Wednesday, 18 January 2017

How does child poverty affect access to education and success in achievement for New Zealand children?

This was my final assignment for my Masters of Education paper, Global Citizenship and International Development Education.

This paper is focused on how child poverty affects access to education and success in achievement for New Zealand children.

Considering the current debates and concerns regarding child poverty in New Zealand, this is a very relevant question.  I was surprised at what I learned in relation to how economic theory has been used to increase our unemployment rate in order to reduce inflation, and reminded again about the even more callous way beneficiaries have been treated for the last 25 years.



“As many as 28 per cent of New Zealand children – about 305,000 – currently live in poverty. 

“When a child grows up in poverty they miss out on things most New Zealanders take for granted. They are living in cold, damp, over-crowded houses, they do not have warm or rain-proof clothing, their shoes are worn, and many days they go hungry. It can mean doing badly at school, not getting a good job, having poor health and falling into a life of crime.” (Unicef, 2016)

New Zealand was once a country with full employment and poverty was something that happened in other countries.  The reality of 2016 is that poverty is a prevalent issue in our communities across New Zealand that affects many children. 

Success at school is a strong asset for a young person to engage in further study, employment and to participate in society.  However, New Zealand has a long tail of underachievement.

This paper will discuss the how policy has led to child poverty in New Zealand, how this affects access to education and achievement success for New Zealand children, and a possible way forward.


Key Words

Poverty, neoliberalism, privatisation, achievement, The New Right,


A Land of Plenty

“Every person whatever his able ability, whether be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right as a citizen to a free education, of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his power... That idea was deep in the public consciousness, deep in the public aspirations, and deeper still after the war. When again, like after the Depression, the country felt a sense of guilt for what they'd done for the young. And nobody! nobody! nobody would challenge that.” – Clarence E. Beeby, Director of Education 1940 – 1960 (NZIFF: The heART of the Matter, 2016).

For nearly 50 years, 1938-1985, successive governments practiced a policy of full employment through the public service and work schemes.  The belief was everyone who was able to, had the right to work and would have a job.  The price paid was the government had central economic control (Someone Else’s Country, 2002).

As the famous Beeby quote alludes, the country was deeply wounded by the Depression and the effects of World War II, especially for to the children growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.  Those who served in the armed forces overseas, came back to New Zealand and expected to have a job that paid a fair wage so they could support a wife and family.

The government set up a free public health system in 1938.  They built state housing and provided opportunities for people to own their own homes.  The government had heavily invested in infrastructure for a modern post war New Zealand.  For example, ensuring a strong network supplying electricity to the whole country.  Roads were sealed and the railways reached every city, major town, industry and port.  New Zealand was considered a wealthy country with a high standard of living that recognised what was needed for a modern society (In A Land of Plenty, 2002).

Official opening of the first state house in Hastings, 6 March 1938.  Source: Digital NZ
There was also the welfare state, established late in the Depression years, to support the unemployed until they were able to go back to work.  Mothers were also directly paid a universal family benefit for the support of each child (Baker, 2011).

The First Labour government had begun a programme in the late 1930s to reinvent the education system guaranteeing universal free primary and secondary education.  “It was assumed that where ever people lived, they would have access to a school offering the same range of opportunities as any other school.”  (Gordon, 1997, p.66).

Education policy was developed using best practice, the latest pedagogy and research.  Teachers were supported with a network of advisors across the syllabus from within the Department of Education.  The health and wellbeing of students was supported by providing each child with free milk each school day from 1937 until 1967 (End of free school milk, 2016). 

Minimal educational success was measured by achieving School Certificate at the end of fifth form.  If capable students would achieve University Entrance (UE) at the end of sixth form and go to university, or stay another year to do the Bursary exams at the end of seventh form – although this was not commonplace until the towards the end of the 1980s and early 1990s.  To be the first in your family to achieve a qualification at university was to be celebrated.

All of these actions were designed to ensure families were able to achieve their potential and would be able to contribute fully in society.

