TV3 The Vote – Poverty or Parenting. Our Full Message

tv3 the vote panelOne of the frustrating aspects of watching TV3’s The Vote “Poverty or Parenting” was that it was heavily edited from our pre-record on Monday night – and therefore statements which explained more of the context of what we said was not included.

So here’s a full set of notes.


* The state has failed at alleviating poverty. It’s time to go back to the original poverty-beater – strong intact families. As families have broken down, poverty has increased.

* Asian families are one of the lowest income groups in NZ yet they are not beset with some of the problems of child abuse and dysfunction that occur in other groups. Good parents can rise above traps of poverty

income levels by ethnic group 2010

* HINZ (Household Income NZ) notes, “Half of poor children are Maori/Pacific. One in three Maori children lives in poverty. This reflects the high proportion of Maori children living in sole parent beneficiary families. 43 percent of DPB recipients are Maori.”

* One in four Pacific children is poor (but more likely to live in a two-parent low-income working household.) Only 10 percent of DPB recipients are Pacific.

* The false premise is that poverty causes such problems as crime, school failure, low cognitive ability, illegitimacy, low work ethic and skills, and drug use. Hence, reducing poverty through greater welfare spending will reduce most social problems. History refutes this belief. In 1950, nearly a third of the U.S. population was poor (twice the current rate). In the 1920s, roughly half of the population was poor by today’s standard. If the theory that poverty causes social problems were true, we should have had far more social problems in those earlier periods then we do today.

Welfare programs intended to raise family incomes do not benefit children but do significantly increase illegitimacy and single-parent families, which in turn have decisively negative effects on children’s development.

* Single parenthood is a risk factor for poverty everywhere – Swedish statistics show parental separation is the biggest driver into child poverty by a large margin. Thus even in the most generous welfare regime in the world, the state does not and cannot prevent single parenthood’s link with poverty.

solo parents rate OECD


* Poverty rates have fallen from the high of 2001 – and have been steady since 2007

child poverty rates

* To measure child poverty, a line is drawn at 60 percent of the fixed median household income after housing costs (AHC). Children in households below this line are considered to be ‘in poverty’. If the line is drawn lower, fewer children will be in poverty. So the number of children in poverty rests on an arbitrarily drawn line.

* For instance the OECD measures developed-world child poverty using a 50 percent threshold. Using that measure UNICEF’s latest report card showed 11.7 percent or around 118,000 New Zealand children living in poverty.

* New Zealand also compares well internationally: On the latest available figures (2008-09) New Zealand’s population and child poverty rates are close to the overall medians for both measures.

child poverty OECD comparison * HINZ (Household Income NZ) acknowledges that poverty and hardship are about relative disadvantage, not ‘third world starvation’; they are about “being excluded from a minimum acceptable way of life in one’s own society because of a lack of resources.” This is a subjective judgement.

* This subjectivity and its undesirability are officially acknowledged by some overseas jurisdictions. According to Statistics New Zealand, “The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) does not produce statistics on poverty because of the subjectivity involved in its measurement,” and “Statistics Canada is strongly of the view that defining poverty involves value judgements and is not the role of a national statistics agency.”

* According to the OECD, New Zealand’s spending on families and children (cash transfers, tax breaks and services) as a share of GDP was the 8th highest in the OECD in 2007, with one of the highest levels of cash transfers:

child poverty OECD welfare payments


* The HINZ report points out:
In 2011, 68% of two parent families were dual-earner families with 43% both full-time.
In 1982, 52% of two parent families had one parent in full-time work and the other was workless. Only 20% were both in full-time work.

“This change and the increasing proportion of dual-earner couple-only households have been the main factors in driving up median household incomes more rapidly than the average wage for individuals…Much of the difference between the growth of wages and the growth of household income is attributable to increased female labour force participation, especially in two parent families with dependent children.”

* Half of poor children are from single parent families where there is only one potential earner.

* International research suggests that the private costs of divorce and unmarried childbearing include increased risks of poverty, mental illness, infant mortality, physical illness, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality, sexual abuse and other forms of family violence, economic hardship, substance abuse, and educational failure
NZ Institute of Economic Research

* For children living in sole parent families the rate of poverty is five times as high as that for children in couple households.

* The poverty rate for children in families where there is no full-time worker is six times higher than for those where at least one adult is in fulltime work.

* According to Demographic Trends 2010:
“The number of ‘two-parent’ families in New Zealand is projected to decrease from 481,000 in 2006 to 468,000 by 2031. This is due to a decreasing likelihood of being in this living arrangement type at most ages, reflecting continued trends towards single parenting and fewer couples having children…Nationally, the number of ‘one-parent’ families is projected to increase by 48,000 (an average of 0.8 percent per year), from 219,000 in 2006 to 267,000 in 2031.”

Household composition




Couple with dependent child(ren)




One parent with dependent child(ren)




Source: Household Economic Survey, Year ended 30 June 2007/2012

* The population groups that feature the most child poverty are set to grow disproportionately.


* Increased welfare payments won’t work. A New Zealand study found that,

“…poor children reliant on government transfers, when compared with poor children reliant on market incomes, have lower living standards and a number of compounding shortfalls that can be expected to place them at greater risk of negative outcomes.”

* European research shows an increase in yearly benefits of 1000 euros is estimated to increase the incidence of single mother families by about 2 percent. United States research showed a 50 percent increase in the monthly value of AFDC and food stamps led to a 43 percent increase in unmarried births. US research showing the association between the level of benefit payments and unmarried births, comprises numerous studies.

* In relation, OECD research shows that alleviating child poverty via greater public transfers results in more workless homes, citing Australia (very similar to NZ in social assistance policy) as a prime example

* Raising benefits can be expected to increase workless households and increase single parent families; the very things that are producing so much child poverty.


breakfast in schools* The government’s food-in-schools programme will be a short-term band-aid to mask the more serious issues of parental neglect, loan sharks, budgeting, and high living costs.

* The Ministerial Committee on Poverty April 2013 said “People in low socio-economic areas were significantly more likely to have used drugs recreationally or to have used cannabis (MoH 2007/08), more likely to be smokers (MoH 2006/07) more likely to be problem gamblers (MoH 2010).”

* A child whose parents cannot even provide two pieces of toast in the morning or a bowl of porridge highlights a number of real concerns. A parent who is unwilling to provide packed lunches may not be providing other necessities that a child requires. And how do we know that they are receiving meals at night or during the weekend? The level of neglect may be far greater than just providing breakfast and lunches on weekdays.

* The important question the government should be asking is – what is the household income being spent on, and is that appropriate? Are they receiving their correct entitlement? And in the case of welfare payments, will food vouchers solve part of the problem?

* The government should use this funding to provide budgeting advice to families including education on healthy eating and cooking skills, and should stop procrastinating around protecting vulnerable families from loan sharks. The targeting of alcohol outlets and pokie machines in lower decile areas should also be dealt with.

* Children should not be punished by having parents who are failing to fulfil a basic parenting role. The danger is that we could be simply rewarding bad parenting.

* Reject claims by the Prime Minister John Key that the programme will aid learning. It’s a great theory but it’s not true. A report released in 2012 found that feeding hungry schoolchildren does nothing to boost their learning. The only positive effect was that children felt less hungry. Researchers at Auckland University’s School of Population Health studied 423 children at decile one to four schools in Auckland, Waikato and Wellington for the 2010 school year.

Thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for her assistance and phenomenal knowledge and research in this area.