SURELY it cannot be true.

How can it be that in this land of plenty a quarter of our children - 265,000 souls - are living in what is deemed to be poverty? And that 180,00 Kiwi kids (17 per cent) are going without the things they need; 10 per cent are living at the "hardest end" of poverty; and three out of five of the children living in poverty have lived that way for many years?

Hard as it is to believe, those are the figures given this week in the first report of the Child Poverty Monitor to the Commissioner of Children, Russell Wills.

The fact that the report was produced independent of any Government agency gives it an authenticity difficult to deny.


Because the Government (read Social Development Minister Paula Bennett) refused to fund the monitor, Dr Wills found private funding from the J.R. McKenzie Trust so that the University of Otago's NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service could do the job.

The report is the first of a five-year annual series designed to measure whether what is being done to alleviate this national disgrace is succeeding or not.

Naturally, Ms Bennett's reaction was that the Government measured child poverty based on Ministry of Social Development data and remained adamant that child poverty has got no worse.

All this set me to pondering again why it is that we have this degree of poverty in this richly blessed country, which by its size and population is probably the best placed in the world to get rid of it.

It is much too simple to try to blame the inequality of wealth for the poverty that persists all over the world, for there have always been rich and poor.

Granted, in societies in which the rich get richer - as in New Zealand today - the poor always get poorer and more numerous, but there has to be more to it than that.

State welfare doesn't work either, because if it did there would be no poverty, certainly in this country, which spends untold billions of taxpayers' money every year in trying to alleviate the sufferings of those who are, or who see themselves, in need.

It has to be said that the greed that drives the rich to become vastly richer is the same greed that drives the poor to rip off the welfare system, the health system, the tax system or accident compensation system.


Which New Zealanders do - by the thousands.

I have always reckoned that a large part of the problem is, and always has been, the incongruity of trying to run a socialist wealth-redistribution system within a capitalist economy.

That leads most of us, having paid our income taxes and GST and a zillion other indirect government duties, levies and fees, to adopt the attitude that the poor are the Government's problem.

So we salve our consciences by tossing a few dollars to one of a multiplicity of children's charities and try not to resent even that because God knows we've paid the Government more than enough that we shouldn't have to.

Still we see that health, welfare and education have shown no improvement - in fact they are all going downhill faster than ever.

As usual with social problems we are attacking the symptoms and ignoring the causes, such as our abysmally low-wage economy. Giving everyone a liveable day's pay for a day's work would be a great start.

Some 2000 years ago Jesus said, "For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good ..."

I would have thought that by now we might have found the way to do that - once and for all.