Prime Minister Robert Muldoon anouncing the 1984
snap election to waiting journalists.
By 1980, New Zealand had slipped from being the sixth wealthiest country per capita in 1965 to 19th place.  The oil shocks of the 1970s and Britain turning towards the European Community for trade rather than the Commonwealth deeply affected the New Zealand economy.  Prompted by rising inflation and unemployment impacting heavily on the economy, then Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, announced a wage and price freeze in June 1982 to attempt to control and reduce inflation and unemployment (Te Ara, 2012).

In 1984, a snap election called by Muldoon set in motion the biggest economic and social upheaval in New Zealand’s history since the welfare state was instituted by the First Labour government in the 1930s – and it was a Labour government doing it again.

Economic Reform

Prior to the fourth Labour government being elected in 1984, many people were unhappy with the controlled nature of the New Zealand economy and were looking elsewhere for answers.  Ganesh Nana (2013, p.55), a New Zealand economist, quotes John Maynard Keynes: “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.  Indeed the world is valued by little else.  Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”

The New Zealand economy was in dire straits in 1984 with record unemployment and soaring double figured inflation resulting in interest rates well above 20%.  Reasons for this can be explained using elements of Keynesian economic theory, which was the dominant theory post-Depression.  The ethos behind it is a theory of total spending in the economy called aggregate demand, and its effects on output and inflation.  Blinder (2008) explains one of its key tenets was full employment.  Another feature was spending on big projects (the Think Big projects) and controlling wages and prices (Muldoon’s wage and price freeze). 

US President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990).
People began to look overseas for another option to improve the economy.  They looked to how Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Ronald Reagan in the USA who were dealing with similar issues in their economies.  Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were heavily influenced by the writings and direct advice from economists following the Chicago School of economics, in particular, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. 

Friedman’s ideas on monetary policy, taxation, privatisation and deregulation under the virtues of the free market are clearly seen in the policy settings of Thatcher and Reagan (Wikipedia, Friedman).  Hayek argued that socialism could not be compromised with, that all forms of collectivism could only be maintained by a central authority of some kind and that maintaining the rule of law should be the only concern of the state.  Morrell (1989) wrote, as quoted in Ball (2003, p.38), “Hayek is particularly concerned to argue against the involvement of the Government in the life of the citizen.”  This meant that the state had no business in services such as health, education, or the provision of electricity, water and waste for example.  According to Hayek, these should be in the realm of private businesses, not government (Wikipedia, Hayek).

Margaret Thatcher was part of a movement called The New Right.  Their thinking encompassed the musings of Friedman and Hayek in having their roots in the laissez-faire viewpoint, such as leaving things to take their own course without interfering.  Again, this means the government should stay out of the free markets.  The New Right was all about the individual over the common good.  This led into neoliberalism - where we sit today - a modern politico-economic theory, with its roots in classical liberalism from the 1800s, favouring free trade, privatisation, minimal or reduced government expenditure on social services and minimal government intervention with business. 

This was the end of the We Society and the launch of the Me Society – the individual ahead of the collective.

The ideas of The New Right influenced New Zealand who had the ear of key Labour MPs leading up to the 1984 election (Revolution – Part 1, 1996), including Treasury Official Doug Andrew, who was attached to the Leader of the Opposition’s office in mid-1983 (McKinnon, 2013).

Prime Minister David Lange with Ministers from the fourth Labour government, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas.
Economic policies of The New Right, pushed by sectors of the Treasury department, were put into practice by the new Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas following the 1984 election.  Government departments and services became State Owned Enterprises (SOE) and restructured, often with the goal of privatising and selling off to the private sector.  This resulted in large scale redundancies and loss of jobs for thousands of New Zealanders as former government services were rationalised. 

Finance Minister Ruth Richardson
When Labour was voted out in 1990, the new Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson continued the programme of privatisation and SOE sell offs.  Those in Treasury wanted The New Right doctrine taken further and New Zealand’s renowned welfare system to be dismantled.  In 1991, Richardson announced the Mother of all Budgets which slashed benefits across the board in order to encourage beneficiaries to compete for jobs, and brought sanctions for benefit eligibility (Someone Else’s Country, 2002).

On top of the highest employment statistics since the Great Depression, continued redundancies and job losses occurred from SOE restructuring and private companies responding to the times.  Depressed wage increases and instability of work due to the Employment Contracts Act and the loss of power by the trade unions, plus the cuts to benefits impacted local communities extremely hard.  Over $400,000 was no longer flowing through the community of Porirua alone - the result was less money spent in local businesses leading to further job losses and business closures (Someone Else’s Country, 2002).

