Paula Bennett releases Green Paper for Vulnerable Children – a great campaign photo op – but how about some real commitment to help the most vulnerable children right now – those growing up in deepening poverty?
Paula Bennett held a party in Aotea Square today.With bright balloons and live music from Mike Chunn she launched her Green Paper for Vulnerable Children to the admiring crowd.
National MPs, Green co-leader Metiria Turei and – for some odd reason – supporters of the Republican Party were among those attending.
What more could a politician ask for,four months out from polling day?
I hesitate to rain on Paula’s parade.Every Government and every politician should take our parlous situation in relation to child violence and neglect extremely seriously, and I know that the Hon. Minister does really care about this issue.
But like the equally Hon. Annette King from Labour, there are one or two questions I'd like to raise, including the most obvious: if this Government really cares so much about ‘vulnerable children’, why didn’t it take action a lot earlier in this cycle of Parliament, rather than waiting until the last few months before election day to release a paper which, after all, is simply a starting point for discussion?
There have been huge amounts of research and advocacy done in relation to these issues over the last decade, from the fantastic work done by Judge Mick Brown with his report on CYFS in 2001, through many thoughtful papers and recommendations from former Childrens Commissioner Cindy Kiro in her term of office – and much else.
If Ms Bennett had really wanted to make her mark, I suggest she could have built on what had already been achieved, and started work in December 2008,immediately after the election, rather than waiting until we’re on top of the next one.
Why on earth it took two and a half years to put this 32 page paper together is beyond me.I’m sure MSD is not that short of skilled policy advisors, even in the current straitened public service environment.
However, the second major issue today’s Green Paper fiesta raises for me is far more serious.
Its whole focus is on what is called ‘vulnerable children’. The report even acknowledges (p 4) that "nearly 20 per cent of New Zealand children live in poverty….(which) in conjunction with other factors can further impact on children’s futures."
If this is a sign that Paula Bennett and her Government actually concede child poverty exists, there is plenty they could do to help these children, long before the Green Paper consultation process wends its merry way towards its February 2012 conclusion (and there’s a White Paper – and a legislative process – to follow that).
Last week we learned that the consumers price index (CPI) was up by 5.3% in the year to June 2011.
Today, the Salvation Army reported that in a special Consumer Price Survey of their own, "a typical sole parent family has seen a 9.1% jump in its cost of living in the last year."
The Herald is running a special series all this week on child hunger – including stories of children going to school unfed, increasing reliance on foodbanks, and expected negative consequences of the withdrawal of a major school breakfast programme.
The Child Poverty Action Group launched new research on Monday night ‘Hunger for Learning: nutritional barriers to children’s education’, calling for government funding for a universal feeding programme in decile 1 & 2 schools – at a minimum – and preferably decile 3 schools included as well.
This is Aotearoa New Zealand in 2011, not 1931.
What should be a national disgrace is still converted by many into a debate around the failings of parents rather thancondemnation ofdeliberate, systemic discrimination against the children of the poor.
As the Herald pointed out so clearly on Monday, beneficiaries have only half as much as working families to spend on food – an average $109.50pw as opposed to $202.80pw.
Of course many beneficiaries don’t even have that much to keep their families fed.
If Bennett and her government want to get serious about helping vulnerable children, I strongly recommend that they immediately lift benefit levels to amounts people can actually live on; raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and extend the In Work Tax Credit to the parents of all children, not just to those in paid employment.
I realise the likelihood of any of this happening is about the same as the chance that Don Brash will suddenly embrace the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Maori version) in Act’s campaign manifesto.
But I continue to harbour a flickering hope that the majority of voterswill at some point before November 26 wake up and realise that if wereelect a Government which simply fiddles around the edges while so manychildren live in worsening poverty – and with the violence and neglect that so often accompany it – it will be those very children who will pay the price.
And all the Green Papers and bright balloons in Aotea Square won’t help them one little bit.