Playing the blame game does nothing to fix child poverty

Aotearoa, New Zealand. God’s own. The little country on the edge of the earth where we pride ourselves on looking out for our mates, giving everyone a fair go and using a bit of Kiwi ingenuity to take on the world. A place many of us are staunchly proud to come from.

However, upon reading the New Zealand Children’s Commissioner's annual Child Poverty Monitor report, I didn't feel like a proud Kiwi. The reports main conclusion? One third of New Zealand children are living in poverty.

That grim statistic tells us that over 300,000 New Zealand children are living in families that earn less than 60 per cent of the median income, which roughly works out at about $30,600 or less. It’s easy to see those numbers and tune out, but these are living, breathing New Zealand kids. Real people, dealing with real struggles.

Let’s think about it in terms of kids’ rugby teams. Think about the young people you see running around in the freezing cold down at your local park. From the tiny girls and boys not much taller than knee-height running around in a pack like they’re glued together, to the teenagers starting to hone their skills. There are 15 of them in a team. Picture that team, those young faces. Now imagine 20,000 of those teams of kids, all struggling.

That’s the reality. They’re not a number. They’re real kids, with real hopes, real dreams and real hunger. They make up a whole third of our future communities, our future workforce. They are all Kiwi kids, and yet the New Zealand they know is not one of fairness and opportunity, it is one of hardship.

Time and time again when reports like this are released the conversation turns to who is to blame. “Blame the parents!” many say. “People shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them,” they cry, painting the very basic human drive to have a family as something that should be reverse means tested.

Frankly, who is ‘to blame’ is irrelevant to the 20,000 rugby teams worth of kids living in poverty. Rheumatic fever doesn’t discriminate between the kids who have ‘bad’ parents and those who have ‘good’ parents. It doesn’t matter who you blame, the kids still suffer.

Playing the blame game is not only completely pointless, it is also soul-crushingly cruel. To blame parents for not being able to adequately feed, clothe or shelter their children is surely one of the most heartless judgments we can make. It does absolutely nothing to help the children, while shaming parents who are in many cases already struggling to keep it together.

Instead of hurrying to point the finger, I wish we’d take a different approach. If we can all agree that child poverty is unacceptable (and if we can’t agree to that simple proposition, we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror) we can all start thinking about ways that we can try to fix the problem. Just as there is no one policy, group, economic idea or person to blame for poverty, there is no one simple solution. For a multi-faceted issue like child poverty, we’ll need to come up with multi-faceted solutions. In short, we desperately need to work together.

So let’s cut the crap and stop playing the blame game. Let’s instead work together, think about what we can do in our own communities, ideas we can share with others, and plans we can hatch to make larger changes on a macro level. Let’s encourage our political parties to put their differences aside to make a plan to bring our tamariki out of poverty. They could do it for superannuation, why can’t they do it for our kids?

Let’s put our heads together and use our Kiwi ingenuity to look for solutions, rather than looking for people to blame for our problems. Let’s tackle child poverty head on. Whether Kiwi kids live in Manurewa, Christchurch, Gore, Gisbourne, Rotorua or Remuera, they all deserve to have healthy food in their tummies, shoes on their feet, warm houses and a fair go in life. 

CPAG has started a campaign to Fix Working for Families. Find out about its goals and how you can help here

Lizzie Marvelly is a New Zealand music icon who has gained critical acclaim internationally. In 2015 she launched, an online media project aiming to create smart, ‘no-filter’ media for young women, with the aim of inspiring them and empowering them to share their voices. Lizzie has also written for Huffington Post and has a weekly column in the Weekend Herald.

‘Playing the blame game does nothing to fix child poverty’ was first published on Reproduced with kind permission of Lizzie Marvelly.