Suffer the little children – Inequality and child poverty
Just as inequality has widened significantly since the late 1980s, so has child poverty become much worse over the last quarter of a century.
For children, poverty means living in a cold house, not having enough nutritious food, moving house regularly, which disrupts school and relationships with friends, not being able to participate with friends in sport and cultural events. There are big differences in the experiences of children in better-off households compared with those of children living in households with severe hardship. These differences need to be reduced by improving the circumstances of the poorest children.
What does this mean? It means improving wages, removing the discrimination against children in benefit households who are not eligible for in work tax credits, improving benefit levels. There are also a number of changes in areas such as housing, health and education that would improve the position of our poorest children.
These things will only happen if we as a community demand action and demand that governments and political parties put children first and put the needs of the poorest children at the top of that queue. Imagine what would happen if policy plans started with the question: What will this mean for the poorest children? At the moment those children don’t seem to matter very much. It is time that changed.
Michael O’Brien is an Associate Professor at the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland and has previously been the Head of the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Massey University. He has written extensively on poverty and social security issues, and chaired the Alternative Welfare Working Group in 2011.