How Education Policy Reform Contributed to the Entrenchment of Child Poverty

The government departments which were sold off were not the only areas to face reform.  In the second term of the Fourth Labour government, the government turned to departments with a more social function.  To pre-empt the agendas of others, Russell Marshall, the Education Minister from 1984-1987, initiated his own review of education before either Treasury or certain members of caucus could moot it. 

Prime Minister David Lange was very concerned at the possibility of an education review being taken over by people who may steer education away from its role of the public good.  “Lange sent Annette Dixon to talk to John Wilcox, Marshall’s executive assistant to make it clear that he did not want people appointed who would ‘take a blow torch to education’.”  (Butterworth & Butterworth, 1998, p.66).  The man recommended by Wilcox to lead the taskforce was Brian Picot.  Following the election, Lange made himself the Minister of Education as he “…was concerned about an imminent Treasury attack on social expenditure, and that he wanted to send a strong signal to the electorate of his continuing commitment to social policy.”  (Butterworth & Butterworth, 1998, p.68).  The Picot Report was presented in April 1988, with the plan for Tomorrow’s Schools presented in August 1988.

When Tomorrow’s Schools was implemented in 1989, as a result of the Picot Report, the Board of Education and its regional entities, who ran the schools, were replaced by a small policy focused Ministry of Education (MOE).  Primary and secondary schools became self-managing entities with parents and community members elected to a Board of Trustees (BOT) for each school.  This meant each school was now reliant on the capabilities of their community members who were elected to their BOT to make decisions on policy, financial and governance matters necessary to run a school.  This worked well in communities with business people and professionals, but in some communities there were a lack of people with the skills necessary to make up effective BOTs (Gordon, 1997, Gordon, 2010). 

In 1991, the National government abolished school zones, under the auspices of public choice theory.  Public Choice Theory is a derivative of The New Right ideology, and allows each individual to make a rational choice as the individual is the best judge for their own interests, needs and life goals (Olssen & Matthews, 1997).  This allowed parents the right to choose the schools their children would attend (Gordon, 1997).   

The decile funding system was put in place in 1995 in an effort to fund schools equitably.  The range decided was 1-10, with one being the lowest, due to the highest degree of socio-economic disadvantage, and receiving significantly more funding per child than a decile ten school.  The decile ranking of a school factors in household income, parental educational qualifications and occupations, household crowding, income support payments and ethnicity of a small geographic area, or ‘mesh-block’, in the school community (Harrison, 2004).  There was a variety of reasons behind this initiative, such as a decile ten family having more opportunity to access educational learning in alternative ways compared to the opportunities afforded by a decile one family.  It was also considered that the decile ten schools had more ability to maximise effective fundraising measures from their community in comparison to a decile one school.

The impacts of this system included what is commonly called white flight – parents moving their children from low socio-economic schools as they believe the decile level could be a stigma and may mean the education provided at a low decile school wasn’t adequate (Gordon, 1997).  This changed the nature of communities as parents who could afford to would purchase or rent homes in communities with schools with higher decile ratings, ghettoising many areas as low socio-economic communities.

Education reforms in the 1990s entrenched many families with limited resources into the cycle of poverty generation after generation.

Neoliberal Policies and the Impacts of Benefit Cuts, Mass Redundancies and Changes to Employment Law

The Fourth Labour Government

When the Fourth Labour government came in, they gave the job of trying to reduce inflation to the Reserve Bank.  The theory was that once inflation went down, the other pieces would fall into place.

The reality was interest rates rose even higher.  This meant people had to pay even more for mortgages and they had less disposable income.  Consequently, people did not spend as much money in the shops, which meant low stock turnover.  With the products staying on the shelves, factories did not need to produce as much, so then did not require a full workforce and so began the redundancy process of factory and retail staff.  These people often became beneficiaries.

This graph below shows unemployment rates (blue line) increasing from 1986 from approximately 4% to 8% in 1990.  The dotted line represents actual numbers of unemployed people (Trading Economics, 2016).

