Every election New Zealand has a debate about the social ills being inflicted on the country. Every election promises are made to get tough on crime, to put the unemployed into work and get truants back into school. And every following election we realize how much talk there was (and how little of it turned into demonstrable actions).
And so we are staring down the barrel of another election. Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern and Prime Minister Bill English are going at it on national debates about how they plan to address these issues. But really are we not just reciting an old New Zealand-specific definition of insanity once more?
It is an issue that I have blogged on several times before. However it is important that if we are going to address the violent crime being committed by youths, the numbers of people being forced into work in social situations where they are out of their depth that this issue be subject to a comprehensive overhaul. I am not just talking about a Ministerial review or even an inquiry. I am talking about enacting a sea change, because without this, the statistics that earn us condemnation at the United Nations and which are an embarrassment to look at, are only going to worsen – the suicide rate; the unemployed; youth offending rates; child abuse and so forth.
I want to acknowledge that there have been earnest attempts at addressing the issue, by New Zealand First list Member of Parliament Darroch Ball. Mr Ball, formerly ex-N.Z. Army and teacher drafted a Bill of Parliament that sought to put youth in a military run training programme where they could stay on if they wished afterwards. Mr Ball’s work unfortunately was defeated at its first reading in Parliament.
It is also just part of a much bigger and more complex set of interconnecting issues. Some of the kids that would have benefitted from Mr Ball’s work come from broken families where the parents are in absentia. Some have never been taught and struggle with basic writing, reading and mathematics. Some come from families where they never had breakfast in the mornings and went to school with no lunch, thus were disruptive or inattentive simply because they were hungry. Others have come from families where they were loved, but might have mental health issues, such as those in Canterbury dealing with earthquake related issues, or those vulnerable teenagers subject to peer abuse because they are perceived to be somehow different.
And then there is the Ministry of Social Development itself. A large Ministry, with multiple umbrella agencies constrained by a constrictive piece of legislation. It can be a thankless task working at any one of them as the legislation often forces employees to make decisions that negatively impact their clients, arousing the fury and frustration of the latter.
What I propose:
- Rolling out breakfast in schools nation-wide between 0800 and 0830 daily for children who have not been able to get breakfast
- A Commission of Inquiry into the Social Welfare Act with recommendations implemented within a year, and a second inquiry into how staff and clients can work together better (for lack of better phrasing)
- Appending benefits to the Consumer Price Index or other suitable economic indicator
- A working group establish how grand parents who are care givers/legal guardians of minors and solo Dads can be better supported
- A job programme specific to disabled people who have been recommended as capable of working limited hours with buy in from employers