Again on Child Poverty

by Don Franks

When the poor finally explode in frustration and seize what they want, police deal to it. With clubs, if needed, with guns. Looting riots are rare in New Zealand, most recent was in 1932. Unemployed Aucklanders, provoked by police bashing their speaker, smashed shop windows and stole. In the ensuing repression hundreds were hurt or arrested.

In ‘normal’ times deprived people are mostly controlled by other means, like words. Political spin is something authority has invested in, because it works. Used skillfully, words can deflect and defuse people’s anger. Pressing social problems can seem more manageable with an appropriate label.

One of today’s most effective labels is Child Poverty.

Just uttered by itself, Child Poverty sounds a note of caring concern. A genuine concern. Who’s not moved by the thought of innocent children deprived of life’s necessities?Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 8.09.38 PM.png

Like it or not, the Child Poverty label distorts our understanding of actual poverty. You seldom hear commentators denouncing poverty, the term is invariably Child Poverty. Thousands of children are in poverty, they must be somehow “lifted out of poverty” – to where?

It’s like there’s no connection between poor children and their actual environment. And as if no adults are poor. Replacing talk of Poverty with Child Poverty effaces the vast number of working men and women who aren’t paid enough to live decently. Some children happen to be poor because their parents are being ripped off by employers. At the moment around 40% of New Zealand workers are on the minimum wage of $660 a week. The average three bedroom house rental in New Zealand’s biggest working class city is $552. It’s no accident that Auckland’s City mission can’t keep up the demand for charity food parcels.

It’s not even like the low paid get less money because their jobs are easy. Work like cleaning, cooking, serving, security and driving take a physical and social toll on people. Statistics NZ figures show that two-thirds of New Zealanders will have worked outside the hours of 7am to 7 pm Monday to Friday at some point in the last month. Roughly one in ten must work those hours while juggling two or three jobs.

While all this is taking place, a minority of other New Zealanders get richer. An Oxfam report in January this year, Public Good or Private Wealth, reveals NZ’s billionaires’ collective wealth increased by NZ$1.1b in 2017-2018, while the poorest 50 percent of New Zealand’s population decreased their wealth by NZ$1.3b. Constant substitution of Child Poverty for workers’ poverty helps disguise a grim class structure.

Clearly, New Zealand’s central socio-economic problem is workers’ poverty in a land of plenty.

No party in parliament is addressing that. Then they wonder why poor folks don’t bother voting at election time.