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Child Poverty: Whose Fault Is It?

Child Poverty: Whose Fault Is It?

By Lindsay Mitchell

There have recently been repeated calls for more government spending to eradicate child poverty. This disregards the reality the "war on poverty" is flawed. Throwing ever-increasing wads of money at the problem is simply not working. The biggest creator of poverty, rather than reliever of poverty, is the welfare state.

However, I would first go back a step and question the very use of the word "poverty." There is only "relative" poverty in a country where governments pay people a living income. Real poverty exists in countries that cannot produce the necessities of life. So, when I refer to New Zealand poverty, I intend that of a relative kind.

Creating poverty isn't hard to do. The experience of being a parent shows just how easy it can be. Wouldn't life be easier in the short- term if we treated our children like the government treats beneficiaries? If we doled out money to them without having to nag them to earn it? If we didn't have to spend our scarce available time teaching them how to be independent? Let's face it, if we want their beds made, sometimes, it's less hassle to just get on and do it ourselves.

But we know we do our children a disservice by making life undemanding. We have a prime responsibility to teach them to fend for themselves, to teach them that nobody owes them a living.

Children learn by example. They sometimes demonstrate this unnervingly by adopting our mannerisms and actions to a tee. Therefore, second and third generation dependence on government handouts is only natural. Just as growing up in a single parent household lessens a child's expectation that they will themselves form an abiding relationship, growing up in a non-working single parent home (83% are reliant on benefits) reduces the expectation of one day getting up and going out to work in the morning.

If our annual welfare bill has gone from $256 million in 1970 to the $14 billion today, yet poverty has only increased, why should anyone believe throwing even more money at the problem will suddenly make a difference? In fact, accepting this strategy as an answer is dangerously foolish. Increasing benefit rates and widening availability will only draw more people in that direction.

Once on a benefit the only way for a single parent to get an increase in income is to get a job that pays more or have another child. It would seem the second option is commonly chosen. Nearly 19,000 or one in five people on the DPB, added another child to their benefit more then 42 weeks after it was initially granted. Advocates for the poor rigidly claim that they do not choose their circumstances. This particular group appeared to.

Going down the path that the Left and the Greens want to take us, namely increasing taxation to increase benefit expenditure, should be strenuously avoided. In the long term, everybody, including children, will actually be worse off. Many developed countries now recognise this. A good example is Ontario, Canada. In 1995 they embarked upon their "Common Sense" revolution (not one of the United Future variety.) They cut benefit rates by 21 percent because the levels were too generous. Even after the cuts, their rates were still higher than the average over the nine other Canadian provinces.

What these cuts did was allow simultaneous tax cuts, which in turn boosted jobs. Since 1995 their economy has added 824,000 new jobs. In March 1997, Ontario had 201,900 sole parents on benefits - by December 2002, the number had dropped to 73,850. Incidentally, Ontario's population is 12 million. Ours is 4 million with 116,000 welfare reliant sole parents.

Some simplistically argue that similar results across the states of America were only achieved through time-limiting (if somebody can only stay on a benefit for 5 years all-up, after 5 years, of course you are going to see numbers drop). The Ontario example rebuts this argument because benefit numbers were reduced by two thirds without imposing time-limits.

The real "revolution" that took place in Ontario was the government began listening to the taxpayers who were questioning why being on welfare should be more attractive than working, why those on low wage incomes were getting less help than those on welfare and why the misuse and abuse of welfare had become so widespread.

These are the questions moving through the minds of more and more working New Zealanders. Unfortunately this group have become so brutalised by the politically correct, they are afraid to voice them publicly. It is the politically correct who shallowly bandy about the term "child poverty" as the necessitator for greater wealth redistribution amongst adults . They use children to serve their own ends, not unlike evil regimes use children as physical human shields.

There are solutions to New Zealand's poverty problem but we will only begin to make progress when the taxpayer finally understands that government spending is not one of them. Only when parents assume full responsibility for their own children will child poverty ease.

Lindsay Mitchell is campaigning for a Parliamentary review of the DPB.
Further information and petition forms are available from http://www.liberalvalues.org.nz email mailto:dandl.mitchell@clear.net.nz ph/fx 04 562 7944

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