Little progress for New Zealand’s Pacific children

The government's latest budget has been deemed by many as: budget. Grocery snobs will be familiar with the concept, although the difference is, you can usually get some high quality products through the budget brand.

Unless you are from the world of business or part of the "one per cent", the 2014 Budget offers very little quality, and even less hope for genuine progress in the area of child poverty for Pacific communities.

Longitudinal research by Professor Peter Crampton from the University of Otago highlighted that Maori and Pacific peoples still represent the poorest of people in New Zealand, and that the situation has not improved over the course of a 20-year research project. Released a week before the budget, it set a rather gloom and doom tone in anticipation of a forward future thinking and progressive budget.

Unfortunately, Maori and Pacific people will have to continue to wait a bit longer for such a budget to appear.

I learned early on in my studies to appreciate the fact that poverty is multidimensional. Poverty is manifested and affects different people in different ways. It is no surprise then that the authors of the Salvation Army's first State of the Nation report on Pasifika people in New Zealand have argued that Pacific communities have made "modest and tenacious" progress in some areas, whilst struggling in others, and in some cases their situation has worsened.

Genuine progress in the area of child poverty requires more of a concerted and holistic effort by the government. For far too long, the current and previous governments have ignored the interconnections between housing and health, education and finance.

Poorly thought-out policies within these individual policy areas often interact and are interdependent and have a destabilising impact on the ability of Pacific families to progress from their current situations.

A forward-thinking and progressive budget would look to tackle key issues for Pacific children and their families in the area of housing, health, education, finance and welfare support. It would not require the government to do a lot of creative thinking. Extensive research has identified what the issues and possible solutions are. What Pacific children in poverty require is action!

Although the very important advocacy work we do as Child Poverty Action Group Youth will focus a lot on the role the government can play, this indeed needs to be supplemented by a change of thinking within Pacific communities.

My friend Josephine Nickel-Leaupepe talks about expectations embedded within some of our Pacific cultures and the way in which this can often contribute to, and worsen cases of poverty for families.

Pacific communities also need to think carefully and critically about the effectiveness of our engagement in local and national decision-making processes. The last few elections saw a consistently poor voter turn-out, particularly amongst Pacific peoples (youth and adults).

One recent blog post, from Pacific Guardians, would have us all believe Pacific people are "waiting" in church to be saved by Pacific-friendly policies by the government.

Although the accuracy of much of the article is questionable, it does however hit one of the issues on the head; the need to mobilise Pacific communities in contributing to processes and discussions that will determine the quality and outcomes of life we all aspire to in this country.

Darien Fenton describes an epidemic of "downward envy", where people who see themselves as battlers feel they are missing out on something given to others who aren't as deserving or hard-working.

This view, which is rampant in mainstream media/New Zealand and also evident in parts of Pacific communities, needs to be abolished if we are ever genuinely going to work towards the eradication of poverty in this country.

A more positive approach would see that the progress of Pacific children and families in poverty will be beneficial for the country as a whole.

Genuine progress in policy is important. Genuine progress also needs to be well supported by a shift in ideology within mainstream New Zealand. It must be led by a government with a plan (and budget) that is far more ambitious and is critically aware of the situation on the ground, and a New Zealand public (inclusive of Pacific) committed to ensuring all its citizens do well.