This post was originally posted at The Daily Blog on 30 March 2013.
The Child Poverty Action Group has released a new background paper outlining the myths and the facts around solo parents and the Domestic Purposes Benefit.
You may recall Gordon Campbell on much the same topic back in February 2011.
Both pieces of work should be considered required reading among people interested in social justice, and/because they send a good, clear message: beneficiaries aren’t inherently bludging scum stealing your taxpayer dollars; and the welfare system is doing God’s work.
But there’s another message I think needs to be said loud and clear – and it can’t be said by groups like CPAG, who fairly enough want to build relationships with senior politicians and influence policy
The message is this: these aren’t myths. They’re lies.
Paula Bennett has an entire Ministry full of policy analysts who could tell her that no one’s “dream” is to live on the DPB forever. The Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, had every option to OIA the Ministry now headed by Bennett to establish if teenagers are “breeding for a business”. And Lindsay Mitchell is paid to write columns on the welfare system despite plenty of evidence which refutes every hateful, judgey thing she says.
These people are not stupid, and they are not ignorant. They are wilfully spinning a narrative about DPB recipients which suits their purposes. They want to force people into such dire circumstances that they’ll take any job going, even if it means leaving their children alone or with strangers.
That means employers can pay less, demand more, get away with shirking their ethical and legal duties. It doesn’t really do anything to help the wider economy – most National Party policy doesn’t – but it does mean business owners making a buck.
Bennett and Key and Mitchell also want you to hate people who get the DPB. They don’t want the voters to think “wow, you must have fallen on hard times” because then they’d start thinking about all the other ways a society should support people, through accessible healthcare and education and childcare. And then they’d stop voting for a party like National which exists to cut everything down to the bone so their mates can make a buck.
Your only alternative is that we have a Prime Minister and a Minister of Social Development and any number of “experts” like Lindsay Mitchell who are literally incapable of seeing the facts before them.
I’m not saying it’s completely implausible, but …
Via Holly Walker, who gets to make kickass statements on the topic since she wasn’t a key advocate of a discriminatory, beneficiary-hating policy in the first place:
Children have the same needs, whether their parents are in work or not. But if a parent loses their job overnight (as so many have in Christchurch), they also suddently lose access to part of their WFF support. The In-Work Tax Credit (IWTC) provides about $60 per week to help with the essentials for those on the lowest incomes, but only if you’re in paid work. If you can’t find work, or lose your job, you miss out, and so do your children.
Now CPAG needs your help:
You can support their efforts to raise funds for their appeal here. They’re also selling three original Tom Scott cartoons, which first appeared in Bryan Bruce’s Inside Child Poverty documentary on TradeMe to help raise funds. But don’t buy them, ok? They’re on my watchlist.
Those cartoons are pretty ace. Holly might have to keep a close eye on that bidding price …
NRT for details. My brain’s just stuck trying to decide whether I scream “FUCK YOU” loudly at the ceiling or roll my eyes so hard they fall out.
My feelings are pretty much still summed up in this post I wrote in January 2011. Labour, in power, needed to keep the middle classes happy, and so by buying into the idea that a well-above-average income makes you a “struggler” (pay no attention to the median income behind the curtain) they introduced “in-work” tax credits. Which weren’t about work, they were about children (and thus the Independent Earner Tax Credit was split off to keep us DINKs happy.)
Beneficiaries didn’t get the tax credit, because according to Labour, they needed to be “incentivised” into work. And if you honestly believe that that doesn’t tell you everything about Labour’s real attitudes to the unemployed, you’re kidding yourself.
Labour believed so strongly that beneficiaries were horrid bludging scum that they fought tooth and nail when the Child Poverty Action Group tried to draw their attention to that pesky human rights law we have.
Then came election 2011, and once their self-preservation glands finally realised that saying “I think Liz Hurley is hot too!” was not actually going to win back the centre from That Nice John Key any time soon, they had a brief brain explosion and literally announced a policy of “extending the in-work tax credit to beneficiaries”.
Josie Pagani, for one, had a really hard time explaining this to people. Of course, as far as she’s concerned that’s because Beneficiaries Are Scum, not because it sounded fucking ridiculous.
