SHE SITS outside the festive festoonery of glittering icicles and come hither consumerism; blocking the doorway. Smith and Caughey's has pirate-themed puppetry counting down to Christmas as I hunt for a brand of chocolates that will cost something ridiculous.

She's thin, her long legs make her look fragile; a pale life-sized marionette abandoned in a corner by a careless puppeteer. Why doesn't she have somewhere better to go?

Down Queen St a bit further someone has pasted small posters with an elf-like John Key holding a cartoon placard that reads: "Poverty doesn't Exist!"

Obviously someone thinks it does, and that the conversation around it is getting shut down. As a kid, I don't remember homeless people lining Queen St at night. I don't remember sober young women and tired kids lining up outside the City Mission either.


This month's OECD report on Inequality and Growth says that in New Zealand, along with other OECD countries, the gap between rich and poor is at its highest in three decades. If this were an end-of-year report card it would read: "Could do better. Stop mucking around at the back of the class with Mexico."

It's an economic report and yet it focuses on education as a key to economic progress. It says wealth distribution should befocused on children to gain skills and engage them in life-long learning. It also backs Wilkinson and Pickett's findings in The Spirit Level that there is an overall gain for everyone in making sure no one gets left behind. Professor Boston in his report last year, Improving Educational Performance; Why Tackling Child Poverty Must Be Part of the Solution, describes it as "regrettable" that there is no official measure with which to frame the debate around poverty. It is sobering.

The Child Poverty Monitor this year figures that one in four children now live in poverty in New Zealand and that 40 per cent of those have parents in paid employment.

With so much focus on teachers next year to address educational inequality in low decile areas, it's important we don't ignore what the leading education researcher Martin Thrupp calls "the elephant in the staffroom of child poverty".

Teachers can make a difference but not when the causes of truancy and transience, such as low income and unaffordable housing, keep kids from attending their classes. If the 30-year conversation changes from that of "choice and personal responsibility" to one of the greater common economic good our report card may be something we'd be happy to bring home.

Back on Queen St, I ditch the chocolate idea and the mad Latin empties his pockets of change.

Silently, I make a wish that sometime soon we'll start charting a course back to the country we tell ourselves we are; one based on merit and hard work and a fair go for all. Not the Pacific Mexico of tax-free capital gain and unwarranted privilege we're becoming.