Editorial: Vicious cycle of poverty can be broken

By Andrew Bonallack

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Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills delivers the statistics on child poverty in New Zealand.
Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills delivers the statistics on child poverty in New Zealand.

I consider the thoughts in a recent Morgan Foundation opinion piece on poverty are so good they're worth sharing wider.

Science researcher Jess Berentson-Shaw attacks the stereotype that if you give money to those who are poor, they waste it on booze and cigarettes.

The reality, she says, is if the poor have more money they use it to try to improve things for their children.

I have encountered this "waste" attitude frequently, stemming from a dangerous contempt for those who are living in poverty.

Society is extremely swift to label those living in poverty as people who abused whatever chances for success might have come their way, and took a different path.

People seem to think that in a supposed equalitarian society like New Zealand, we all have equal opportunities at school, and thus the choices presented to us are equal.

We also attribute crime to poverty. When our car is broken into, or our houses burgled, it fuels our disdain and contempt for those who have "failed" to achieve in our theoretically classless society.

Ms Berentson-Shaw argues that there are aspects in which all New Zealanders are equal.

As parents, if we have the means to do so, we will spend money to improve the lives of our children.

Statistics New Zealand figures show that whether we are rich or poor, we spend the same proportion of our income on booze.

Additional research cited by Berentson-Shaw says that a family's main motivation was their children, but also the basics of food, accommodation and transport.

British research indicated when money was available, spending on alcohol and tobacco actually reduced, the money instead going towards footwear, books and holidays for children.

It should hardly be surprising that parents think of their children first.

What needs to change is that stereotypical assumption that those in poverty are inherently a bunch of no-hopers.

Some people aren't as successful as others.

But if their primary focus is on their children, and money is available, then the success of the next generation helps eliminate that continual poverty cycle.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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