Laws - the parents are the problem

Last updated 05:00 19/05/2013
Sunday Star-Times columnist Michael Laws: We don't have a child poverty issue - we have a poor parenting issue.

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Most New Zealanders are long since over having any interest whatsoever in the Government's annual Budget.

OPINION: It's rarely relevant, the headline policies have already been announced, and it reeks of geek and gobbledegook.

Sure enough, Bill English's latest effort ticked all the above boxes. He is not a natural entertainer and he has a cautious southern farmer's demeanour. And the real issue of our times - kids living in "poverty" - was pretty much ignored. That's coming later, promised the finance minister: There's more work to do.

Especially on you and me. Because most New Zealanders are not convinced that New Zealand has a child poverty problem. We have a piss-poor-parenting problem, yes. We don't have an inadequacy of resources.

Which is where the Children's Commissioner and the liberal lobbyists have it all wrong. They quote statistics about kids going to school hungry, about inadequate rentals, about hospitalisations and woeful child dental care, as if no argument is required.

Look at those poor kids, they declare. There's the proof of child poverty.

No, it isn't. It's proof that thousands of Kiwi parents are making bad choices about their priorities. And that the welfare and community organisations that are supposed to be supporting them . . . aren't.

Indeed, it's a dual failure. The parents aren't up to their role and the agencies are ineffective with their assistance. And that includes churches and other social agencies that prefer to lobby for more money, rather than use their funding appropriately.

However hard any family life might be - however tough the financial circumstances - there is no parental excuse that allows a child to go to school hungry. Look into any one of those homes and you will find two conspicuous absences.

First, an inability to put the kids first. A belief that alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, partying, the church tithe are all - somehow - more important than the kids.

The inability of a generation of social workers and social agencies to make any impact upon those priorities is their greatest failure. There is enough government assistance, there is enough private philanthropy, there is enough knowledge.

But what's the argument of so-called "child poverty advocates"? Give the parents more money. Which they'll misuse, in exactly the same way that they're doing now. Their internal priorities still won't change.

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Second, in these neglectful homes you will also find an inability to want to adapt themselves or their circumstances. A refusal to move, for example, from the high-rental property or suburb. A refusal to contemplate employment that isn't immediate, and conveniently located.

I understand the frustration of schoolteachers - especially those in lower-decile schools - with kids coming to school inadequately fed and suffering from sleep deprivation and poor hygiene. I understand their instinctive cultural reaction is to help. After all, it's not the kids' fault.

But it is an act of policy cowardice not to look at the real reasons for the inadequate care of kids in New Zealand.

It's down to the parents. Until they are made responsible, until their care is tackled, then everything else is just sideshow and silliness. And doomed to fail.

- Sunday Star Times


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