Child Poverty in NZ & the Electoral Impact

This may seem like a drastic departure from the election-heavy posts that have been featured on the site recently, but child poverty is a very important issue to me so therefore I felt that the issue deserved a mention.

Some of you may have seen Bryan Bruce’s excellent ‘Inside Child Poverty‘ report on Inside NZ last night. For those of you that haven’t I’ll give you a quick run-down.

Bruce spent the past six months investigating why child health is so bad in NZ and what we can do about it. After interviewing teachers, parents and local doctors, Bruce discovered what the free market economy has done to the health of children living in lower income families. Skin infections and respiratory illnesses are rife and last year there were about 150 babies whose deaths may have been preventable if they had been born somewhere like Sweden .

Bruce travelled to Sweden and discovered that their system of looking after children far surpassed our own. Bruce commented that they know that for every dollar they spend on prevention they save about $4 on cure.

“They have a completely free health care system for children up to the age of 18”.

“Every school has a full-time nurse and a doctor visits twice a week so they catch and treat symptoms early and save on huge hospital bills… They also feed every child a healthy lunch everyday free of charge.”

David Farrar might whine that the documentary is a ‘taxpayer funded free hour for Labour during election week’, and make no mistake both Labour and the Greens have used the doco as a policy platform, but what is more telling is National’s silence on the issue.  As the Government they hold at least some responsibility for the child poverty that has been highlighted by Bryan Bruce, as Labour would have during their time in office.

This silence is what makes this documentary all the more powerful, and a few days out from the election this sort of ball dropping is inexcusable. The Nat’s knew about the content of the piece far in advance of its screening (and were given a chance to preview the report but declined), so it is not as if this should have come as a surprise.

A campaign with their eye on the prize would have formulated a response because in politics silence implies guilt. Silence allows your opposition to frame the oppositions brand and campaign in a way which suits them (a la how Key did to Labour in 2008). Not taking a position on an issue or refusing to comment is often far worse than the alternative, even if your stance is an unpopular one. This is because voters expect their leaders to act decisively and to be upfront and honest in their actions.

As an aside, TV 3 should be congratulated for screening the documentary. Far too often during this election issues such as child poverty have been pushed to the side and instead had to settle with defaced billboards and tea cups… makes you think.

Watch the documentary in full here: http://ondemand.tv3.co.nz/Inside-New-Zealand-Inside-Child-Poverty/tabid/59/articleID/4761/MCat/342/Default.aspx

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