Empathy no substitute for effectiveness

January 31, 2018

The child poverty legislation introduced by Jacinda Ardern yesterday is long on intention and very short on substance:

The Government’s proposed child poverty legislation is predictably full of positive intentions but contains no substance to address the drivers of deprivation, National Party leader Bill English says.

“The Prime Minister has announced plans to introduce legislation that requires Ministers to report publicly on the number of children in poverty, to set targets, and to develop a strategy.

“National shares the Government’s goal of reducing child poverty. But you don’t need new legislation for any of this. In fact, the public service is already reporting publicly on the exact measures the Government is proposing.

Thanks to National’s economic stewardship, the Government has had the luxury of being able to allocate surplus cash to lift family incomes, picking up National’s Family Incomes package, with some additions.

“But what is much harder is changing the lives of our most vulnerable families trapped in deprivation by long term benefit dependence, low educational achievement and recidivist crime. Poverty isn’t just about lifting incomes.

The causes of poverty are complex and solving the problem takes a lot more than giving families more money.

Inexplicably, the Government last week announced it will abolish the Better Public Services targets we designed to tackle these issues, seemingly for no other reason than they were National’s initiatives.

“The targets we designed focused the public service on reducing benefit dependence, increasing educational achievement and reducing crime, to name just a few.

These measures addressed the causes rather than just treating symptoms.

“During our tenure we found the ability to eyeball the specific Minister or public servant responsible for delivering a particular target drove significant change. I’m enormously proud to say we reduced the number of children living in material hardship by 85,000 over the last five years by taking that approach.

“By getting rid of these targets, the Government has thrown away the very tools to attack these drivers of poverty.

“But the Government’s new proposals are so high level and general that they refer to no one in particular, and no one will be held responsible for any lack of progress.

“A plan that will really, truly tackle child poverty must address the drivers of social dysfunction and hold the public service accountable, not just rely on the Government’s good intentions.

“The National Party is committed to reducing child poverty, achieving tangible results and promoting evidence-based policies that actually work. . .

The Taxpayers’ Union says the Bill will deliver socialism rather than better lives for children:

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Tying poverty measures to the median income is simply a target for socialism. It means that as long everyone is equally poor, Labour will have met their goal.” . . .

“The saddest thing about these proposals is they suggest Labour’s claimed concern for kids in hardship was fake all along. This is leftist ideology with no mention of economic growth, getting people of welfare, productivity, employment, and entrepreneurship.”

David Farrar pointed out that when she was in opposition Jacinda Ardern had two members bills, neither of which got anywhere for very good reason:

. . .Her first bill on adoption was a press release pretending to be a bill. It merely instructed the Law Commission to go write the real bill and have the Government introduce it. The bill was so bad even the Greens voted against it. It actually undermined the real work done cross party by Kevin Hague and Nikki Kaye who met with all the stakeholders, with law professors, adoption groups and wrote a detailed law reform bill.

Her latest bill is much the same. It is labelled the Child Poverty Reduction and Eradication Bill. It basically sets up a a Child Poverty Reduction Board! That’s it. It’s a sound bite not a serious law.

In no way do I think Jacinda doesn’t care about gay adoption and child poverty. She does. But the consistent pattern in her career has been that she prioritises empathy over effectiveness. . . 

With all the resources available now she’s Prime Minister, she ought to have done much better with the child poverty bill.

Instead it looks like she is continuing to prioritise empathy over effectiveness in government.



Poor parenting not confined to poor people

October 13, 2016

Police Minister Judith Collins says many of the problems of child poverty can be blamed on poor parenting:

. . . Ms Collins responded by saying the government was doing a lot more for child poverty in New Zealand than the UN had ever done.

In New Zealand, there was money available to everyone who needed it, she said.

“It’s not that, it’s people who don’t look after their children, that’s the problem.

“And they can’t look after their children in many cases because they don’t know how to look after their children or even think they should look after their children.”

Monetary poverty was not the only problem, she said.

“I see a poverty of ideas, a poverty of parental responsibility, a poverty of love, a poverty of caring.”

As the MP for Papakura, she saw a lot of those problems in south Auckland, she said.

“And I can tell you it is not just a lack of money, it is primarily a lack of responsibility. . . 

Poor parenting isn’t the only cause for the increased likelihood of poor health, poor educational outcomes, criminal convictions and increased risk of joblessness which characterise child poverty.

But it is one of the causes.

There are good parents who find themselves financially stretched or over-stretched but who love and care for their children.

There are also parents who through ignorance, accident or deliberate poor choices give children neither the emotional nor physical care they need to be happy and healthy.

Poor parenting isn’t confined to poor people but the consequences for children are more likely to be worse in poorer families than those in which lack of money isn’t one of the problems.