On top of the redundancies from restructured government departments into SOEs, the rate of unemployment soared throughout New Zealand, particularly between 1988 and 1990.

Effectively, the Reserve Bank was using unemployment to deflate the inflation rate.  To lower inflation, the unemployment rate had to rise.  If the country had full employment, then businesses had to pay more for employees.  By forcing inflation down, unemployment rises and employers do not have to pay as much for workers (In a Land of Plenty, 2002).

As part of the free market economy, tariffs were removed from imported goods.  The tariffs were put in place to protect New Zealand manufacturers and jobs.  Without the tariffs, the New Zealand manufacturers could not compete with the cheaper goods being imported.  More redundancies happened as businesses shrunk or closed down completely, adding more people to the unemployment lines.

The numbers of unemployed rose forcing people onto benefits.  With less money to spend, standards of living began to drop, and this had impacts on local economies all around the country.

By late 1988, the Reserve Bank and Treasury were pushing for a deregulated labour market and the abolishment of the minimum wage.  This was a final straw for David Lange who resigned as Prime Minister in August 1989.  Labour was in turmoil with two new Prime Ministers leading the party before the 1990 election.  But these radical ideas to deregulate employment laws found a home with the new National government, who passed the Employment Contracts Act in 1991, leading to a huge loss of union membership, wages decreasing and employment becoming unstable.


The National Government of the 1990s

In 1972, the Royal Commission on Social Security had reinforced the role of welfare as “to ensure, within limitations which may be imposed by physical or other disabilities, that everyone is able to enjoy a standard of living much like that of the rest of the community, and thus is able to feel a sense of participation in and belonging to the community” (Kelsey, 1995, p.271).  The new National government of 1990 decimated this social contract in 1991.

Treasury’s Social Policy Branch decided they needed to determine what American economists called a minimum income standard – a poverty line.  They contracted some home economy researchers in Dunedin, who investigated four dietary budgets on which to feed a man, woman and several children of various ages for a week.  They came up with four budgets: liberal, moderate, basic and low.  At the low end, the researchers determined it would take careful shopping and considerable time and cooking skill to ensure a healthy diet, but that it was not healthy or sustainable long term.

Treasury took the lowest plan, without telling researchers, and reduced it by 20%.  They called this the New Zealand Income Adequacy Standard and used it as the recommendation for the new beneficiary payment levels.  The unemployment benefit was cut by one quarter.  Jenny Shipley, the Minister of Social Welfare, claimed it was required to “create a gap between work and welfare” (In a Land of Plenty, 2002).  The family benefit was also stopped and merged into a means-tested family support tax credit (Baker, 2011).

The impact of this move was devastating across the country and plunged families below the poverty line.  If Porirua alone had $400,000 a week slashed from its local economy, other communities around the country also faced similar circumstances, including the flow on of businesses closing and further job losses. 

The changes to the employment laws, continued restructuring and redundancies, plus the impacts of less money in the local economies caused unemployment to rise to over 11%, as can be seen in the graph below (Trading Economics, 2016).  This was key to poverty gaining a foothold in many communities who had lost significant and large, long term employers forever.

Flessa (2001) argues the results of schooling are determined in large part by preconditions over which schools have no control, such as the employment status of a parent.  However, schools can make a huge difference by implementing strong teaching and learning programmes.  Above that, policymakers have a huge part to play in ensuring positive outcomes. 

According to Cremin and Nakabugo, education goes hand in hand with strengthening social and community bonds and developing the individual person – without these three legs, the stool of sustainable economic development will wobble about and crash those who try to ‘sit’on it.  When large, long term employers closed down in the rural towns and communities, the legs of their stool collapsed.

The Fifth Labour Government

When the Fifth Labour government came into power in late 1999, they did not raise the rate of the benefits above the poverty line.  However, the Labour led government did make a commitment in June 2002 to eliminate child poverty, a pledge not dissimilar to one made by then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and other international leaders (Perry, 2004).