Now the election’s gone, and apparently the meme of the Labour upper echelons is “we need to revisit things. Oh, not the things like “listening to John Pagani” and “buying into Chris Trotter’s wish fulfilment”, maybe just the things which contributed to our downfall because even though they were good policy we completely sucked at selling them.”
So, here we are. Holly Walker is trying to do something to reverse a Labour policy which punished children living in poverty for their parents’ lack of advanced SQL development training and Chartered Accountant qualifications, and Labour is promising only the very, very see-through “we’ll support it to first reading.”
My mind’s made up. If you’re in Wellington and a loud expletive rattled your windows right before this went up, my apologies.
I know how this one is going to play, dear readers. It’s just going to be another evil, spiteful, bitchy, undermining, white-anting hysterical rant from a no-name bitch who no one likes who just hates Labour because she’s evil, and is just too picky, etc etc, and you know what? Go for your life. At this point I’m treating the whole thing as an historical exercise, writing down my thoughts now so in years ahead I can look back and say “fuck I was smart back then”.
And I do also understand that this is how politics works: find something that vaguely aligns to this week’s hot topic, and use it to try to turn the conversation back to yourself.
And I’ve previously said that it cannot be difficult for the left to put child poverty firmly on the agenda this election.
So when the Child Poverty Action Group’s report, Left Further Behind, got released last week, it was inevitable that as many parties as possible (the Nats and ACT excluded for fairly obvious reasons) would jump up with their hands in the air to cry “teacher, teacher, I have important thoughts on this!” like that beardy bastard in first-year philosophy/pols classes who thinks wasting half the class musing on the topic of “but is it not perhaps natural for man to seek a leader?” will really impress the professor.
Of course they were going to make this report about themselves. Of course you were going to get press releases with titles like “More evidence shows need for a plan to end child poverty” with the ever-so-subtle implication, “AND WE HAVE THAT PLAN”.
But I’m sorry, Labourites, yours in particular? Just a bit too far.
Here’s the context. Labour introduced Working for Families. CPAG made a complaint about Working for Families discriminating on the basis of family status. Labour, in government, fought damned hard against CPAG, with Crown Law even demanding a judicial review on the basis that CPAG, not being itself a starving beneficiary child, could not make such a complaint.
Now, CPAG’s report covers the introduction of WFF, noting it wasn’t as generous as a similar scheme in Australia (p51), and didn’t make allowance for big events like the recession or Pike River putting people involuntarily out of work (something the current Government kinda dealt with.) (p58) They agree that yes, things have got worse under NACT, and yes, they note that many many more children would have been in poverty today without WFF.
On p51, CPAG further notes that Labour is rethinking its attitude to WFF, and quotes Annette King on the subject. But a bit of a newsflash here: this is not CPAG jumping on some awesome Labour bandwagon, this is CPAG saying thanks for finally fucking listening to us on this, peeps.
Labour is also mentioned in other sections on removing GST from fruit and veg, the repeal of s59, early childhood education etc etc.
But no, sorry, Annette, sorry, Labour media team, sorry, Labour supporters; Left Further Behind contains not a single hint that CPAG “supports” Labour’s policies. Which is not really surprising, since CPAG is going for that whole “not politically affiliated” vibe.*
The Labour fans out there, no doubt already marshalling the usual “but John Key is Satan”, “but Labour is our last best hope for peace” lines, will not doubt point out that the press release doesn’t specifically say that CPAG are specifically explicitly and deliberately advocating in favour of Labour’s policies.
Not good enough, my friends.
Because the headline of the press release is
Labour welcomes Child Poverty Action Group support
Not even “Labour welcomes CPAG report” or “Labour endorses CPAG report” or “Labour’s policies in line with CPAG report”.
If the only thing you read (and please, stop for a moment to consider the standards of our mainstream media) was the headline, you would certainly come away with the impression that CPAG had endorsed Labour in some way.
Sorry, but they didn’t.
Then consider nice weaselly statements like
The … report released today confirms Labour’s policies
… when it doesn’t say anything about Labour’s policies …
I am pleased that so many organisations are coming together with the shared view that we must all do better for our children.