Denying that poor parenting is one of the causes of child poverty is the sort of blind stupidity that gets in the way of solving at least part of the problem.

How many, how much?

December 12, 2013

A group of business people in a smallish town had heard an advocate for the disadvantaged campaigning for assistance to combat child poverty.

They invited her to meet them to find ways they could help.

They listened to her speak and asked some questions which she answered.

Then one said, “How many are there and how much would it take to help them?”

The woman said that wasn’t the point.

The questioner said it was. If they knew how many children there were and how much it would cost they could work out how to raise the money and use it to get the children out of poverty.

The woman said, they were typical rich people who didn’t understand the problem and left.

I know this community and some of the people at the meeting.

They do understand the problem and have the resources to make a positive difference to many, possibly all, children in need in their smallish town.

They’ve been left thinking the campaigner was more interested in campaigning and advancing her political cause than practical solutions.

It’s a shame and not just for these children in this town.

Had the people at the meeting not had their genuine offer of help thrown back in their faces they might have been able to not only help those in their own town but provide an example for other communities to follow.

Poverty’s poverty

June 8, 2012

First we had child poverty, now we’ve got fuel poverty.

An analysis of hundreds of print media stories on the death of Auckland resident, Mrs Folole Muliaga, after her power was cut off by Mercury Energy in 2007 has found that the wider issue of ‘fuel poverty’ was largely ignored.

Poverty’s poverty.

The people affected and what their families can’t afford are symptoms not the problem.

If you’re poor your budget doesn’t stretch far enough full stop. That won’t improve by taking individual items or family members and tagging them with the word poverty.

From headlines to help

January 19, 2012

You’ve got to give the left credit where it’s due – they’re very good at getting issues into the headlines and they’re doing well with their latest cause – child poverty.

Getting headlines is easy enough for what is a very emotive issue.

Translating that into practical help is much harder but at least there is growing acknowledgement that the solution isn’t as simple as giving more money.

Professor David Fergusson who directed a study which shows parental income affects how well children do as adults said:

the study showed that income inequality and behavioural issues, such as parents’ addictions, both had to be tackled to fix social problems.

“For example, increasing the income of substance-using parents may be counter-productive since it will give them more access to purchasing alcohol or drugs,” he said.

Giving parents more money is no guarantee any or all of it will be spent to the benefit of children.

It’s also important to remember it’s not just the amount of money a family earns/receives that makes a difference.

The 2008 living standards survey  found that:

  • the hardship rate for sole parent families is around 4 times that for those in two parent families (39% and 11% respectively)
  • beneficiary families with dependent children have a hardship rate of around 5 times that for working families with children (51% and 11% respectively)
  • sole parent families in work have a hardship rate (20%) well below that for sole parent beneficiary families (54%)
  • Maori and Pacific people have hardship rates some 2 to 3 times that of those in the European or Other ethnic groups
  • families with 4 or more children have higher hardship rates (27%) than those with 1-2 children (17%)
 This shows that money, or lack of it, is not the only factor which contributes to hardship.What they do with it, the number of children, relationship break downs, ethnicity and income source also make a difference.
Keeping poverty in the headlines will raise awareness  but it won’t by itself do anything to address any of those.

Child poverty symptom not problem

January 9, 2012

Child poverty sounds much worse than poverty by itself.

Children are rarely in a position to help themselves, therefore alleviating their poverty requires the help of others. Most of those focussing on child poverty think that means the government in general and publicly funded welfare in particular.

However, there is little if any real child poverty in New Zealand.

This isn’t a third world country where large numbers of children have lost or been abandoned by their parents.

Most if not all children living in poverty in New Zealand are under the care, however adequate or not that might be, of adults. Most, if not all,  of those adults are receiving benefits or tax relief which takes into account they have children.

The term child poverty is being used more in New Zealand but it is a slogan that identifies a symptom not the problem.

The problem is poverty in general and it has more than one definition and many causes.

One definitionn of  poverty, particularly popular among the political left, is receivving less than  60% of the median income. That is a measure of inequality rather than poverty

Dragging the wealthy down would reduce inequality but would not address the problems of real poverty.

A more useful definition is the World Bank’s which is whether households or individuals have enough resources or abilities today to meet their needs.

That some – and any is too many –  children in New Zealand are ill-nourished, poorly clothed and housed, have inadequate hygiene and ill-health is not always because their parents have low incomes.

Other causes include poor management of the money they do have, poor literacy and numeracy, drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, other physical and mental health problems and debt.

Many of these problems are inter-generational and they won’t be solved by focussing on child poverty.

This is not the children’s fault and they almost certainly suffer most from it.

The challenge is to find a way to ensure children have what they need without enabling those charged with caring for them to abdicate further from their responsibility to do so.

Another challenge is to increase economic growth because lack of national wealth is also part of the problem.

%d bloggers like this: