Thursday, November 15, 2012

Memo to John, Bill and Paula

Hi guys and Bouncy Lady

I know you've tried hard to ignore the issue of child poverty while pretending to care about vulnerable children. It's possible you'd get some kudos for that if you hadn't used vulnerable children (something you have never managed to define) as an excuse to introduce all sorts of measuring and monitoring of the underclass. In case you're not sure what I'm talking about, perhaps Paula could spell out some of the nasty punitive provisions that have been snuck into her changes to the Social Security Act. In fact, the term social security is probably a misnomer - the governent is really focused on social insecurity, a stance that will come back to haunt you. To be fair, I know you've set up a ministerial committee on poverty but you should assume that's been discredited before it even gets off the ground because no one actually thinks you give a rat's arse. I'm not well connected to the business community but it is clear even some of your natural supporters in this group are getting a bit antsy. Here's why they should be - and perhaps you should be, too.
The problem is that poverty is not going to go away. On the contrary, deepening unemployment means that those who were behind when the effects of the global financial crisis first made themselves felt in 2008 are now in deeper poverty, and are likely to remain there for longer. This is happening under a government that witters on about vulnerable children, even to the extent of executing one of the more expensive public relations exercises ever seen in this country through its sham consultations on the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children. No one is denying New Zealand's appalling child abuse rates, but to attempt to disconnect it from the inequality and poverty experienced by many families is simply dishonest.
Poverty seems a lot more personal when it is under your nose at the local school or in the supermarket. While standing at the checkout several days ago there was a small girl in front of me. I don't have kids so have no concept of children's age but she came up to about my elbow (and I'm duck's diseased). It is not unusual for parents/grandparents in our 'hood to send kids in to do the shopping, especially if cash is short. Which in this instance, it was. The girl had a loaf of not-great-quality bread and a packet of pre-grated cheese (mild). The total was about $9, and when she opened her hand all she had was a small collection of silver coins. Of course the checkout operator cancelled the transaction and sent her packing. But looking at the girl and the extremely modest purchase, it occurred to me that this was a family's dinner.  Here's a vulnerable child, and every aspect of current economic and social policy seems designed to further victimise her and her family. Talk about storing up trouble for the future. And in case you're wondering, yes I paid for the purchase so they'd at least have something in their tummies when they went to bed.
So why are we not interested in children who are vulnerable to hunger? Or the ones living in squalid accommodation and cars? Why does the government think it's acceptable that children's dinner be dependent on the random generosity of total strangers in the  supermarket? Here's the memo clueless Tories: it's not. If you think you can buy us off with the White Paper you're very much mistaken. This is not about flat screen TVs, benefit dependency or irrigation schemes for Canterbury farmers. Get your heads out of the clouds and start dealing with it.