One on five New Zealand children lives in poverty. This is not surprizing in a country where the gap between rich and poor is growing year by year. If you live in Auckland the problem is even worse because of the high cost of housing and other expenses. This is despite the fact that there is State support. Much of the poverty is hidden and only comes to light in the schools, health clinics and ‘loan shark offices.’
Many reasons have been put forward to explain this poverty. Some suggest that it is made worse by cultural practices. These include the high level of sending money back to homelands, where families live in more dire straits than their New Zealand relatives. Then there is the practice of ‘giving' to various churches and other religious institutions. The drain on family finances drives such families into the arms of ‘loan sharks,’ further exacerbating their situation.
The children of these families fail at school for several reasons. They are hungry and every teacher knows that hungry kids do not learn. Their health is bad and the links between attendance and school engagement are obvious.
I am sick of hearing the heartless comments of people who have ‘done well,’ and who have ‘dragged themselves’ from the mire of their upbringing and ‘if I can they can.’ OK, for a small minority of people, that is true but for the majority of people who are born into poverty, that is their future, unless there are programmes to address inequality and replicate success through intervention and support. This is not a hand-out, but a hand up.
Cheap student loans (perhaps with an element of ‘bonding’ at the conclusion of the study period) and access to health services are good examples of such ‘interventions,’ and in the long run they save money for the ‘taxpayer.’ That argument should be enough to silence those ‘critics’ of Government spending.’ They just need to see the bigger picture.
Let’s support the ‘breakfast programmes’ but combine them with family support and education. The fact is that many families do not use what resources they have well. Where would they have learnt some of the lessons the lucky ones amongst us did, from our grandparents about budgeting and surviving difficult times? What I am saying sounds like a mixture of good old fashioned advice and modelling, along with caring ‘government support.’
The choice is between living in a caring nation, or one that is divided and retreats to the ‘class-ridden societies’ of yesteryears and other societies we all as ‘immigrants’ thought we had left behind.