Recently the Government announced the terms of the planned inquiry into abuse of children in state care. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made dealing with child poverty a significant plank of Labour’s policy platform at the election in 2017. In announcing the inquiry, Ms Ardern says that this is a signal of how serious the Government is about dealing with child poverty.
Dealing with child abuse in state care is but one part of what needs to be a much broader plan to reduce New Zealand’s child poverty. Far too many children go to school hungry or do not have access to necessary medical care or items needed for their education because their parents/caregivers cannot afford rental costs. Some come from dysfunctional families, or the parents are constantly at work leaving no one at home to cook meals, help with homework or take them to sports or music practice.
The Government says that it wants to address the issue of state abuse of children in its care. It has set out to address issues arising from abuse prior to 2000. But what about cases of abuse that have happened since?
One can have a dozen inquiries into the issue, but if none of them are acted on then the Government is not that serious after all. After all the hand wringing and calls for action and vows to take action, none of it has meaning until appropriate law and other changes are enacted to give effect to the recommendations put forward in the inquiries.
I wait with somewhat baited breath to see what is going to happen. If an inquiry is then acted on, the likelihood of running into administrative difficulties of one sort or another is likely to be high since individual agencies will have different understandings about what their obligations are under any legislative changes brought in. Even if an inquiry were to announce its results today and the Minister made a vow to act, and kept it, legislation would probably take a year and be forced to go through the select committee stage in Parliament in between the first and second readings. Even once it has passed through Parliament, there will probably still be an adjusting phase for individual ministries and agencies as well as their staff.
But an actual attempt to implement recommendations of existing inquiries might not be so straight forward as one thinks, since the law will have changed. Understandings of what is needed will have had time to evolve and will not look the same on paper.
Labour, to be fair, has set targets, but has not yet shown how it intends to achieve them.
During its time in office, National introduced increases to benefits in 2017. It resisted calls from its conservative base to slash welfare, though attempts at reforming the legislation under which agencies such as Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Family Service and Study Link have only met with modest success. How Labour tackles these interconnecting issues remains to be seen.
It is however, time for a multi-partisan effort that crosses political divides. In politics in order to get things done, sometimes deals that sit uncomfortably with the party base need to be permitted. Both National and Labour would do well to understand this in a child poverty context.