… as though CPAG were a new kid on the block in this area and just happened to have a really appropriate name …
and absolutely most fucking egregiously:
The Child Poverty Action Group has mirrored much of the policy that has already been announced by Labour
Mirrored. MIRRORED. Y’all may want to accuse me of being petty and pedantic, but you know what mirrors do? Reflect things that are already there. Obvious implication of this statement? Labour already thought of this first and CPAG are just joining in.
I’d hate to think that this is actually part of some official Labour key messages document: “Always speak as though all good things are inspired by us”, “always act as though we had every good idea first”. But it’s becoming a bit of a theme, and it’s far too closely related to “always act as though we are the one true leftwing god”, “the Greens are filthy traitors stealing our rightful votes” attitudes.
Child poverty is a serious fucking deal in NZ, and God knows I’m happy to see any party taking it seriously. But Labour has a pretty shit track record on this one, and it’s not one they’re keen to talk about (another recurring meme). So frankly, peeps, I am not looking in that direction for any actual answers.
I’m going to look to groups like CPAG. Here’s what they have to say about the future of eliminating child poverty (p73):
There are very good arguments for a universal payment, but in 2011 we have very wide income disparities and we do not have progressive taxation to fund redistribution. In addition, the poorest children miss out on payments in the current system because payments are tied to their parents’ paid work activity, not solely to income.
A universal payment alone is incapable of addressing child poverty with the current restrictions: fiscally it would mean that in order to make a payment to children that alleviated poverty, the payment level would have to be so high that we could not do it without either raising the top tax rates considerably to pay for it, or sacrificing some other worthy spending. Eliminating poverty has to be the first priority and this requires targeting assistance to the lowest income families. It would be possible (and desirable) to have a universal dimension, comparatively small initially, but the most significant assistance in the immediate future will need to be targeted at the poorest children. This could be the first step towards a universal payment for all children.
I’m sure they’d be happy for political parties to push these ideas, free of charge. But acting like this report actively supports any specific party, particularly Labour? Acting like this is some kind of “me, too!” to Labour’s awesome godlike child poverty policies which date back to the dawn of Westminster? Get your fucking hand off it, mate.
*Just to make it crystal clear: this is what it looks like when CPAG “supports” a Labour policy. Just so y’all know in future.
PS. Seriously, Labour. All this would have taken to be a good-news story from me (because it’s all about me) was to can the entitlement complex and say “This report is good, we’re happy we can see we’re going in the right direction, we did make mistakes last time and we’re not going to do it again.” How hard is that? Once you’ve taught your leadership team to say “sorry”, that is.
This is something that’s been bugging me for a while. Frequently in online conversations (usually over at The Standard) people have been pointing to the speech made by Annette King at the Labour Party’s 2010 conference* – usually to indicate a change of direction by Labour, a solid differentiation from National, a clear plan to change things for the better and focus on Kiwi kids’ lives.
But … I just didn’t get it. There wasn’t a concrete, specific thing I disagreed with, just a niggling little feeling that we had not in fact entered some Brave New Age of Labour finally remembering to be the party of giving a fuck about poverty instead of clawing for “centre” “middle” “mainstream” “average” New Zealand (also known as pretty-fucking-well-off middle-class heterosexual white families who like to think that getting their daughter to stop texting during dinner is The Worker’s Struggle.)
I did have to ask myself if this was just prejudice. If I just had real trouble accepting For Our Children rhetoric from a Labour Deputy Leader who said in 1996 that the child tax credit isolated “beneficiaries from other families, treats them like lepers and worst of all it treats their children differently. What is different about a beneficiary child?“, then sat by as a member of a Government that fought against the Child Poverty Action Group’s complaint against Working For Families treating beneficiaries’ children differently,** and now (following an election when the left decided to stay home because they might have felt a bit fucking disillusioned) wants to say “Oh sorry, I guess that obviously unjust thing was obviously unjust*** but we totes care about the kiddies, honest! Social justice, what what?”
… Yeah, I’m obviously having a bit of trouble buying that.
But was that affecting my reading of Annette’s conference speech?
