Redefining child poverty

Words can be pesky things.

You stumble across one that sounds perfect, has all the right emotional impact you need to make your point, but there's a problem - the meaning is wrong.

Never mind. You are a noble advocate for the deprived and the end justifies the means.

You simply reinvent the meaning of the word 'poverty'. That way you can come up with startling figures which will attract the attention of ordinary New Zealanders who don't like the thought of children going without.

Immediately the revelation that there are 200,000 children in this country living in poverty gains traction it is endlessly repeated. That way it becomes a fact.

Even better, the Children's Commission appoints a panel of 'experts' to study this unacceptable statistic. Just in case anyone doubts their credentials, they are called the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.

The panel declares there are actually 270,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand. Wow! Just how did this happen?

This week we found out, courtesy of a newspaper column by the panel's co-chair Jonathan Boston, who is professor of public policy at Victoria University.

Prof Boston and his chums have no need for dictionaries, even obscure ones like the Concise Oxford Dictionary, which offers this simple definition of poverty - 'being poor'. It extrapolates that by defining the poverty-line as the "minimum income level needed to get necessities of life".

Nope, this group prefers "well-established, internationally recognised methods for measuring poverty".

Prof Boston goes further.

"One commonly used poverty measure is the proportion of the population living in households with less than 60 per cent of the median disposable household income, after housing costs. This is a relative poverty measure. On this measure, 25 per cent of children were in such households in 2011.

This represents about 270,000 children."

Aha. That's where the figure comes from. "Another way of measuring poverty is to consider how many households cannot afford certain items which the majority of people believe are essential," says Prof Boston.

These are called "deprivation rates". These are for households which cannot afford at least three items from a list of nine that the majority of people regard as essential.

The list is:


Colour TV.

Washing machine.

Private car.

A meal with fish, chicken or meat, every second day.

Keep house adequately warm.

One week's annual holiday away from home.

Pay mortgage, rent, utilities on time.

Ability to face unexpected expenses of $1500.

That, I'm sorry to say, is not a definition of poverty. But who feels good about denying children things they should have? I'm sure many ordinary New Zealanders have to watch their spending and would fail the above test. But they would never dream of claiming they live in 'poverty'.

And as for Ross, on my left, who last week wondered if I actually read what he writes, I can assure you Ross, I do. Please don't infer my lack of reaction as a lack of interest. It's not. It's simply that saying nothing about your views is the kindest thing I can do.

Having said that, you raised the question of jobs, and that's something which is very much the party line at the moment, what with your union, the EPMU, and its parliamentary wing the Labour Party, holding a summit about jobs.

Sounds good, but it's only a talkfest that captured the media spotlight and which was designed to discredit the Government. To be honest, I don't know why they bothered, as the Government is doing a pretty good job of that all on its own at the moment.

Oh, and Ross, talk about supporting New Zealand industry at any cost to create jobs simply doesn't wash. Every week hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders prove that by going to the supermarket and buying products which offer the best value for money, irrespective of their source.

It's that simple. The only exception is the New Plymouth District Council. When the top brass go shopping they don't buy the proven, excellent product they have always bought. Nope, they judge the product on its creative art work, whether it has any indigenous content, what claims it makes for future consumption and its likely impact on the environment [the pantry shelf].

Those scores are all given a weighting and the most expensive one is bought.

Finally, dear Ross, let's not forget who sold the railways (your lot) for a bargain price, then decided to buy the darn thing back for a vastly inflated price in an effort to buy votes. And now we've got a huge financial millstone as a legacy. Gee thanks.

Taranaki Daily News