Rosemary McLeod: Poor and dumb, I don't think so

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It's a pity we can't choose our parents, or we'd all pick multi-millionaires who were also good-looking and borderline geniuses. I'd have liked a life of ease once Sister Sullivan, queen of the maternity ward, had greeted me with a whack on the backside.

But since we can't choose, we will look roughly like our parents, and do roughly as well or badly in life, which in my case is a bit of a bummer because mine both lived and died skint. They had good qualities, but you can't buy breakfast with those.

And so it is with the children of feckless, foolish, irresponsible, criminal, drug-and-alcohol addicted parents who offer little more than a urine-soaked mattress and the dregs of a coke bottle on which to grow up. Their kids start life with one hand behind their backs, metaphorically speaking; gang kids in particular. I'm targeting them because we're told gang members make up 10 per cent of the prison population, a statistic out of all proportion to gang numbers.

Here is a mystery that is never explained: how gangs of uneducated men run huge drug businesses, which have to be ludicrously profitable, while they and their partners and kids invariably live on welfare, in the bad back streets of towns that have seen better days, and will soon see worse.

Where do the millions we're told all those drugs are worth - and the profits are untaxed - end up?<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

They're not spent on their children as far as anyone can tell or on the children's hapless mothers. You don't see gang people ordering fine wines in fashionable restaurants or swaggering through design stores buying Alessi trinkets to decorate their kitchens; and you certainly won't find them in toy shops, buying Lego to thrill the nippers.

It's rotten luck, then, to be a gang child. If their parents were white collar, they'd have those kids in private schools and pony clubs while they smoothly ripped off the system.

But as things stand, gang kids are more likely to have glue ear, go hungry, witness violence regularly, and have nobody who cares whether they can read, write or do arithmetic until the glorious day dawns when they're big enough to become gang prospects.

Here is another mystery: gang members are typically ill educated, yet they manage to run - we're told - drug empires. This is manufacturing and distribution, business like any other, calling for the same skills as respectable people have, all done without university degrees.

There are workers to attract and hierarchies of management to organise; wages to be paid, and markets to expand into; entrepreneurial schemes to evaluate, and profits to be shared and reinvested - all of this while eluding the police.

If this is what gangs are capable of, they are by no means as dumb as we like to think, and could be gainfully employed quite legally. So how do they contrive to stay on welfare?

Against these realities, Labour now proposes that the children of feckless parents like these get free breakfasts at school so they can concentrate enough to learn.

National says it's the parents' fault the kids go hungry, while Labour, keen to do something useful, says it's everybody's problem.

I'm with Labour on that one: the parents will never be sorted out and, actually, their children are all of our children; we'll likely be paying for them from the cradle to the grave either way. But I think the free breakfasts would have to be available to every kid.

The truly needy shouldn't be exposed to ridicule from their smugly well-heeled classmates.

I am intrigued, against this school situation, by the plight of Burger King, which has been allowed to import nearly 600 overseas workers, claiming it couldn't find locals fit to train as managers.

So have I got this right: we have thousands of able-bodied New Zealanders running lucrative businesses while living on welfare, yet we've imported workers from the Philippines to sling burgers efficiently?

For goodness' sake, won't somebody join the dots?

- Bay of Plenty Times

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