Recently more alarming statistics about the poor state of child welfare in New Zealand were released. 305,000 children were found to be in one state of poverty or another. And yet despite this Government introducing further measures to improve child welfare such as free G.P. checks for children under 13 (actually an idea conceived by a N.Z. First member in 2014, that had been costed, but not introduced), and an additional $25 per week in benefit allowances for families with children, there seems to be a steady worsening of many of the vital statistics in this area.
I believe that one of the reasons why child poverty has not been checked is as much because no political party in Parliament knows what a direct and overt legislative approach to the problem would look like, or how it could be constructed. Furthermore they worry that it might get bogged down in in legal issues pertaining to privacy, basic human rights as well as ethical issues. The political and legal costs may not be worth the price that would be paid.
Across the basic components of social wellbeing – health, education, basic living (housing, diet, social opportunities) and so forth – there are forces at work that might not be entirely within the Governments control. Or it is possible that there is a negative side effect of being party to certain international agreements which weaken or deliberately fudge our domestic commitments and the responsibilities of the Government. I try to keep an open mind on this, but knowing that hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. alone have been lost since the North American Free Trade Agreement between America, Canada and Mexico was signed, make me wonder what the impact is in New Zealand.
Instead I believe that an indirect, though not necessarily covert approach is more practicable. Much effort has been made in the last 15 years to tackle it through legislation and changes in services. However the latest statistics to me suggest that this approach is not working and that there is a bigger, more potent problem in the background that needs to be checked. Another problem is that any overt and direct approach may trigger alarms with international monitoring agencies, and the various overseeing agencies in New Zealand. The problem could be one related to the form and function of the basic tenets of welfare and how they interact: the education, social welfare, health systems.
These are matters of system operation and not actual policy. changes to the system form and function will change how the people who have to implement the provisions of the law, maintain social, judicial and economic services view their jobs and their expected performance outcomes. Inflexible situations in the law lead to situations where vulnerable people find themselves with no legal help. Certainly these oversights are unintentional but at the same time the stress and potential harm they can cause to individuals is substantial. This is also partially explains how – but most certainly does not justify – unfortunate incidents such as the Work and Income murders happened.
But at the end of the day, there is one aspect that can have a very overt, and direct resolution. That is stopping the tendency of politicians to play child poverty like a football in the dying moments of the game where the score is decided and they are just passing it around for time to stop the opposition getting it. That can stop now. Immediately.