In the 2004 Budget, the Labour led government announced the Working For Families (WFF) package, to commence the following 1 April, 2005.  It had three basic goals: to make work pay; to ensure income adequacy; and to support people into work (Perry, 2004).  This policy was aimed at families of people in work at the low to mid income stream.  Beneficiary families were excluded.  It supplemented peoples’ income and was a tool designed to help get people off the benefit and into work, believing they would be better off financially.  Jacinda Ardern claimed on Checkpoint on 12 October 2016 that WFF reduced child poverty in working families by an estimated 30%.  Labour never got to finish the work towards reducing poverty in beneficiary families before they were replaced by a National Government in late 2008 (Checkpoint, 2016).

In 2012, Jonathon Boston led a wide ranging inquiry into the causes, consequences and possible remedies to child poverty.  Boston and Chapple (2014, p.4) define child poverty as “those children who have insufficient income or material resources to enable them to thrive.  Consequently they are unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their potential and participate as equal members of society, now and in the future”.  New Zealand as become a mediocre performer compared to other rich countries in terms of child income poverty and child hardship.  Boston and Chapple argue child poverty needs to be addressed because it is unfair to exclude poor children from full societal participation and to do nothing will cost society more.

While WFF enabled more children access to their rights as a citizen, this was still to be achieved for the children in the families on a benefit below the poverty line.

The graph below shows WFF may have had an impact on unemployment figures, as from 2005 to 2008 the unemployment figures were close to full employment levels (Trading Economics, 2016).  Consequently it did relieve some of the aspects of poverty some families had previously experienced.

The Current National Government

When the current National led government came to power at the end of 2008, they did keep WFF, despite calling it communism by stealth at its introduction.  However, they did make a number of changes early on to the entitlements of beneficiaries, such as taking away the Training Incentive Allowance in 2009 (Haines, 2009).  This action resulted in people unable to finish or gain qualifications to enable them to secure stable, gainful employment which would have taken them off the benefit, further trapping families into poverty on the benefit. 

In 2013, National abolished the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), Unemployment and Sickness benefits and gave them all new names and eligibility criteria (Changes to benefit categories from 15 July 2013, 2013).  If a beneficiary did not meet a criterion, such as sending their pre-schooler to fifteen hours of early childhood education or failing a drug test, then their benefit was cut until compliance was met.  (See video below for the exchange, particulary from 2 minutes 25 seconds in).

A telling quip demonstrating National’s attitude to poverty was expressed in Parliament in August 2012 by Paula Bennett, the Minister of Social Development: “One week they can be in poverty, then their parent can get a job or increase their income and they are no longer in poverty… This is the real world, and actually children move in and out of poverty at times on a weekly basis.” (Trevett & Shuttleworth, 2012).

In the 2015 Budget, Finance Minister Bill English, announced benefits for families would increase by $25 a week from 1 April 2016 (Kirk, 2015).  While this has helped, it is claimed that accommodation supplements were reduced to counter the extra $25 (Logie, 2016).

The graph below demonstrates the unemployment rate increasing when the current government came to power and the Global Financial Collapse was in progress.  However, under the current Rockstar Economy, the unemployment rate has not gotten back to the lows the Clark government enjoyed (Trading Economics 2016). 

Jonathan Boston (2014) argues that the scale of the issue of child poverty had to be understood before solving it.  He repeated the findings of a taskforce he led in 2012 which said there should be a standard measure for child poverty in New Zealand and this measure and reporting of it should be embedded in legislation.  The taskforce also recommended boosting incomes of poor families, improving housing, access to health and other social services and a Child Payment, reminiscent of the Family Benefit introduced by the First Labour government.

However, Prime Minister John Key’s refusal to set a definitive measure of child poverty (Moir, 2016) demonstrates the entrenchment of child poverty and its consequences in New Zealand society.  Even when challenged by the new Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, to set a definitive measure of child poverty along with a target of reduction (The Nation, 2016) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) calling for more action on child poverty (John Key hits back at UN report on child poverty in NZ, 2016), John Key remains defiant that his government is failing the children of New Zealand below the poverty line.

Criticism of Government Policy and Inaction on Child Poverty and its Consequences

Prior to the 2011 election, Bryan Bruce’s documentary Inside New Zealand: Child Poverty was made and screened on TV3.  Bruce visited schools, parents and health professionals to learn how child poverty manifests.  He uncovered the number of school children who needed a charity to feed them at school.  He visited homes with mould growing on the walls or water running down them, impossible to heat.  Families often slept all in one room together due to cold, damp homes.

