My Truth column May 23. It's not on-line yet but I thought I'd put it up anyway. Despite being over a week old it seems somewhat topical:
We're told 270,000 children are living in poverty. That's the number
of children living in homes below 60 percent of the median household
income after housing costs. Some argue that income isn't as
indicative as spending. Amongst that 270,000 are children not
experiencing hardship because their parents prioritise and budget.
In any event, using the 60 percent measure, child poverty actually
declined from 2001, and plateaued after the Christchurch earthquakes
and global financial crisis. So why do we constantly hear about
Benefits are adjusted annually for inflation to keep up with living
costs. Rents are a big consumer of income but the aforementioned
improving data is after housing costs. Also, New Zealand's
had it tougher before. The early 1990s recession was deeper than the
GFC, yet there was no clamour about hungry children then.
There's one consumable with a price that has risen significantly,
and is set to rise further. Low-income people, especially Maori
women, use a lot of it. Tobacco. Ironically the tobacco tax hikes
have been driven by the Maori and Mana Parties, whose leaders are
determined to price cigarettes (scheduled to rise to $20 a packet by
2016) out of the reach of Maori and Pacific people. The reality is,
though, most don't kick the habit. Add to tobacco the
drought-induced escalating cost of cannabis, also used more by Maori
than other ethnicities, and it's entirely reasonable to speculate
about the contribution this makes to foregone grocery items.
I'm not denying that children are suffering, often from experiences
worse than hunger. But there's too little honesty about why. The
hypocrisy of high-earning leaders who deliberately ratchet up costs
for their already skint constituents, and then carp about the
consequences for the kids, is breathtaking. And to rub salt into the
wound, on April 1 this year, the tobacco hike was omitted from the
inflation adjustment to benefits. Not a very funny prank.
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