Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | News Video | Crime | Employers | Housing | Immigration | Legal | Local Govt. | Maori | Welfare | Unions | Youth | Search

 


Lisa Owen interviews Professor Jonathan Boston

Lisa Owen interviews Professor Jonathan Boston and Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills


Headlines:


Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills advocates restoring benefits in real terms to where they were a generation ago.

Wills: “So let’s restore it back to where it was when we were kids. I don’t think that’s unachievable.”

Prof Jonathan Boston agrees benefit system needs restructuring: “..people who are wholly dependent on the benefit now are almost a quarter worse off relative to other citizens who are in work than was the case a generation ago.”

Boston and Wills both say it’s “scandalous” how children are treated in NZ compared to retirees, Boston says the rate of childhood deprivation in NZ is about six times that of the elderly

Boston proposes raising the age of NZ Super eligibility to potentially age 70 and using the money to combat child poverty, “but we’ll need a lot more than that”

Boston says personally he would push for a universal child benefit for all children between ages of one and three.

Wills praises Government’s Budget announcements such as extending paid parental leave but “that’s not the same as having a plan and legislation and targets and accountabilities for children. And that’s what I think we need.”

Lisa Owen: Good morning Professor Boston. I’m wondering upwards potentially a quarter of a million New Zealand children live in poverty. Can you tell us what does that look like exactly?

Jonathan Boston: Well I think we need to recognise that there are two different ways of measuring poverty. One is on an income basis where we set a threshold and the children and families living below that threshold are deemed to be living in poverty. And then the other method is material deprivation, how many children are deprived of enough items of what most people would regard as being essential. Things like having a waterproof raincoat, sturdy pair of shoes, a separate bed, being able to go to the doctor when you need to, having friends around for your birthday party and that kind of thing. And a study done a few years ago indicated that of the children in the 10-percent of the poorest families, around 60-percent were missing out on at least three of twelve essential items. By comparison the children in the top 45-percent of households by income and living standards were missing out on none, in other words they were 0-percent compared with 60-percent on that threshold of three essential items.

Given that situation I’m wondering do we treat our children as well as we treat retirees in this country?

Oh absolutely not. No. With respect to those over 65, we have a multi-party accord negotiated some 20 years ago which sets an income floor which is tied to average wages. So we have essentially guaranteed all those aged 65-plus an adequate standard of living. And we know it’s broadly adequate because where as close to 20-percent of children are deprived on at least one measure of deprivation, only 3-percent of those aged 65 plus were deprived on that same measure. So the rate of childhood deprivation is roughly six times that of the elderly. And I think that’s scandalous.

Does that tell us that we need to pay a price here? Do we need to take from retirees and redirect some of that money to poor children?

No, I don’t think so. But we do need to do the same for our children and particularly our young children as we’ve done for our older citizens. Children are no less deserving than our older citizens. They’ve no less vulnerable indeed. Arguably they are no more vulnerable. But we haven’t put in place the same sort of policy package and sought to reach the same level of societal consensus for treating our children.

But in saying that you do support raising the age of eligibility for super don’t you?

I do but what I’m saying in that regard is that we would move the eligibility for a universal super say from 65 to 68 or even 70 but those who didn’t have other sources of income would still have a guaranteed income. It would be targeted.

So that money you would save doing that, keeping universal super but raising the age of eligibility, the money you would save from doing that, that money do you think should go into dealing with the issue of poverty?

My personal view would be yes, but we’ll need a lot more than that. If we were going to tackle child poverty seriously, then we’re going to need a billion dollars or more. And raising the age of eligibility for superannuation to say 68 won’t provide us with the necessary funds for that, however justifiable it is to raise that age level.

So that would give you a chunk of the money. But really, who’s going to go there? Who’s going to dare to go that? Because the reality is, isn’t it, that that’s unpalatable to a number of voters and so politicians will be steering well clear of it.

