who  lack  the  resources  to  find  a  stable  and suitable place to live.  Teen parents in these homes receive parenting support and social work support, learn budgeting and other life skills, and get help to plan for their futures.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Food in schools - non-culpability creep

The Prime Minister has confirmed that National will be extending food in schools programmes. He knows there is discomfit about this amongst his constituency but, according to the NZ Herald says,

 "...if the child is not fed ... we know they don't learn...In the end they are a victim, they may well be a 6- or 7-year-old victim that can't stand up for themselves so we have some responsibility to do something about that."
Yet a Auckland University study undertaken across 14 low socio-economic schools where children received free school breakfasts organised through Red Cross or the private sector found,

 "A free school breakfast did not have a significant effect on New Zealand children's school attendance, academic achievement, self-reported grades, sense of belonging at school, behaviour or food security. However the programme had significant positive effects on children's short-term hunger ratings. More frequent programme attendance may be required to influence school attendance and academic achievement."

Sounds familiar. The policy isn't working because we aren't doing enough of it. I'm not buying it. And speaking of buying....

.... these are the payment rates for Family Tax Credits received by beneficiaries specifically for the care of their children:

Category Amount per week
First or only child, 0 - 15 years $92.73
First or only child, 16 years or older $101.98
Second or subsequent child, 0 - 12 years $64.44
Second or subsequent child, 13 - 15 years $73.50
Second or subsequent child, 16 years or older $91.25

A box of Homebrand Cornflakes costs $2.39

A loaf of Signature range wholemeal toast bread is $2.49

500g Anchor butter $3.89

2L Signature milk $3.79

That's shopping at Countdown, not the cheapest, but should feed one child breakfast easily. That's 13.5% of the 'first and only' child payment.

The minute anyone disagrees with the 'feed the children in schools' policy they are put into the non-caring, greedy corner.

But I won't accept that characterisation.

Every time we cede to non-culpability creep we actually make the overall situation and outlook for children bleaker. If we fail to ask for parental responsibility, we won't get it. And the fall-out from non-responsibility manifests in far worse ways than hungry children and at times when nobody else is available to step in and fill the void.

CPAG return to court - again

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is about to return to court for the third time arguing that the In Work Tax Credit should go to beneficiary families. The group has an opinion piece in today's DomPost:
OPINION: New Zealand continues to grapple with a poor track record for child poverty and particularly the rising inequality affecting our poorest children.

My response:

Dear Editor

An opinion piece from the Child Poverty Action Group (Dominion Post, May 28) is prefaced with a statement that the group is back in court this week trying to get Working for Families extended to those getting benefits. Children in beneficiary families do receive Family Tax Credits, part of the WFF package. What they don't get is the In Work Tax Credit (IWTC) specifically for parents who work.

The IWTC was created by the last Labour government which believed the best way out of poverty, including for children, was paid work. It reflected the extra costs of going to work and the often negligible gap between income from low-paid work and income from a benefit.

Research from the OECD (whose experts assisted the government at the last defence of this policy) has shown that reducing child poverty simply by lifting benefit payments increases the number of workless homes. In short, paying the IWTC to children in benefit homes will lift their income in the immediate future but won't eliminate the ongoing source of their poverty - parental unemployment - in the long run. That's why the Human Rights Tribunal ruled,"...the discrimination caused by the exclusion of beneficiaries from the In Work Tax Credit is demonstrably justified."

CPAG refuse to accept this and continue to throw good money after bad fighting the decision. It could probably be better spent on practical measures to reduce hardship amongst poor children.