Government moving away from addressing child poverty

Alan Johnson 1 228x300 - Government moving away from addressing child poverty Dr Innes Asher 205x300 - Government moving away from addressing child povertyThe Government’s Budget showed it was moving away from addressing the consequences of child poverty, a discussion in Tauranga heard this week.

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and SociaLink, which supports the Western Bay of Plenty social and community sector, held an evening at the Historic Village to discuss the effects of last month’s Budget on child poverty.

CPAG Convenor Alan Johnson said it was an Election year Budget which provided middle class welfare to marginal voters. It had a ‘spend and hope’ attitude to address the middle class’s cost of living grievances without fuelling inflation.

He said the quality of the new spending needed to be questioned, and there had been a ‘sleight of hand’ in Working For Families where there had been no adjustments and bracket creep from wage inflation, which amounted to wilful neglect of the value of the Budget.

There had been real cuts in spending on health and by 2026/2027 spending was expected to have falled by 20 percent. But 20 percent of the population would be over 65 and those aged over 85 would double in 15 years, increasing the demand on health.

Guest speaker Dr Ines Asher, Emeritus Professor in Paediatrics, said people had been driven into poverty since 1991 after the National Party’s ‘Mother of all Budgets’ which cut benefits and pulled people under, causing harm to everyone.

She outlined how systems locked people into poverty – through low wages which exploited employees, and inadequate benefits which left families with deficits of up to $350 a week in private rentals. Abatements or clawbacks of Working For Families meant families were often left with only 5 cents in every dollar earned, and so many families were ineligible for In Work Tax Credits.

“There are also inequities for Māori and Pacifika while those with disabilities were put into terrible hardship. Changes are needed now.”

Other changes she suggested were redesigning the economy and other systems, including changes to income support, housing, health, disability, education and taxation as priority areas for children where their needs should be at the centre of changes.

There was a need for tax on unearned wealth as was already being done in Australia and the UK, she said.

The meeting also heard from Dr Lesley Lyons McAdam on early childhood education, which she said was a public good. She said preschool education was being seen as providing private investment opportunities and children as a tradable commodity. Qualified ECE teachers should be paid by the Ministry at the same rate as kindergarten teachers, she said.

Rachel Ryan, a secondary teacher from Te Puke discussed what her school was doing to tackle poverty and students’ real lives. She said many students were just surviving and the school worked for the community, not just the school to eliminate barriers to education.

She recommended improving the ratio of school counsellors, taking the GST off fruit and vegetables and providing more health and wellbeing centres in schools.