The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Vivien Maidaborn
On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Vivien Maidaborn
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Unicef NZ executive director Vivien Maidaborn says the Government has made positive moves in terms of addressing child poverty, but those now need to be connected to housing policy, employment policy, economic development, in order to achieve what’s needed.
Ms Maidaborn says the Government is making an effort: “The difference isn't measurable, so I agree with them there are some great activities, but right now the outcomes don't stack up. And particularly they don't stack up for children with disabilities or for our Maori and Pasifika children.”
Owen: Welcome back. The United Nations has given the
government a serve over its policies on children. Yesterday,
the UN Committee on the Rights of a Child released a report
raising concerns about outsourcing care and protection
services, resourcing for the new Vulnerable Children's
Ministry and benefit sanctions. I'm joined now by UNICEF's
Vivien Maidaborn from our Wellington studio. Good morning
and thanks for joining us.
Vivien Maidaborn: Good morning.
This was a pretty poor report card by anyone's standards. I'm wondering just how you would sum it up.
I think it's a reminder to the government that they can't sign up to a convention and then kind of ignore it; in this case, over about 20 years, without the UN Committee for Children really getting upset about that.
Was it a depressing read for you?
No. Actually, it was great because civil society, the Office for the Children's Commissioner — we've been working really hard to get the government to listen to some of these messages, and now there's a body that the government have invited to give them feedback, saying very similar messages, and in some cases, even stronger.
But there's no evidence that the government is listening to what they've had to say in this report.
I think that's our challenge right now, isn't it, that as recently as last week, the Prime Minister made a comment about how hard it is to measure child poverty. Perhaps even as hard as measuring rodents. And I know he's probably not happy now he made that statement, but I think it tells us something about where the government at the moment are at. At the end of the last election, this was their number one issue. I do think that they believe their investment in benefits, which was remarkable and should be acknowledged, is all they have to do. That's what I observed in Geneva. They're just more interested in activity than outcomes at this stage.
Well, the thing is, we put some questions to Minister Anne Tolley, and she came back to us and said, 'Well, we spending $790 million on a child hardship package. We have raised benefit levels. We've got free health visits for kids under the age of 13.' They're doing their bit, aren't they?
There is definitely a lot of activity. What this convention requires of the government is that it's a comprehensive action plan for all children and it is child-rights based. So specific initiatives for children will only ever go so far. It needs to be connected to housing policy, employment policy, economic development. All of these things need to be connected to outcomes for children.
But if you unpack some of the committee's concerns, and I've got a bit of a list here, they raised insufficient resources for front line children's team and care placements. It raises concerns about whether the Vulnerable Children's Ministry will have enough human and financial resource, and it says, and I'm quoting it here, 'We need to increase substantially the allocations necessary to directly and comprehensively tackle child poverty.' It's all about throwing more money at the problem, but we've got finite resources, so who would you take those resources off to put into these things?
Well, let's deal with two issues there. The first is the Ministry of Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki. And with that one, I would say the government is in action, and I do believe that Minister Anne Tolley feels very strongly that the government have to do a better job for the children they have in their care. So I think some of the recommendations of the committee will be followed through by the government in regards to that ministry. Of course, the whole risk with the ministry is that Anne Tolley has to negotiate budget off other government departments, and that's what we have yet to see how that will happen. So I guess the committee's comment is just a reminder that they've got to stay focused on that.
Well, you mention the fact the Prime Minister this week basically said it's too hard to come up with a single measure for poverty. This report says that we need to do that. So how do we get past an impasse like that?
You know, I don't really understand why Minister Tolley or the Prime Minister are getting fixed on one measure. I don't think any of us are asking for that. It's very appropriate to have a dashboard of measures, and, indeed, the New Zealand household income survey makes that very possible. There are good reasons to have more than one measure. And I think there is a real willingness between civil society and government to work on that. So there's a different reason why they're saying it's so difficult.
And what's that reason?
And I wonder if that's because they feel like they've done what they want to do in this term, and they're wanting to now celebrate what they've achieved so far.
And how would you rate what they've achieved so far?
The difference isn't measurable, so I agree with them there are some great activities, but right now the outcomes don't stack up. And particularly they don't stack up for children with disabilities or for our Maori and Pasifika children. And the report is very strong in this area.
Yeah. The report is very strong in saying that more needs to be done to even the stakes out for Maori and Pasifika children, and you'll be aware of the debate around race-based policies and so-called privileges for certain races, this report actually says that we might need to take affirmative action to even the scales. Now, how do you think that that would realistically translate?
Of course I think there is race-based privilege in New Zealand. It's very clear that a European child in New Zealand will have better life outcomes than Maori, including life expectancy as an adult, so I think that we just have to accept there is race-based privilege but it certainly isn't on the side of Maori and Pasifika young people. With that in mind, we need to focus on outcomes, and that's what equity is about. Sometimes if you think about the children in one family, you do a different thing for one child so they do well at school or at the sports club or whatever their interests are, compared to others. And right now in our country, we keep going over and over the debate of whether we ought to treat different groups differently, and it just seems to me, if we just focus on outcomes, that becomes a much easier decision.
So how seriously do you think the government is going to take this report, and do you actually think anything will change as a result of it?
Yes, I think it will because the government have committed to a group of senior officials being responsible for the implementation of the recommendations of the report. Now, the government haven't said which recommendations yet, but they'll get to that. And then there's also a monitoring group which includes people like UNICEF and Save The Children and the Office for Children's Commission, and we'll be working hard to ensure we get a comprehensive plan for all New Zealand children, and all rights.
Thank you so much for joining me this morning. Vivien Maidaborn from UNICEF. I appreciate your time.