Sose Annandale, the principal of Russell School in Porirua, said she could not expect children to achieve in Literacy and Numeracy if they had not been fed at school (Inside New Zealand, 2011).  This view backs up the stand of the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) in (2012) that children were missing out on educational opportunities or even missing school due to their level of poverty. 

The public health nurse said she calls once a week at Russell School and was so busy treating health conditions she did not get time for preventative action (Inside New Zealand, 2011).  Chronic and acute skin conditions, respiratory and throat infections were rife, along with rheumatic fever in low income families.  Rheumatic fever a direct consequence of poor housing and overcrowding.  Poor housing affects children’s ability to learn at school and study at home through many mechanisms – through recurrent or chronic illness, stress, and overcrowded conditions making study and concentration difficult. As a result they may have lower educational attainment, and greater likelihood of unemployment later in life, and poverty.”  (Child Poverty Action Group, 2015, p.5).

Pirrie and Hockings (2012) discuss the importance of strong leadership and vision within a school to combat the effects of child poverty and engaging parents to be active in their children’s learning journeys.  Leaders like Annandale have to make decisive and bold moves to ensure students in their school have the best opportunity to succeed despite poverty.  By including parents and community members in the food in schools, she has engaged parents in ensuring the children are ready to learn.

Popular discourse is that the government has abandoned its social contract to help those most in need and are leaving it up to the non-government organisations (NGOs) to meet the shortfall in schools and the wider community.  Such NGOs include church and community foodbanks and those who provide meals to the homeless; budgeting services’ women’s refuge; programmes like KidsCan, Milk in Schools, the breakfast programmes and Eat My Lunch for food in schools or basics such as shoes and a raincoat; and the Salvation Army for emergency shelter and a variety of other services.

Bryan Bruce from his documentary Mind the Gap
In 2014, in the documentary Mind the Gap, Bruce investigated how New Zealand had gone from a land of plenty to the country with shocking statistics in child poverty.  He laid it at the door of the economic policy of The New Right and neoliberalist governments from 1984 to the present day and said we now live in the Me Society.  Bruce quoted Australian economist Prof John Quiggin in labelling the neoliberal trickle down economic theory as Zombie Economics and agreed it had not benefited those in the middle and lower economic levels in this country.

Continued economic deprivation of New Zealand’s most vulnerable has caused, what John Key termed leading up to the 2008 election campaign, a growing underclass (Key, 2008).  Nana (2013, pp.60-61) summarised how policy since the 1990s has impacted on families when he wrote “…when people are deprived of the opportunity to achieve their full potential, we are ensuring that these members of society are not fully utilised”.

In 2015, the New Zealand Herald did a series on education, specifically looking into the effects of poverty on children’s education.  In Johnston’s article, Prof John O’Neill pointed out a student’s home background is a huge factor in student achievement.  A poor income often results in a lack of books in the home, along with transience, truancy and family dysfunction leading to the cause of 80% of under achievement.  Education Minister Hekia Parata countered that socio-economic factors account for only 18% and cites research about teacher quality, expectations, school leadership and relationships having a higher impact.  She calls it deficit thinking, and this was echoed by former Secretary of Education, Lesley Longstone (Clark, 2013), who stated in a radio interview she did not consider poverty to be the reason for underachievement. 

But to say poverty in not an excuse is merely an excuse for ignoring poverty.  Snook and O’Neill (2012) say it would be neglectful not to acknowledge the impact of child poverty on students and their learning.  They also wrote that schools could not counter the effects of poverty on their own, focusing on improvements in one part of poverty will not negate poverty in general to allow students to achieve to their potential.  Clark (2013) also argues that child poverty is a leading factor that can not be ignored and must be dealt with to help children achieve their potential.

Constructive Solutions to New Zealand’s Child Poverty Issues

Machin and McNally (2006) stated policies designed to alleviate child poverty need to be better integrated with education policies if child poverty is to be eliminated.  Repeated governments have failed to place children at the centre of policy design and implementation, leading to an entrenchment of poverty in New Zealand society inhibiting children from reaching their full potential.