I think we need a national conversation about how we treat our children and I think we need to debate the principals that should guide public policy in this area and seek to try and reach a consensus across the parties on what is acceptable. I think a lot of people would agree at the moment that the current circumstances are unacceptable. So what we need to do is to have a very serious evidence-based, well informed discussion which draws on clear principals of justice and tries to set some clear framework for designing policies to minimise child poverty. And I think we can do that.

Isn’t the problem with that though, isn’t part of the problem with that is that older people, retirees, they get a vote. Poor children do not get a vote and we know from research that the parents of poor children are less likely to vote. So are they then in essence collateral damage in political terms?

Well it’s true that children are voiceless but you know most elderly people are grandparents. And surely they care for the wellbeing of their grandchildren. So we need parents and grandparents to be speaking out on behalf of our children. But we need to do this in a careful, reasoned, balanced, evidence-informed way. And as we have done for elderly people, set benchmarks and thresholds that will ensure a broad adequacy of income and living standards, you know, for all our children. And I believe that’s possible. It’s not completely beyond our capacity to afford. There are various ways in which we could, expenditure shift and raise additional revenue, and thereby grant our children the same kind of privileges that we grant our older citizens. And bear in mind –

Well hang on, your talking there, does your talking there about a universal benefit for all children, why? Why should all children?

Well my personal preference would be for a universal benefit for very young children, perhaps between the ages of one and three because what we know from a lot of evidence is that what happens in early childhood matters profoundly for later childhood and adulthood. If children have a good start in life that lays the foundations for a successful life and that’s good for society as a whole, not just for the individuals concerned. So I think there’s a case for a universal –

In your book you raise the issue about benefits, that in real terms they’ve gone down. Is it time now for us to pay more in benefits?

There’s no question in my mind that we need to restructure our benefit system. We need to understand that benefits were cut significantly in real terms 23 years ago. They haven’t been adjusted other than for prices for 23 years. In the meantime wages have gone up about 25 percent. So people who are wholly dependent on the benefit now are almost a quarter worse off relative to other citizens who are in work than was the case a generation ago. And we can’t –

So put them up you say. So put up the payment, raise the amount that you pay these people?

We’re going to have to have a serious national conversation about that. We can’t assume that people on the benefit are going to get poorer relative to the rest of society, forever. At some point we have to say we need to ensure that people who are dependent on the benefit, including children, are able to feel a sense of inclusion in society, they’re not excluded from participating in the sorts of things that most New Zealanders can enjoy. We need a country which is –

Speaking of inclusion, I just want to quickly ask you before we move on, you talk about children being powerless and poorer families being powerless, should we be lowering the voting age? Should 16 year olds get the right to vote?

Well we could. I don’t have a strong view one way or the other on that. But I don’t think lowering the voting age is going to change anything fundamentally. Austria has a 16 year old voting age, a number of other countries do but the evidence is that young people actually don’t vote in large numbers, only 40 percent of 18 to 30 year old voted in the last election. So changing the voting age isn’t going to change much however desirable it might be. What we need is a societal consensus that children matter, they’re our future, we need to invest in them, we need to care for them, and we need a good future for all our children, not just those who are fortunate enough to be born into families that are reasonably well off.

Thank you very much for joining us Professor Jonathan Boston.

Let’s now turn to Russell Wills, the Children’s Commissioner, thanks for joining me this morning. You heard Jonathan Boston there; he believes we don’t treat our children anywhere near as well as we treat our retirees. Do you agree?

Russell Wills: I do. The evidence is very clear for that. Jonathan made the case very well.

He says it’s scandalous, would you go that far?

Of course I do.

And what makes you say that?

I’m a paediatrician. And next weekend I’m going to be on call at Hastings Hospital. My weekend will be full of poor mostly Maori and Pacific preschool children with infectious diseases that our English registrars often haven’t even seen before. Now we see acute rheumatic fever. We see tuberculosis. We have admissions to intensive care with children with illnesses that should have been treated in primary care but they couldn’t afford to go. We just don’t see those kinds of issues in our elderly people and I think that’s a great shame.

