A shared, deep concern about the appalling rates and effects of child poverty in New Zealand prompted Archbishop John Dew and Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth to call on politicians to urgently address this at a public forum in Wellington, on Tuesday 5 August.
In the lead up to the general election, Saturday 20 September 2014, more than 1000 people filled St Paul’s Cathedral to hear from the two bishops, the Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, politicians and others speak about the various drivers of and solutions to New Zealand’s tragic child poverty rates. One in four children are reported as below the poverty line.Lieutenant-Colonel Lynette Hutson guided the evening’s proceedings. Politicians included: Hon Chris Finlayson; Hon David Cunliffe; Hon Peter Dunne; Hone Harawira; Jan Logie; Mataroa Paroro, New Zealand First Candidate Hutt South; and Marama Fox, Maori Party Candidate Ikaroa Rawhiti.
Archbishop John called on politicians to address child poverty as their top priority. He said poverty is not just for politicians to ‘fix’ but something we are all called to act on as a community. ‘We have the opportunity and the ability to make this country what many believe and wish for – a great place to bring up children and this forum is a place to explore how. New Zealand is a country blessed in resources and whether our children experience wellbeing or poverty is a matter of distributive choices and or political will,’ he said.
Archbishop John recalled Mother Suzanne Aubert who dedicated her life to the service of the poor. He spoke about the global leadership and example of Pope Francis who challenges us to be a Church for the poor. ‘Pope Francis has challenged the world to be aware of the poor and vulnerable, the deprived, the lonely and refugees. When he visited the island of Lampedusa, where many refugees and migrants were landing, Pope Francis said the plight of such people and all who live in poverty could no longer be ignored by society’s “culture of indifference”. And we cannot be indifferent to the plight of people here in our own country who suffer the burden of poverty.
‘It is clear by the numbers gathered here tonight this is an important issue to us as a community. Tonight I make this prayer from the words of Pope Francis my own. I pray our politicians are genuinely disturbed by the state of society and the lives of the poor. It is vital our elected representatives are working to ensure all citizens have dignified work, education and health care,’ said Archbishop John.
Bishop Duckworth said there is a need for a national strategy across parties to address child poverty.
‘While the church is not called to politics, it is called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and so has a duty to help people make wise political decisions. These decisions can impact on the lives of children,’ he said. He stressed that every child matters, especially the most vulnerable.
Dr Russell Wills strongly urged politicians to make child poverty a top priority, to establish a plan and to measure and monitor progress to reduce New Zealand’s child poverty rates. He said child poverty affects us all and highlighted the fact that most other countries with a similar GDP to New Zealand have lower rates of child poverty. The Commissioner spoke of ways in which we can improve the income of those at the bottom levels of society and so realistically address child poverty issues.
In a final blessing Bishop Duckworth urged people to keep the conversation going. He encouraged everyone to go back to their communities and talk incessantly and loudly about the priority of ending child poverty.