Editorial: Child poverty an emotional battle

00:00, Feb 13 2014

Shame can be a powerful catalyst for change. Fear of being named and shamed has no doubt prevented many people from straying to the dark side. For those who have done so, it can provide impetus back towards the straight and narrow.

The Salvation Army is lining up this emotional weapon on behalf of many of the people who need its help in the Nelson region.

Its community ministries manager here, Major Jill Knight, hopes New Zealanders will feel a sense of shame about this country's continuing problems of poverty - particularly where children are involved - and violence, especially of the domestic variety.

In an election year, she is calling on ordinary Kiwis to put pressure on those most in a position to take action on such issues - politicians - to do so.

Mrs Knight's stance is based on a State of the Nation report released by the Sallies yesterday. The report considers five main topics: children's wellbeing, crime and punishment, work and income, social hazards and housing, with a supplementary section on work and welfare.

It finds some positives. For example, the past five years have seen a 34 per cent decline in the number of teenage mothers. Given that teenage pregnancy had been high compared with other developed nations, this new trend is significant and encouraging.


However, the report expresses deep concern that little has been achieved in reducing the rates and incidence of child poverty, and New Zealand's housing situation appears to have got worse over the past year. It says that despite increased media attention and political activity in these "time bomb" areas, there are no signs of progress. "This failure marks us as a society without sufficient passion to care for our children and their families," it adds.

It also points out that the education system fails three times as many Maori children compared with non-Maori, and domestic assaults continue to account for three in five reported incidents involving violence.

A basic premise of the report is that not every New Zealand neighbourhood is good or appropriate to grow up in.

This suggests that while more needs to be done at a political level, that is only a part of it. Change must happen from the ground up as well. Hence the Sallies' belief that a collective sense of shame might encourage individuals to change their ways, and galvanise our leaders and policy-makers to act more decisively to combat our many social issues.

We get the politicians, and therefore the policies, that we deserve, and MPs regardless of political hue do - usually - take note if concerns are expressed loudly and often enough.

The 84-page report is timely and offers enough information to help inform the inevitable election year debate on social issues and political policies.

It is readily available online. A useful first step would be for anyone concerned about New Zealand's future to read it.