Bryan Bruce's call for a 'fair market' to tackle child poverty is naive and unrealistic.

Bryan Bruce's documentary , Child Poverty: A Special report, was an indictment of nearly three decades of neoliberal economics that have completely failed the people of this country.

The reality for many people in this country, as Bruce showed, is being forced to live in shocking living conditions. Bruce visited several houses owned by the state that were simply uninhabitable. There was mould on the ceilings caused by damp , there was inadequate heating, the houses were in a general state of disrepair.

But families are living in this squalor. In one house six members of a family were sleeping in one room just to keep warm.

It is such horrendous living conditions that disease thrives. Last year, more than 25,000 children were admitted to hospital for respiratory infections. Doctors routinely treat cases of rheumatic fever and scabies – diseases now rare in Europe. These are the diseases of poverty. We used to say that New Zealand was a great place to bring up kids - its a sick joke now.

Bruce visited Sweden where a free nationwide health service health service is maintained for children. And all children get a free and healthy meal at lunchtime while at school.

This liberating policy actually saves money. Economist Gareth Morgan explained that comparative international studies have shown that by insuring that children are fed at school, live in warm houses and have access to healthcare pays off $4 to every $1 spent.

Bruce argued that the child poverty is an ethical question rather than a political one. He thinks there should be a political consensus to tackle the issue of child poverty and to tackle it immediately.

But in the end it is a political question. Bruce say in the documentary that he wants a 'fair market' rather a 'free market'. In short, he wants a fairer and kinder capitalism.

But the economic crisis that continues to deepen is slashing the social gains of the post-war era. This is not a question of temporary sacrifices to steady the ship through stormy economic waters. What we are witnessing now - and which many liberals will still not acknowledge - is the overturning of the social contract that emerged after the Second World War.

It's worth noting that both Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Minister of Health Tony Ryall have been seemingly unavailable to respond to Bruce's documentary.

They are members of a Government whose response to the economic crisis is to cut social spending, cut wages, slash jobs and welfare.

In these circumstances Bruce's argument that there should be some kind of political consensus to create a 'fair market' is, to be frank, simply naive and gets us nowhere.

We need a far more radical transformation of the economy than the one Bruce is proposing.


  1. The problem with the current debate on child poverty is it (conveniently) attempts to frame the issue as if it is simply a 'blip on the radar', a kind of unexplainable random occurence as opposed to a symptom of an un-equal society.

    Framed in this way it leads to only one ultimate conclusion: that poverty is a choice and that those in poverty are victims of their own poor choices. This of course ignores the bleedingly obvious that decades of neoliberalism has provided the conditions for child poverty to thrive.


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