As a humanitarian worker for many years, I saw the worst that the world can do to children.
In Somalia, I ran a large health programme and witnessed tremendous suffering with children starving and traumatised by violence. In all of my different roles serving in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, I’ve seen children miss out on opportunities because of the difficult life they’ve been born into.
I worked hard to make a difference in all those places. And when I came home to New Zealand I wanted to make a contribution here too.
Surprised by poverty in NZ
What I didn’t expect to find was the level of poverty and inequality that we are experiencing. The gap between the rich and the rest is the worst it’s ever been and it’s growing.
People today are working harder than ever and not able to get ahead. They pay their taxes, bring up their kids the best they can, but worry about their jobs and the cost of living that continues to rise. And too many people believe the government is not backing them up.
It is an absolute disgrace that we now have about 270,000 children living in poverty. A real concern is that 40% of those children come from working families. Their parents are
working hard but they’re not earning enough to provide for their family.
National’s own figures prove case
National says it’s already doing enough to help these kids. But its own figures show that more than 80,000 kids are going to school hungry. About 211 schools are sitting on the waiting list for help from community agencies like Kids Can.
Of course, parents should be able to provide for their kids. But in too many cases that’s not happening. And, while we address the underlying reasons why so many parents are not doing that, children will still turn up at school without food in their stomachs. That means, they don’t learn as well and distract others in the class.
We should be doing more to help them to get the best start. That will mean success at school and a better chance of getting a good job. That’s much better than ending up on the dole queue or involved in crime.
That’s why Labour will partner with community agencies to put food in all decile 1-3 schools. We also need to work harder to make sure children don’t leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. That’s why Labour will extend reading recovery to all New Zealand schools. The programme has an 80% success rate and is described as the ‘gold standard’ in helping kids learn to read.
Independent researcher John Pearce recently told a public health association conference that child poverty could be costing our country around $8 billion a year, in terms of health, crime, social welfare and reduced productivity.
Labour is committed eradicating the causes of poverty. There are a number of ways we’ll do that including building a clever, modern economy that supports our exporters and creates better paying jobs. We’ll lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour and support the development of a living wage so all Kiwis have a decent income.
But the most important thing we can do is give our children a lifetime of opportunities through education.
Too many of our children are not achieving. One in five are leaving school without NCEA and 84,000 young New Zealanders are not in education, training or work. That’s just not good enough.
I’m committed to making sure that a world-class education will be available in every school in the country. It’s about giving all children the opportunity to achieve their full potential, no matter who they are or where they’re from.
Every Kiwi kid deserves that.