He talked there about raising the age of super and redirecting some of that money. Is it time for our seniors to take a hit for the good of the younger generation?

I’m not an expert on retirement policy so I think you’re asking the wrong person. What I will say is that when I talk to parents and their friends, they all have grandchildren and they love their children. And when we take the time to explain to older people what life is like for our poorest children the overwhelming response that I get is they think that is a scandal and they would like to see more resources directed to those young children.

But these are tight financial times as you would appreciate; you have said previously the questions is: are we prepared to give up something for the vulnerable. So who is the ‘we’ that has to give up something?

It’s people like us Lisa. The fact is that we have large numbers of poor children in New Zealand who are missing out on things that our kids take for granted. So the kids that I see on the children’s ward often live in cold, damp, crowded houses. They often can’t afford to go to the GP. They commonly don’t have their own bed. They frequently all crowd around together in the living room to sleep.

I appreciate what you’re saying there but when you say it’s people like us, that’s a nebulous concept. Don’t we need to pin down where this money is going to come from? Isn’t super or capping or raising the age, isn’t that a place where we can get a certain lot of money?

I look at it a little bit differently. Let’s agree some principles. We would agree wouldn’t we that it is children’s right to have an adequate standard of living. Let’s agree what the standard of living is first. We also need to agree I think that our tax and benefit system are actually part of the same thing. And it’s not working. It’s way too complicated. People who have entitlements don’t get them. So we need to simplify it substantially. And what Jonathan and Simon have said is if we simplify that, if we start with what we’ve got now, just with the resources we have now and direct that to where it’s going to make the biggest difference, I think as taxpayers we’d agree that that is appropriate use of our taxpayers money. Then, when money becomes available we can increase that support. I think that’s hard to argue with.

So you’re talking about a universal payment to all children when they’re young and then what, In-work support after that? When would you cut it off?

So when your children are born, most parents are staying at home with those kids. So what we need is to invest in supporting our youngest children and supporting those parents to be at home with their children. And that’s what most of us do. When kids get a little bit older into toddlerhood, then what we need is to support for those parents to go back to work. And that’s why the benefit tax system needs to be seen as a single entity. So there’ll be an age that a society will need to agree. Personally I think that’s when free early childhood education, so 3, comes in. So I think we need a universal benefit for children when they’re youngest. And we have that already in many ways, we have paid parental leave for example.

But you heard Professor Boston saying there that basically our benefits are woefully inadequate.

They are.

So what do you think should happen with the level of payment?

We need to decide as a society what an adequate standard of living is for children. Not just to be fed, but to participate, particularly for our youngest kids because that’s when they’re most vulnerable. So what the science tells us is it’s about where it was when I was delivering Dad’s scripts around the poor part of Maraenui, back in the late 80s and 90s. So that’s roughly half as much again as it is now. So let’s restore it back to where it was when we were kids. I don’t think that’s unachievable.

In real terms, restore it back to where it was?

Yeah.

You want to make this an election year issue. So, what is your call then? Are you saying, show me a party that’s going to do that? Vote for a party that’s going to do that?

What I’ve said is no party is going to go there until there’s public support. That’s why shows like this are so important. No party is going to go there until all New Zealanders are going to stand up and say we think all children deserve an adequate standard of living. And I think we all agree that. Once we say that and the message is very clear then all politicians are going to say ‘ok we need party policies that are consistent with that’, and then they’ll go there.

Part of your job is to scrutinise how the governments are going, so what is your report card in terms of tackling of this problem?

I think a lot of the things the Government have done well, so for example in the last budget we saw an extension of paid parental leave, particularly to parents who weren’t previously eligible. So the poorest mums who were on part time or casual work, that was a really good thing. Early childhood education is growing, there’s more support for kids leaving state care and we saw free primary healthcare, including after hours, for under 13s. Those are all good things. They need to continue. But that’s not the same as having a plan and legislation and targets and accountabilities for children. And that’s what I think we need.

