Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mad Max not so mad in UK

Max Rasbrooke, anti-poverty campaigner has gone to the UK. He writes a column that's published in the left-wing  Guardian newspaper about what UK child poverty campaigners could learn from NZ. He begins by painting the recent NZ picture:

Consider this scenario: a centre-right party, handed an unexpectedly large majority, sweeps into government – and promptly promises to make child poverty a key focus of its next term in power, before delivering the first rise in benefit rates in over 40 years.

"Sweeps into government"?  It was already in government.

"An unexpectedly large majority"? Unexpected by Max maybe.

 "First rise in benefit rates in over 40 years"?

This conveniently ignores that second tier assistance like accommodation supplement and family support preserved the value of welfare for families. As well benefits have been constantly raised to keep step with rampant inflation. For instance, from the 1976 Official Yearbook a 15% annual increase to match inflation that year:

 In both countries,benefits are low by international standards

The benefit most pertinent to child poverty is the sole parent support. So how do they stack up :

NZ is middling and the UK is high.

When it comes to solutions, both governments are focused on forcing people off benefits, with no real monitoring of what happens to them afterwards. They are also both cutting, or looking to cut, in-work benefits, sometimes by stealth

Yet the government is increasing  in-work benefits from April next year:

Lower-income working families not on a benefit also get a boost from the Budget. Working families earning $36,350 a year or less before tax will get $12.50 extra a week from Working for Families, and some very low-income families will get $24.50 extra.

Rashbrooke continues:

 New Zealand does, however, provide a slightly more fertile climate for anti-poverty campaigners: in a country of 4.5 million people, poverty is more visible than it is in Britain...
Wouldn't overcrowding make poverty more visible? The more eyes there are, the more visible something is.

But the campaigners themselves can take much of the credit. Focusing on child poverty as having both the most serious consequences and the greatest emotional pull, they have launched what amounts to a full-spectrum attack. New Zealand’s Child Poverty Action Group (Cpag) has publicly confronted governments of all stripes, taking them to court over the decision not to pay certain tax credits to beneficiary households. While the courts ultimately ruled that this decision was legal, they also found it was discriminatory. The court case kept the issue in the media for long spells and prompted many political parties to promise to end the discrimination. Meanwhile, Cpag also delivered a stream of carefully researchedreports on the consequences of and solutions to child poverty.

Many political parties? The Greens were the only party to campaign on it as policy in 2014.

My own experience of CPAG reports is that at least some aren't particularly carefully researched and I've corresponded with them to that effect.

New Zealand’s successes should not be overstated. We are a long way from making a real assault on poverty, but it shows that the debate can be shifted. 

How rich is this observation  when recently writing for a domestic newspaper angry Max could find nothing positive to say about "successes" on child poverty here?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

both governments are focused on forcing people off benefits

Oh - if only, if only!