Addressing hardship better than measuring manufactured poverty

A few years ago a newspaper asked Oamaru clergy to comment on poverty.

One vicar said that he came from South Africa where hundreds of people shared a single cold water tap which made it difficult for him to comment on a town where people drove to the food bank.

The dictionary defines poverty as the state of being extremely poor.

The measuring class—people with tertiary education who spend all their time telling us how much misery there is in our community  have manufactured a new definition – 60% of the median income.

By that measure poverty could only be solved by taking everyone’s money and redistributing it equally and ensuring it stayed redistributed equally for ever.

While gross inequality can be a problem, making the rich poorer will not address the causes of, nor provide a longterm solution to, the problems of the very poor.

This is why Finance Minister Bill English took a swing at critics of the government on ‘poverty’:

“The term ‘poverty’ has been captured by a particular idea of how you measure poverty and a particular solution to it. That is, you measure it relative to incomes, and the solution is mass redistribution.”

Those who use the term “poverty” and “child poverty” in this way have been “admirably open” about their objectives, Mr English told the meeting but it is not a view the government shares.

“We are not addressing that phenomenon. What we are addressing is absolute levels of hardship. That is someone not having enough to live, and we don’t think that is worse just because someone else has a bit more.”

Incomes are only one part of what keeps people at the bottom of the social heap, he says, and other factors matter more.

“What we are addressing is what I think is the kind of communal or moral dimension and the worst examples of it are not purely about poverty. They are about ways of behaving, and I don’t think poverty is an excuse for serial criminality or beating up your kids. But those are parts of the ways of behaving of parts of our community, in my view sometimes made worse by the way the government deals with some of these problems.” . . .

It is not often a politician talks about the moral dimension and that should not be taken to mean that moral problems are the preserve of the poor.

But when Northland GP Lance O’Sullivan says children will be better off away from their homes and the social dysfunction in them, the problem of hardship is not just a financial one.

When National came to government it took an actuarial look at welfare and uncovered the longterm costs of it.

Those costs were both financial and social which is why reducing dependency and addressing real hardship are so important.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, the problem is whether or not people have enough which in turn begs the question how much is enough?

Regardless of the answer, the solution lies in addressing real hardship, as this government is doing, not by manufacturing poverty by redefining it in a misguided attempt to solve it through redistribution.

3 Responses to Addressing hardship better than measuring manufactured poverty

  1. Andrei says:

    There is lots of poverty in New Zealand – intellectual poverty

    As for material poverty, most New Zealanders have no idea, in fact are utterly clueless as to the wretched circumstances many of our fellow human beings have to endure on a daily basis.

    In fact when I hear people wittering on that our children are too fat or that climate change is the biggest threat to human well being I become slack jawed with amazement.

  2. MarcW says:

    Giving $25 a week to all beneficiaries with children is a weak tool to overcome hardship. Better would be a plan to require all these families who claim to be “in poverty” to participate in budgeting advice where priorities could be set, and financial controls imposed. In some cases, a $25 extra payment would be available where a need was established, and where the beneficiary showed willingness to help themselves by agreeing work with and to achieve independence goals set in partnership with the budget advisor. This is similar to the plan set up to help teenage solo parents on the DPB, and which from reports is having worthwhile results in improving family and child outcomes for the future.

    $25 extra for every beneficiary with children is a waste of money in many cases, and as has been seen by the chattering classes, is ‘not enough’. And it never will be for some people unless another plan is taken for the future.

  3. Andrei says:

    Better would be a plan to require all these families who claim to be “in poverty” to participate in budgeting advice where priorities could be set, and financial controls imposed.

    That is very paternalistic (maternalistic) Marc – and there is nothing people hate more than being told what to do under coercion, so it rarely works out well, more particularly as those imposing the financial controls will do so according to their value systems and priorities rather than those upon such things are imposed.

    The real poverty we suffer is “spiritual poverty” – a malaise which leads us to value the wrong things (and people) and thus end up with maladjusted priorities for ourselves and others upon whom we can impose them.

    I’m Russian Orthodox, as you may have guessed or know and one concept might be that of the spiritual advisor, more easily said than found, a starets who can provide guidence in setting life priorities that will lead to healthy development for yourself and those for whom you take responsibility.

    But we will never live in a perfect world, a fair world where everyone gets a good deal in life – we have to do our best to help the less fortunate where we can and lead by example, not coercion, in showing them how to live in dignity.

    And that is the key – not money per se but the ability to live in dignity, with your own self determination

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