Child Poverty Action Group launched their latest research report Left Further Behind last night, concurrently in Auckland and Wellington. I attended the Wellington launch, so my comments are specifically about the presenters there. I’m sure someone else will write about the Auckland Launch, I’ll link to that when I find it.
The launch was held at the Salmond Room of the Scool of Law, VUW, in Lambton Quay. For those, like myself, who got there after the 6pm internal door lockdown, it was a frustrating experience trying to locate a door into the building that actually got to the area where the launch was being held – not a failure on CPAG’s part, I might add, but on the part of a Faculty that is happy enough to book rooms to outside organisations, but then does not provide adequate access for those unfamiliar with the building. I had to ask a Law Librarian to swipe me through one set of doors, then climbed stairs and discovered that even those who work in the building can’t swipe through into some sectors, necessitating a trawl back down three floors to find a point of access to the back wing of the building, trailing those I’d met along the way.
Consequently, I arrived mid-way through Anne Elses’ opening speech, which drew heavily on facts and figures from the report. Here’s one phrase I will quote in its entirety:
The core message is very simple: ALL children, irrespective of the status and position of their parents or carers, are entitled to the best possible support from their parents and from the whole of New Zealand society. Together we share responsibility for ensuring that children are given that support.
She spoke about the popular notion that ‘relative poverty’ is not such a bad thing as ‘absolute poverty’, which we have seen much of in the media lately; well, those journalists who will blather on about there being no real poverty in NZ just haven’t bothered to do their research, or even to drive down the motorway into South Auckland and take a look firsthand – Middlemore Hospital is a great place to start, although Starship Hospital in central Auckland would have a decent whack of South Auckland children on any given day of the week, too.
One more quote from Anne:
Now here’s the really important part. The discussion in this report demonstrates that child poverty is not inevitable. It is the avoidable consequence of badly designed or inadequately considered policy.
Let me repeat that. Child Poverty is not inevitable. It is the avoidable consequence of badly designed or inadequately considered policy.
Mamari Stephens, a Lecturer in the School of Law, followed Anne, speaking with determination about the chapter she contributed to on The Whaanau Ora approach.
It was a very interesting commentary from someone who teaches welfare law, and admitted that she herself was daunted by the task of reviewing the programme’s implementation trials.
She concluded by saying that she considered that Whaanau Ora hadn’t done much for reducing benefit reliance (one of the key policy objectives), but that the trials did appear to show low income households making an improvement to their ability to cope on fixed low incomes.
Without an increase in jobs available, moving off benefits is problematic, to say the least.
We then heard from Lucie Trask, a final-year Law student, and a member of the Wellington Community Justice Project, who contributed to the chapter on Youth and Unemployment.
The group of law students contributing to this part of the research were present at the launch, and caucused together afterwards – it was great to see such keen young minds focused on this issue.
In her speech, Lucie quoted the figures for youth unemployment – 1 in 5 under 25 years is currently unemployed, a fact John Key does not acknowledge when claiming our statistics for unemployment are such a lot better than North American or European figures.
It gets worse when broken down by ethnicity and socio-demographic location, as the report shows.
Finally, our MC for the evening, Dr Nikki Turner, spoke about the chapter on Child Health and Poverty. This included some very grim facts for those who understood the epidemiological areas she discussed, and was sufficient to remind me of moments in the lives of my own children when access to medical care was precarious – although, being white, educated and slightly better housed when I was on the DPB, my children were not at great peril; not like the pre-schoolers who are admitted each winter to hospitals in Auckland with bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and other infectious conditions that become severe due to the cost or unavailability of access to a GP early in the illness. The figures for maaori and pasifika children are again much worse than those for paakeha children in the same demographic.
There was a brief question time before we broke for refreshments; Labour Deputy Annette King spoke briefly, as did the Green’s co-leader Russel Norman and the Maaori Party’s Rahui Katene in return, completing the round-up of influences at play on the night.
I did spot Brian Easton, whom I was not exactly surprised to see there, but I must say pleased to notice; and our hard-working new Wellington Central candidate James Shaw was also in evidence, networking afterwards with a policy analyst who shall remain nameless, as I went around catching up with my connections from the now-defunct Gender and Women’s Studies School, who were out in force to support CPAG on the night.