Obviously the only way to check was to rip the shit out of it and see how many points make me go all capslocky and sweary.
Don’t pretend you’re not turned on right now.
Part One: Attack of the Waffle
As New Zealanders we like to think our country is the best place in the world to bring up children; we call it “God’s own”. We say things like the future of New Zealand is with our children; our children are our greatest asset; every child deserves a decent standard of living; every child should have the ability to reach their full potential. We value our children. Children matter.
Absolutely nothing in the intro tells you that this is a Labour Party speech. Paula Bennett could happily begin a speech with this. Sir Roger Not Dead Yet Douglas could say this. Why not just fucking say “I love coming to … ROTORUA! *pause for cheap pop* You guys are great! Not like those guys in … TAUPO! *pause for boos*”? Why not “As a New Zealander, a lifetime fan of Barry Crump and a regular eater of Watties Tomato Sauce, I think puppies are cute” if we’re just going for fucking empty suck-up platitudes?
Part Two: There Is No Permanent Record
All those statements are true, but are they true for every child in New Zealand?
Obvious answer is obvious, and YOU FUCKING KNOW WHAT IT IS GIVEN YOUR FUCKING PARTY DEFENDED USING BENEFICIARIES’ KIDS TO BULLY THEIR PARENTS.
For the past 18 months, we in Labour have been thinking and re-examining all our policies. A time in Opposition allows for that!
Apparently Labour didn’t think “thinking” was something they had time for in government. Suddenly the 2008 defeat makes a lot more sense. But seriously, what kind of excuse is this? Is Annette, and by extension Labour, trying to pretend that they honestly couldn’t have done anything different in their last term in government, or even their first term? I’m on record as being very critical of the classic “you had nine years” rhetoric, but seriously, Labour did have nine years and it was so pathetically obvious a bribe attempt to announce six months out from an election “oh yeah and we’ll totally get around to that universal student loan thing, which we have coincidentally remembered just when polls have shown we’ve fucked our student support base!”
Then some genius decided to bring up the statistics:
New Zealand is not doing as well for children as are other comparable countries. We sit in the bottom third in OECD rankings for most child indicators.
And yes, obviously, social change isn’t an overnight thing. It takes a while. So the party who’ve recently been in charge for a solid decade might not want to raise the question of what the fuck they did, especially when the answer is “defend to the death our right to starve beneficiaries’ children”.
Part Three: The Tells
It seems picky, but language is so important. Especially when a speech is being sold as a step-change (whoops, there I go) and a new direction and a turnaround from nasty neoliberal politics … and contains phrases like:
looked at where our emphasis should be for future investment
It is this period, the report states, that needs to be given the highest priority for investment.
tilting public expenditure towards the early years of life.
The tilting one is particularly awful. God forbid we invest more into children, apparently it’s all about putting them at the top of the list (who gets bumped down?) and shifting the scales in their favour (and whose side of the see-saw has to go down for theirs to go up?)
And it’s really heartening to see a rejection of that whole “social engineering nanny state” bollocks from the last election:
Labour has developed a new, fresh family and whānau policy narrative, not based on the government bringing up children
Oops. I realise I’m not a politician, much less one with Annette’s level of experience, but I can’t help but think it’s a bit fucking stupid to buy into your enemy’s narrative, especially a narrative which is a barely-disguised attack on all social funding and all government support for families. Ditto for the “our early childhood education is underfunded” and “our social services aren’t well integrated” bits.
Part Four: Oh, Right, You’re Not Saying Anything
But here’s the clincher, the bit my brain kept skipping, the core of what’s so not-actually-A-New-Hope about this.
Today I want to give a broad outline of our policy – “Putting Children First”. Detailed announcements, including costings will be made in due course.
I don’t expect detailed costings and a shadow Budget a year out from an election. But I do want more than a long hand-wavey Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice chat-ette from the Deputy Leader of a party who wants to be leading the next government.
Labour has developed a new, fresh family and whānau policy narrative
We just, um, don’t know what it says yet. Except it’ll take 6 years! Because 6 makes us seem serious and committed without reeking too much of “you can’t criticise us unless you elect us to a second term.”