The Child Poverty Action Group produced a series of videos in 2014 to discuss solutions to child poverty.  In one of these videos, Dr Nicky Turner, an Auckland University GP, advocated for a range of integrated policies to improve outcomes for children currently in poverty.  These policies included universal health and dental care access for children as well as prescription glasses, warm healthy homes and an adequate income.  She claims once we have this right we can look to education as a means to reduce poverty.

The Child Poverty Action Group’s 2012 submission to the Inquiry into the determinants of wellbeing for Māori children, headed by Dr Mike O’Brien, argued for reducing child poverty through income assistance, employment, improved housing and better access to health and education, as does The Child Poverty Action Group’s July 2014 publication called Our children, our choice: Priorities for policy.

Communities and schools have been finding their own solutions.  Some schools have developed gardens to support their own food in schools programme, such as Rhode Street School in Hamilton.  Some have established a community garden to supply fresh vegetables to their school families and the community, such as Unity Gardens at Epuni School.  Community gardens have been established by members of communities up and down the country to supplement fresh vegetables for those who struggle.

Haig (2014) made a case for schools to be the community hub, the provider of a range of services that would benefit the community the school serves, such has access to health and social agencies, adult education, parenting programmes or whatever was deemed necessary for the benefit of the community.  Victory School in Nelson is held up as an example of a school developing its own community hub based on the needs identified by their community.  The Green Party had a similar policy to the one Haig proposes in their 2014 Election Manifesto and held Victory School up as an example of what is possible (New Zealand Green Party, 2014).

Every Child Counts was a conference in Wellington in 2012.  Dr Airini spoke about the $4-5 billion still to be tapped into the New Zealand economy if Pasifika incomes were to match non-Pasifika incomes.  She had four key elements to her plan to enable this to happen:  plan for impact; an Every Child Counts Research and Development network; make progress in Auckland; and zoom in and scale up what works.

The New Zealand Principal’s Federation focused on how to fix the tail of under achievement from a school’s perspective.  It simply is to properly fund existing successful programmes such as Reading Recovery, First Chance, Ka Hikitia and Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) and ensure access to more students.  This would require extra resourcing for a lot of schools, as many of these programmes are currently outside of their current funding parameters.

But initiatives from schools, the community and businesses will not solve New Zealand’s child poverty problem if the government will not recognise their role in forming and implementing policies to provide income adequacy, provision of universal health care and a truly free compulsory education system.

Final Thoughts

New Zealand has the potential to solve its issues with child poverty and consequently improve the outcomes for students and their ability to achieve.  The drivers of poverty are clear: a lack of income, a lack of stability in employment, a low wage economy.  Combine these, and there is a cycle which entraps people.

The symptoms of poverty are clear: acute and chronic health conditions, poor quality housing, low attainment of education success, a greater potential to be either a victim or a perpetrator of crime (or both), increased risk of mental health issues, increased chance of abuse.

The solutions to poverty are clear: put children at the centre of all policy developments and implementation plans; stop using the unemployment rate as a mechanism to control inflation and keep wages low; increase all benefits to a level which enables a healthy diet to be maintained; increase the minimum wage to the level of the living wage; ensure free universal access to health, dental care and education; and improve the housing stock of New Zealand by demanding a minimum standard for state and private rentals.

Until New Zealand implements a full suite of policies to target the root causes and symptoms of child poverty, outcomes in student achievement will not be improved or maximised.  When a child starts from a deficit due to the impacts of poverty, schools spend most of their time, effort and money into plugging the gaps left gaping by the deficit.  To ignore that deficit is to ignore the needs and wellbeing of the child.

But the biggest deficit is in the government’s social contract with the nation.  Until it attends to that deficit by implementing the previously mentioned solutions for child poverty, New Zealand will continue to have students from the most deprived families who will struggle to succeed as learners or productive and active members of society.




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1 comment:

  1. A pretty thorough summary of how we ended up here. Certainly employment in meaningful jobs is the critical underlying factor.
    Hekia Parata's famous '18%' effect on accademic outcomes was actually a misquote (and she knew it) from a document (PISA?) that was referring to to in school factors. That doc later included and overall effect size more in line with the 70-80% figure identified by other research.
    It makes me sick to think that unemployment is being used to control inflation.