So to be clear, in election year you are calling for someone to raise benefits, restore them to the levels they were in the 70s?

What I’m saying is that we as a public need to say to all of our politicians we care about our kids, we believe that children deserve an adequate standard of living , we believe they have some basic rights that are not currently being met and we can afford them. It’s a choice.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning, Russell Wills


ends

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

Parliament Today: State Opening Of Parliament

The House sits at 10.30am today before MPs are summoned to hear the Speech from the Throne in the Legislative Council Chamber.

The speech delivered by the Governor-General on the Government’s behalf outlines its priorities for this Parliament.

After this MPs will return to the House for the presentation of petitions and papers and the introduction of any bills.

The Government has five notices of motion on the Order Paper which can be debated. These relate to relating to the appointment of the Deputy Speaker, Assistant Speakers, the reinstatement of business in a carryover motion and one on “Entities to be deemed public organisations”. More>>

 

Tertiary Education: Students Doing It Tough As Fees Rise Again

The Government is making it increasingly difficult for Kiwis to gain tertiary education as fees continue to rise and access to student support becomes even more restricted, Labour’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. More>>

ALSO:

Housing, Iraq: PM Press Conference – 20 October 2014

Prime Minister John Key met with press today to discuss:
• Housing prices and redevelopment in Auckland
• Discussions with Tony Abbott on the governmental response to ISIS, and New Zealand’s election to the UN Security Council More>>

ALSO:

Labour: Review Team Named, Leadership Campaign Starts

Labour’s New Zealand Council has appointed Bryan Gould as Convenor of its post-General Election Review. He will be joined on the Review Team by Hon Margaret Wilson, Stacey Morrison and Brian Corban.

ALSO:


Roy Morgan Poll: National Slips, Labour Hits Lows

The first New Zealand Roy Morgan Poll since the NZ Election shows National 43.5% (down 3.54% since the September 20 Election). This isn’t unusual, National support has dropped after each of John Key’s Election victories... However, support for the main opposition Labour Party has crashed to 22.5% (down 2.63% and the lowest support for Labour since the 1914 NZ Election as United Labour). More>>

ALSO:

In On First Round: New Zealand Wins Security Council Seat

Prime Minister John Key has welcomed New Zealand securing a place on the United Nations Security Council for the 2015-16 term. More>>

ALSO:

TPP Leak: Intellectual Property Text Confirms Risk - Jane Kelsey

The US is continuing its assault on generic medicines through numerous proposed changes to patent laws. ‘These are bound to impact on Pharmac if they are accepted’, according to Professor Kelsey... Copyright is another area of ongoing sensitivity... More>>

ALSO:

RMA: Smith Plans Reform To Ease Urban Development

Newly appointed Environment Minister Nick Smith has announced Resource Management Act reform to foster urban development, where high land prices and expensive resource consents are blocking efforts to provide affordable housing. More>>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On New Zealand getting involved (again) in other people's wars

Apparently, the Key government is still pondering how New Zealand will contribute to the fight against Islamic State. Long may it ponder, given the lack of consensus among our allies as to how to fight IS, where to fight it (Syria, Iraq, or both?) and with whose ground troops, pray tell? More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On child poverty, and David Shearer’s latest outburst

The politicisation of (a) the public service and (b) the operations of the Official Information Act have been highlighted by the policy advice package on child poverty that RNZ’s resolute political editor Brent Edwards has finally prised out of the Ministry of Social Development. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On the government’s review of security laws

So the Key government is about to launch a four week review of the ability of our existing legislation to deal with “suspected and returning foreign terrorist fighters, and other violent extremists.”

According to its terms of reference, the review will consider whether the SIS, GCSB and Police are sufficiently able right now to (a) investigate and monitor suspected and returning foreign terrorist fighters… More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 

LATEST HEADLINES

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Politics
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news