Thursday, 23 October 2008

Kids Can: fixing child poverty with scratch & win tickets

Let me say from the outset that I have no problem with the individuals who support the Kids Can Stand Tall charitable trust (, 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.


Julie said...

I used to have a rule of thumb - I didn't give to charities who were raising funds for things I thought the state should be doing directly. I felt that by giving money to charities for those good works I was letting the Government off the hook. These days it's not so simple, because there is so much genuine need.

That said I really hate that so much fundraising these days seems to involve buying stuff, "consuming your way to social justice" as you put it sums it up well. I don't need a plastic wrist band, or a pink ribbon, or some Plunket wrapping paper, and every time they give me something like that it's just eating into the money that I just gave them.

It makes me so sad that now it just seems to be an accepted part of our society that people will go without. There Is No Alternative, indeed.

Katherine Ransom said...

I am not sad about a quarter of our children living in poverty, I am enraged. I am more enraged when I hear people saying "Well, poverty is relative - they are better off than people in India." or more enraging: "Girls just keep getting pregnant by different fathers so they can sit around on a benefit and not do any work." Hello? Not do any work? Looking after children is a 24/7 job, which I pointed out to one guy. (Yes, it was a man who really should have known better. To his credit, he admitted he hadn't thought of it in that way.)

And there IS an alternative - make a change to a social credit financial system and we can keep all the billions of dollars that are currently sucked off overseas in interest payments every year. What couldn't we do with a couple of billion dollars? If you want to know more about how the alternative can work, go to and have a look.

Although I am writing from a party political perspective right now, I take that perspective for the sake of women and their families. I challenge all the other political parties to find alternatives to the unjust and unstable financial system that has been robbing us blind for the last 30 years.

Whew! Now I feel a little better. Back to work...

The ex-expat said...

That's a good rule of thumb julie. Mine is that I have two charities that I give to, one in New Zealand another overseas. I also make a point as you say to give directly to the charity rather than consuming.

macro said...

Child poverty in NZ is a legacy of the "Mother of all Budgets". How she could have given such a name to such a budget is beyond me. But the ravages it made on the children of parents of lower socio-economic backgrounds is still with us, and likely to become even worse in the immediate future. As you rightly point out charity is sporadic and funded by consumerism - which is the root of the evil! We will not have an end to this until such time as govt again takes up the talisman of social justice for all. There has been some improvement in recent years (wff etc) but not enough and many injustices introduced in 1991 are still with us.

Hugh said...

Macro, I'm no fan of Ruth Richardson or her policies, but child poverty existed before she came onto the scene. Agreed, though, she made it much worse.