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The Column - Maori Underclass

The Column - Maori Underclass

By Muriel Newman

This week, the Column looks at the causes behind the New Zealand’s developing Maori underclass.

This week, the Council of Christian Social Services released a report claiming that a Maori underclass has developed in New Zealand.

The report, which closely monitors seven out of the 300 or so foodbanks that are operated nationally, states that “no foodbank saw a decrease in the number of its Maori clients” and that “New Zealand seems to have created a poverty trap that many Maori can’t climb out of.”

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services represents the social services of the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, as well as the Salvation Army. They collectively operate around 550 social service delivery sites across the country.

According to their spokesman, the latest report from the 2001 Poverty Indicator Project indicates that: “A Maori underclass exists and is growing and this requires a concentrated national strategy if it is to be overcome. If we continue to tolerate these inequalities as a nation then New Zealand will experience the high social cost of deprivation and dissent.”

It is disappointing that the report does not make specific recommendations on how to turn the situation around. Having said that, however, I am mindful that the Churches represented by the Council – which, traditionally, were once the champions of the private philanthropic and charitable efforts that underpin civil society – are now amongst the strongest lobbyists for more generous welfare and are rarely heard advocating for greater personal and community responsibility.

I recall being horrified when speaking at a Foodbank Conference, a few years ago, that my claim that “welfare could never alleviate poverty” and that “the only way out of poverty was through work”, was treated with vocal derision. Until then, I had thought the leaders of the charitable sector were motivated by an intrinsic belief in tough love, helping people to help themselves by instilling in them the values of personal responsibility, thrift and enterprise. On a practical level, that meant teaching them life skills – including cooking, gardening, budgeting, and living off the smell of an oily rag.

While that certainly was the case a number of years ago, it now sadly appears that the desire – or need – to access Government funding has caused many Church-based agencies and charitable groups to become instruments of Government. As a result, instead of vociferously calling for welfare reform to arrest the growth of the Maori underclass, the Council of Christian Social Services has instead implied that more generous welfare is the answer.

The reality is that it is welfare, more than any other influence, that has contributed to the growth of a Maori underclass. Thirty years of welfare has produced a social disaster by essentially destroying the Maori family. Because of the existence of the DPB, too many Maori men are avoiding the responsibilities of fatherhood. As a result, more than three-quarters of Maori children are growing up in families without fathers.

Growing up without a dad marginalises children: daughters are far more likely to become teenage mothers, and sons to become involved in crime. As Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Beecroft put it: “many youth offenders have no adult male role model and come from disadvantaged, even dysfunctional families. These boys seek out role models like ‘heat seeking missiles’. It’s either the leader of the Mongrel Mob or it’s a sports coach or it’s dad. But an overwhelming majority of young boys who I see in the Youth Court have lost contact with their father”.

He goes on to say that, in some Youth Courts, “up to 90 percent of offenders appearing are Maori”.

Further, embedded in the passive support provided by long-term welfare is a handout mentality that destroys ambition and aspiration, creating wasteful, aimless behaviours that focus on self-gratification, and undermine mana. As a result, the values that traditionally made Maori strong and self-reliant – personal responsibility, initiative and pride – have been eroded.

The statistics do not make pleasant reading – Maori, at 15 percent of the population, comprise 33 percent of unemployment beneficiaries; 40 percent of DPB, 23 percent of Sickness Beneficiaries. They make up 40 percent of all apprehensions for crime and 50 percent of the prison population.

Maori lag considerably behind other ethnic groups in qualifications gained at school: in 2001, four percent of Maori left school with an A or B Bursary, or National Certificate at level three or above, compared with 21 percent of European and 42 percent of Asian school leavers.

Maori home ownership rates have declined steeply, with Maori almost twice as likely to live in rental accommodation.

Last year, Maori comprised 47 percent of the 9,787 substantiated cases of child abuse investigated by the Department of Child, Youth and Family.

Maori infant mortality rates remain significantly higher than non-Maori, as do hospitalisation rates. Maori life expectancy is disturbingly short.

While all of these problems cannot obviously be blamed on welfare, a good proportion of them can. So much of who we are and what we become relates back to the family.

Family structure is at the heart of our future. As long as the welfare system incentivises the breakdown of the Maori family, and Maori leadership is ineffectual in persuading Government that more welfare for Maori is not the answer, then the Maori underclass will continue to grow.

The Council for Christian Social Services knows this is the case. It knows that welfare is destroying Maori life opportunities, yet is failing to speak out. Shame on them.

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