Editorial: How the poor stay on the margins

A challenge to the government’s providing subsidies for working families but not for beneficiaries starts this month in the High Court.

This month the Human Rights Review Tribunal is to hear a case from the Child Poverty Action Group which claims that the government’s continued favouring of children of working parents over those of beneficiaries breaches New Zealand’s human rights law.

At the end of April, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) released a report which said that despite New Zealand’s improved economic situation with increased employment, more than a quarter of all children are living ‘in severe and significant hardship’.

Left Behind: How social and income inequalities damage NZ children has been written by a range of experts in fields from economics to health, housing and education, among them editors Dr Susan St John and Donna Wynd. 

The CPAG maintains that this discrimination started in 1996 with the Child Tax Credit (CTC) which was available only to children whose parents were not on a benefit, ACC or student allowance.

The government acknowledged child poverty in 2002 and in 2005 introduced Working for Families which has reduced poverty for many working families. But discrimination against beneficiaries continued with the In Work Tax Credit (IWTC) which gives $60 a week to families with up to three children. To qualify for this, families must come off an income-tested benefit and meet a work test. As well, families receiving a benefit are excluded from receiving the Minimum Family Tax Credit (MFTC).

Beneficiaries are not helped by a 2005 boost to the Working for Families package which targets families earning more than $27,500. And children in families receiving benefits remain excluded from the IWTC.

Today’s gospel passage (Mt 7:21-27) comes within the talk generally known as the Sermon on the Mount. This begins with the Beatitudes—that great blueprint for Christian living, for the privileging of the poor and marginalised that Jesus taught and practised (Mt 5).
With the general election just months away, the gospel is a timely reminder of how followers of Jesus might use their vote to influence the way the government favours those at the bottom of the heap. Jesus cautions against saying the right thing but doing nothing. To build one’s house on rock might, in today’s terms, mean acting on one’s belief in the need to provide for society’s most economically disadvantaged.

Caritas, the church’s agency for justice and development, has criticised the government’s latest budget for once again failing to provide for the children of beneficiaries.

The CPAG also says on its website that the poorest 150,000 children in this country will be ‘left even further behind’ under the budget ( www.cpag.org.nz).

It is plain to see that in this capitalist economy, the government values those who contribute to the economy. So workers or taxpayers count, beneficiaries don’t. Beneficiaries are seen as a drain on the economy.
It is vital that church people follow the lead of Caritas and CPAG and speak out and use their vote on behalf of the beneficiaries in New Zealand society.