Last night saw the first of two meetings on the subject of child poverty currently being organised on campus at Otago University by the recently-founded Choose Kids group. The first meeting was designed to feature politicians while the second meeting, next Monday night, will feature experts from academia.
The parties invited last night were National, Labour and the Greens. National didn’t respond, so the third speaker was Bryce Edwards, a lecturer in the Politics department and prominent left political commentator.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei spoke first, outlining the extent of the problem and focusing on low wages and low benefits. She said a much higher minimum wage was necessary and beneficiaries needed more income. My impression was that she is genuinely outraged by poverty levels and means well, but is stuck within the limits of parliamentary politics where no radical solutions are really on offer.
By contrast, local Labour MP David Clark engaged in quite a bit of dissembling. He pretended that Labour cared deeply about child poverty and claimed the last Labour government had addressed this with Working for Families. What he avoided in his speech was that the big growth of poverty began under the fourth Labour government and that the fifth Labour government never raised benefits, which had been substantially cut by the fourth National government, although it had nine years of surpluses in which to do so. If it cared a hoot about the poorest, why didn’t Labour, blessed with all those surpluses, raise benefits. It was actually left to the current National-led government to raise benefits for the first time in 43 years. Moreover, the Working for Families package applied only to those in paid employment, drawing a distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. Clark’s speech, however, was only the beginning of his dissembling.
Clark suggested that people wanting to do something about child poverty could do so by (more…)