Part Five: Except for the Fucking Obvious
Annette does share some very important facts, though. Like, poverty is bad! And poverty is cyclical! And kids raised in poverty are a lot more likely to have shit lives than kids who got iPods with their parents’ tax credits! And the early years are totes important! It’s like somebody left a Sir Robert Winston DVD in the Labour caucus room.
Part Six: And Some Really Non-Specific Specifics!
Under the heading “Legislative and Structural Change” (ooh, so beguiling) you’d hope to get some solid information on what Labour wants to do.
And you do, if your definition of “solid information” includes a lot of “commitments”, and “reporting”, and “new policy”. Not new policy on anything, in particular. And as with the intro, there is absolutely nothing to separate this “policy” from anything National would say to describe their position either. It’s all “kids are important, and we’re going to make government departments focus on kids, and we’ll change the way things are done, and we’ll totally make it work.”
Basically, if you were hoping for specific teacher-pupil ratios or a commitment to not fuck over Plunket or specific funding to train more ECE teachers … well, the closest you’ll get is
Labour also proposes … all babies at birth would be enrolled with a Well-Child provider
Labour’s going to make a currently-available service compulsory! Woo-hoo. That’ll definitely help with the “governments not raising children” sell.
Conclusion: Go-Home Sequence
Come on, Annette! Show us some fire, make us proud, keep it original and fresh and … oh.
To quote Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel –
…Labour proposes an Agenda for Change for Children. The full details will be there for all New Zealanders to see before the 2011 Election. There will be a clear choice – tinker and talk or bold action that will finally put our children first and makes New Zealand the best place in the world to bring up all our children.
A Nelson Mandela quote and “stay tuned for more details of this amazing offer”. Yeah. That’s a speech to keep me warm on the cold 2011 campaign nights, when I find myself wondering “but has Labour changed?”
The warmth will be coming from my righteous fucking fury.
*Incidentally, Labour, your website’s search function blows big floppy donkey dick.
**CPAG lost on the discrimination front, in a decision praised by Paula Bennett (nice philosophical company you’re keeping, Labour) because hey, starving these kids now might force their parents to take minimum-wage jobs in the future! And hey, we have to make sure work pays better than benefits, which would totally be a concern if benefits weren’t already set at below-survival-requirements levels!
**Not that any senior Labour MPs, as far as I’m aware, have ever directly addressed the discriminatory nature of
their bribe to the middle class Working for Families. Happy to be corrected but may pass out from shock.
Maia has an excellent post which drew my attention to this chest-beating piece about nasty junk food straight from Satan’s bottom being served up to our innocent kiddies, leading them inevitably down the path to BEING FAT, truly a fate worse than death by poverty-induced starvation.
Let’s first look at the post itself. Maia suggests it’s written by Anne Else, a woman whose work I thoroughly love. Except for this one, of course. And Anne, I must beg your forgiveness pre-emptively, but I am pissed off.
Apart from the Oreos, a US “treat” that used to be unobtainable here, the other three things are all brands I’ve never seen before.
O for the halcyon days when Kiwi kiddies weren’t being tempted into obesity by filthy Oreos, and remain lithe and active on a steady diet of made-in-New-Zealand Tim Tams! Just a thought: the reason you – and I – haven’t seen these brands before probably has something to do with neither of us living in deprived suburbs where well-known brand names fear to tread thanks to the local consumers not being exactly flush with cash.
My friend worked out that for $2.50, children get “almost no dietary fibre, 40mg vitamin C, rather more salt than they need, 35% of their daily requirement for simple sugars, quite a lot of fat, and about 25% of their total daily energy needs. That is, they get a lot of empty calories.
“Empty calories” is a pet hate phrase of mine. I direct y’all at this point to the Fat Nutritionist’s post on this subject, and particularly to the handy-dandy pyramid of food needs.
You see what’s right there on the bottom? Enough food. Enough. Empty calories aren’t so fucking empty when just getting enough calories is a pretty big achievement.
