Out at dinner with family friends last week, I found myself drawn into a heated discussion.

"Child poverty in New Zealand doesn't exist," my friend said, as I choked on my wine. "Really?" I asked warily. I should've known better. I was duly treated to a full shopping list of popular myths about poverty here.

The irony of discussing deprivation and hardship over a meal at an upmarket Ponsonby restaurant wasn't lost on me. It's a jarring experience having a conversation about how much money struggling parents allegedly spend on alcohol as the waiter tops up everyone's champagne flutes.

The distance between those denigrated for purportedly spending money on cheap booze and those celebrated for buying expensive wine is becoming ever wider.


My mother grew up in poverty in the 60s, but as she notes, at least in those days struggling families could afford housing, communities helped each other and the cheaper cost of living meant that you could get by on a low wage. These days the reality for struggling families is markedly different, and it can sometimes seem as if the poverty blame game has become a macabre national sport.

British newspaper the Guardian recently published a scathing summation of our attitudes towards our children, calling child poverty in New Zealand our "most shameful secret".

We read stories about soaring child poverty statistics, but our righteous outrage is targeted towards the statisticians. We'd far rather get angry about the figure of 305,000 (the number of children living in families that earn less than 60 per cent of the median income), or 80,000 (the number of children living in severe hardship) believing that we're somehow being conned, than actually consider the idea that there may potentially be a number of Kiwi children who are suffering.

This week, however, a group of well-known New Zealanders took part in the #DearNewZealand campaign, a Variety-The Children's Charity initiative attempting to shift the conversation about struggling families from blame to brainstorming. Sir Graham Henry, Toni Street, Taika Waititi, and Stacey Morrison read out letters from children living in poverty. Guy Williams, Dominic Bowden, Simon Dallow, Heather du Plessis-Allan and a host of others shared their ideas about how we could address the problem together as a society.

British newspaper the Guardian recently published a scathing summation of our attitudes towards our children, calling child poverty in New Zealand our "most shameful secret".

I came up with the idea for #DearNewZealand late last year, because I was sick of wasting my time and energy arguing about the existence of a problem I'd witnessed with my own eyes. Our kids are our most precious national asset and it's our responsibility as a community to come up with a way to ensure that they have a brighter future. It's also just common sense. What I find so baffling is that the things people love to gripe about - unemployment, drugs and alcohol abuse, ill health, and crime, among many others - could all be positively impacted by breaking the cycle of poverty.

We're supposed to be a rational bunch with a famous love of problem-solving, yet when it comes to child poverty we seem to have elected to sit around feeling disempowered.

And while we dither, our leaders make truly mind-boggling decisions. A new ministry is named the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, effectively stigmatising every child and family that ever needs to use it. Teachers and schools are delivered a kick in the teeth while a group of politicians consider outsourcing the responsibility for education to computers. Though it was likely intended as a "hip" acronym to keep up with the kids, COOL is really not the word I'd use.

Statistics measuring the number of children living in poverty - which, for the record, are gathered by reputable organisations like the Ministry of Social Development and the OECD - continue to move in the wrong direction. It doesn't have to be that way. Many of us have ideas about how to help kids, but in most cases, we've never been asked the question.


When we began asking "what would you do to solve child poverty?" the answers were thought-provoking. Urzila Carlson would implement a pay-it-forward scheme in supermarkets to help struggling families to pay for essential grocery items. Dominic Bowden would encourage people to look outward and give back to their communities. Verity Johnson would feed kids breakfast at school. Dita De Boni would focus on housing and a well-funded Plunket service.

Marianne Elliott would increase family incomes and access to education, housing and healthcare. Dr Fiona Te Momo would encourage people to share food with their neighbours, or to buy extra clothes in sales for kids going without. Professor Darrin Hodgetts would suggest companies implement a living wage.

Whether the solution is tiny or massive, we can all do our bit. As Rod Oram says, "If an infinite number of people can do that infinitesimal amount each ... that's how we could bring the country together and make sure there is no more childhood poverty."

So I put it to you. What would you do to solve child poverty?