Martine Rolls:Kids suffer if parents paid pittance

By Martine Rolls


A Unicef report, Measuring Child Poverty, ranked New Zealand 20th out of 35 OECD economies for child poverty.

I think that is seriously worrying.

What happened to New Zealand being the best place on Earth to raise a family?

The story we published on child poverty in the Western Bay has attracted some sharp comments on A number call child poverty rubbish.

They say that there is no need for any Kiwi kid to go hungry.

Even Budget Advice is saying that there is no excuse for child poverty in New Zealand, and that it is a result of poor decisions and choices people make.

Of course there is some truth in this, but it doesn't take away the fact that providing for a family on a very low income is incredibly difficult.

It is unfair to say that these people are dope-smoking alcoholics who spend their days at the pokies. That is simply not true.

Many families out there are struggling to survive. I see it around me all the time.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

It has been well researched and widely reported that money worries are a leading cause of stress, and that increases the risk of health problems.

It is also true that people who experience on-going financial stress are more likely to numb their anxiety by drinking, overeating and other unhealthy behaviour.

In Tauranga's poorest suburbs, and my own neighbourhood fits that category, families are living in over-crowded, cold and damp houses.

Illness is widespread as parents can't afford to take their children to a doctor and a community services card doesn't make hefty bills go away. For some people, it's a choice between paying the power bill or the doctor's bill.

People who sit comfortably might find that hard to imagine, but I know it's true.

I'm not just talking about people who are on the benefit that are struggling. There are plenty of hardworking New Zealanders who are not paid enough to live decent lives.

The reality is that the $13.50 minimum wage simply can't sustain a family.

The little money that people on a very low income have to spend is often consumed by the necessities of life and there's nothing left for unexpected expenses.

For families who survive on very little, it is an absolute disaster if the washing machine breaks down or the car needs expensive repairs to pass the warrant.

So what can be done to restructure this society so we can again become a place where all children can enjoy their childhoods and have fair chances in life?

I think the Government should start making the wellbeing of our next generation of taxpayers a priority. There should be a solid, workable, and well-monitored plan in place to fight the problems today's children are facing.

Green Party leader Russel Norman says New Zealand needs to redesign its economy to live within nature's limits, and get away from its dependence on get-rich-quick schemes.

He says National is trying to grow its way out of structural problems by investing in risky schemes such as fossil fuels, asset sales and dairy intensification.

The Greens are calling for a cross-party consensus on fighting child poverty but the Labour Party says they have little chance of getting the Government to agree to this, even though a long-term sustainable approach could be the way to reduce child poverty.

ACT leader John Banks says he would support a cross-party approach as long as it was constructive and not simply ideological.

New Zealand First says political parties need to stop using the issue of child poverty as a way of gaining attention, and should be pressuring the Government into doing something about it.

In my opinion, investments in our future should not just consist of hand-outs as that just traps people in dependency.

What this society needs is solutions like personalised budgeting services, more affordable housing, smart tax credits, real opportunities, and fair remuneration.

But "doing something" about poverty is not just a task for the Government.

As responsible members of this society we need to get on with it, stop judging, lend a helping hand, and put the children's needs first.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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