But let’s not forget there’s also
quite a lot of fat
QUITE A LOT, PEOPLE. Oh. My. God. Because as we all know, fat is a disgusting substance which exudes an aura of pure degradation and immorality and taints all who are even close to it (hey, knowing fat people makes you fat, after all!). It certainly isn’t a major part of your brain matter or anything, and definitely doesn’t play any kind of role in even the most “health”-conscious of balanced diets (but only in the form of EVOO, of course). CHILDREN ARE EATING FAT!! QUITE A LOT OF IT!! Shit, that’s probably something to do with that enough food thing again.
And 25% of their total daily energy needs? Cripes, it’s almost like that’s what they’d have at breakfast. If they had breakfast. Because that’s not an assumption we should be making. Just because a dairy owner calls it a “school lunch” to take the sharp edges off our moral outrage.
Speaking of which:
She asked the dairy owner if he was embarrassed about selling this stuff to school children, and he said no, because “it’s what they like”. So she asked if he would give this to his own children for lunch. He eventually said no, because “they didn’t like it”.
You know what dairy owners can probably do that a lot of parents in South Auckland can’t? Buy instrumental food. Buy food on the basis of nutrition and variety and “health”. What they probably don’t have to do (but hey, recessions are shit for everyone who ain’t part of the overclass, so this isn’t a given) is figure out precisely how much caloric value and how much time-feeling-not-hungry they can purchase with their disposable income.*
Which, let’s not forget, may be deliberately set at starvation levels if they’re on a benefit.
Which you’d think would be of great concern to CPAG. Their questions, as posted on their Facebook profile, are instead:
What are our kids eating? And what is our government doing (or not doing) to encourage them to choose an orange over an oreo?
Focus? The kids. Those naughty, sugar-bewitched kids and their poor choices.
In short, my immediate response to this is simple: FUCK. YOU.
But once the red mist clears I just feel really confused and a little betrayed. Seriously, CPAG? We’re seriously going to frame the food purchases of poor children as “choice”? We’re actually going to make that the number 1 concern we highlight?
I get that it’s a difficult situation, though. Because there’s not any other really immediate questions this story raises. Certainly there’s no questions to be asked about the supermarket duopoly in this country which marks up your beloved oranges out of the everyday purchasing power of people on the breadline. Or why our government continues to fail to give beneficiaries enough to feed their families, as well as cutting programmes and allowances which will help people get out of poverty. And we don’t want to go near the whole thing about capitalism requiring some people to be poor and desperate in order to keep wages down and crime high to scare the middle classes with.
We definitely don’t want to talk about child poverty. We don’t want to ask, “How have we got to a place in this country where this “empty calorie” school “lunch” is actually one of the best food choices available to some kids?”
We just want to hand-wring about poor people being too stupid to eat fruit.
*If any young middle-class yuppies are reading this, it’s like when you go into a bottle store and do the price/%alcohol x volume calculation. Only not for fun.
A few weeks ago the Significant Other and I were hitching a ride with a friend of ours. He’s German, and very, very blunt. So we knew him well enough not to be insta-offended – and to take a moment to think about his statement when he told us, “You know, New Zealand isn’t actually a first-world country, as far as Europeans are concerned.”
Leaving aside his tendency to act as Spokesman For All Europeans, the man had some decent points. NZ is not a rich country. Some of us are comfortable, and apparently many people – born-here citizens and immigrants alike – are quite happy to put up with a smaller economy and no monorails in return for the “lifestyle”.
And I figured, hey. I’ve been poor. I’ve been raised by a solo mum relying on government support. I’m a student! I work twenty hours a week! I can hardly been speaking from a position of unenlightened privilege, amirite? Sure, the Significant Other just got a whopping pay rise with his new job, but we’re hardly dining on caviar! Surely things can’t be that bad. This is New Zealand. This is a great place to raise your kids! All the Metro polls say so!
To steal the excellent title of another blog, Sadly, No.
Just a quick note as I’m still in the midst of graduation chaos – this Monday, 19 May on TV3, Campbell Live is doing an apparently “in-depth report” on NZ’s sometimes ridiculously high rates of preventable childhood illness. Possibly one to watch.
Related: NZ CPAG’s recent report, Left Behind: How social and income inequalities damage NZ children.