View interactive

Paul Little: Urgent task - fix housing

102 comments
Ending child poverty needs a plan. Photo / Janna Dixon
Ending child poverty needs a plan. Photo / Janna Dixon

The trouble with politics, I overheard someone say recently, is that no one has any ideas. What they meant was that the party they would prefer to see stay in power has no ideas. The Greens, in particular, and Labour, to some extent, are bursting at the seams with ideas but have trouble getting people to take them seriously. Also chock-a-block with ideas is the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, which released its report and recommendations this week.

The current approach to the issue - leaving it alone and hoping like mad it will fix itself - hasn't been terribly effective, despite some odd bright lights of individual and community initiative around the country.

Ending child poverty needs a plan. And that is what the members of the committee - very few of whom seem to be actual communists - have provided. Read in full, the report is a well-reasoned, cautious document, itemising solutions and prioritising them in a workable sequence. It is not a Santa sack of largesse for the feckless indigent.

Government reaction has been to tut tut and wring its hands, saying, "Lordy, haven't they put a lot of work into their report but where on earth are we going to find that sort of money?"

Yes, nearly all the recommendations cost money. Poverty is largely a financial issue, after all, and wishing really, really hard can only do so much.

Masters of distraction that they are, by focusing on the bugbear of cost, the Government has diverted attention from most of the 78 suggestions. By zeroing in on the odd-sounding Warrant of Fitness for rental properties it hopes to dispose of the remainder.

But poor housing and its direct, deleterious impact on children's health is a big part of the problem. With sustained attacks on people on benefits during its time in office, the Government has made it easier to paint any spending in this area as some sort of waste. But any economist can clearly work out how many dollars in future social costs will be saved for every dollar that is spent now.

Many of the recommendations couldn't be simpler. Provide low or zero-cost loans to stop people being ripped off by loan sharks and help them get out of the debt cycle. Scale up successful Maori education initiatives.

Perhaps the most important suggestion comes near the start when the group recommends "enacting legislation requiring that child poverty is measured, setting short and long-term poverty-reduction targets, establishing various child poverty-reduction indicators, and regularly monitoring and reporting results".

It would have been too much to hope that the group would communicate without the use of jargon, but you can see what they're getting at: the first thing to do is measure the problem and agree to measure the effectiveness of any solutions. That doesn't sound very expensive. Most of the information and tools needed already exist.

But accepting and implementing the report would come at a high price for the Government because it would mean acknowledging the scale of what is not just a national, but an international disgrace.

SEVERAL NEWS items from overseas caught the eye this week. There was the pet monkey dressed in an expensive coat found wandering around an Ikea department store in Toronto. From Serbia came the news that tennis champion Novak Djokovic has bought the world's entire supply of donkey cheese. And in Florida, three burglars who snorted ashes from cremated humans and dogs were sentenced to more than eight years in prison. If nothing else, this year's silly season for news is already shaping up to be one of the best ever.

- Herald on Sunday

Your views

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 21 Sep 2014 04:31:39 Processing Time: 424ms