Two teenagers murdered on the same spot at Paraparaumu just one month apart and a national suicide rate said to be double the road toll – the most vulnerable are 15 to 19-year-olds. As well, about a quarter (around 270,000) of our children are now living in poverty, lacking access to adequate food, shelter and health care.
The gospel demands our concern about this shocking statistic. Mark’s gospel says ‘Whoever welcomes [a little child] in my name welcomes me, and … the one who sent me [9:37]’. Jesus spent his time on earth showing us how to look after the poor and marginalised in society. What are we doing to our kids?
The Children’s Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills, says in his issues and options paper ‘Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand’, released in August, that growing up in poverty is often harmful.
The short-term impacts include missing out on important childhood opportunities like school outings and sports activities. But the impacts also include lower educational achievement, worse health outcomes, feeling stigmatised and having weaker social networks. As a result, childhood poverty can leave lifetime scars, with reduced employment prospects, lower earnings, poorer health and higher rates of criminal offending.
Ultimately, he says, these negative consequences affect the entire community. ‘For instance, the costs of poverty in New Zealand are estimated to be the equivalent of about three percent of gross domestic product per annum.’
What can we, Catholic communities in the Wellington and Palmerston North dioceses do about this?
Dr Wills’ paper, produced by an expert advisory group he called together in March, is available for downloading and for feedback.
As well there are the results of a seven-year study of children aged 0 to 17 released last month.
Parish social justice groups could bring other parishioners together to discuss these papers and draw up a submission. It doesn’t have to be long or even well written. The important part is in the process of educating ourselves about the extent and causes of poverty in our society. Writing something helps clarify our thoughts.
Make this an opportunity to pray together asking the Spirit to prompt an appropriate action. This could be writing to the local MP with your concerns or establishing a forum. Start with the knowledge of the members of the group itself. Often people have had experience of poverty, perhaps walking through a situation with a friend or family member.
Ask why there is poverty in this land of plenty. Ask why there is a disproportionate number of Maori and Pasifika people living in long-term poverty. What are the monetary costs of participation in society – of children’s sports, for example?
The government wants beneficiaries to be actively looking for work once their child turns five but should the government be required to create jobs?
Last month two government agencies Solid Energy and KiwiRail shed a total of 560 jobs. Where could beneficiaries look for work? What role could other sectors of society play in job creation?
For more information go to Policy Watch, the the fortnightly e-newsletter from the NZ Council of Christian Social Services.