Let me say from the outset that I have no problem with the individuals who support the Kids Can Stand Tall charitable trust (www.kidscan.org.nz), through their work or their donations. I'm sure they are compassionate people with nothing but good intentions towards the underprivileged kids which Kids Can tries to help.
What I don't like is the crass fact of a charity which exists to address child poverty in what we're told is a successful, leading OECD nation. In times gone by - and here I go getting all nostalgic - alleviating child poverty was thought to be the responsibility of the state. Wages were expected to be sufficient for people to live on. People who couldn't work were given benefits: these too were supposed to be high enough to support a reasonable standard of living. Granted, things weren't utopian, but at least the elimination of poverty was an official goal and a widely-held value. Twenty years ago, NZ charities concerned with child poverty cared for kids in third world countries. Such philanthropy was not thought to be needed in our own, 'civilised' backyard.
The existence of Kids Can seems to signal that we've given up expecting the state to act decisively against poverty. Successive governments have given us good reason to think this way. In the 1990s, the Nats lowered wages with the Employment Contracts Act and cut benefits. Labour have introduced Working for Families for those whose wages are too low to live on, but have done very little to alleviate the hardship of those on benefits; and the problem of woefully low wages persists. We seem to have accepted that employers needn't pay workers enough to live on if they don't wish to, and that beneficiaries have no claim on the rest of us for anything more than lives characterised by deprivation and hardship. Poverty is here to stay. Suck it up.
The advent of Kids Can is both crass and tragic. Ensuring kids have enough food and clothing is no longer a non-negotiable social responsibility we all share, but an optional activity for the charitably-minded, like buying a raffle ticket to support a local sports team. Smiling celebrities lend their support, and grateful children given sporadic meals pose for pictures. In addition to making an online donation to Kids Can, you can buy a $2 scratch and win ticket, or buy a product from a range of commercial sponsors. Consume your way to social justice.
To me, the slogan 'Kids Can' seems less like an affirmation of children's potential than a sad irony. When it comes to poverty, kids certainly carry the can. Until we make a radical change in our thinking, it will stay that way.