13 Oct 2016

Collins' poverty comments simplistic - Te Puea chair

9:29 am on 13 October 2016

Police Minister Judith Collins is oversimplifying the causes of child poverty by saying it's down to bad parenting, an Auckland marae chairman says.

Children's advocates have said they are appalled by Ms Collins' comments yesterday that many problems blamed on child poverty could be blamed on parents.

Child with teddybear

The Child Poverty Action Group said Judith Collins' comments showed a lack of understanding. Photo: 123RF

Ms Collins was responding to a question from a Northland police officer about the experience of child poverty making people join gangs in later life, when she said financial problems were a less important cause than the lack of proper care for children by some parents.

"I don't just see monetary poverty," she said. "I see a poverty of ideas, a poverty of parental responsibility, a poverty of love, a poverty of caring."

Ms Collins then said that in New Zealand there was money available to everyone who needed it. "I can tell you that it's not just a lack of money, it's primarily a lack of responsibility - I know it's not PC - but, you know, that's just me."

Te Puea marae chair Hurimoana Dennis, whose marae opened its doors to people without a home over the winter months, said there was some truth to Ms Collins' comments.

But agencies, bureaucracy and circumstances had contributed to some people becoming homeless, Mr Dennis said.

"Some of these parents [at Te Puea] I had a really good talking to - they dropped the ball several times on their kids.

"But there were some parents who were excellent, awesome parents. Their kids went to school every day, they were clean - they just couldn't afford anything."

He was not convinced by Ms Collins' claim there was money available for everyone.

"I don't know about that... There was always a shortage of money where we were."

A definition of poverty needed to be established in order for the government to best concentrate its resources, Mr Dennis said.

Urban Maori authority Te Whanau o Waipareira chief executive John Tamihere told Morning Report the government was reluctant to take ownership of the problem.

"Judith thinks in absolutes, in black and white - but she's walking away from the problem by saying everyone's got personal responsibility," he said.

"Of course we all do - but everyone listening to this programme today has failed in their personal responsibilities at a given point of time in their lives. Some of them have had supportive families or supportive friends; some of them have not, and they spiral out of control."

Money is available - Collins

05072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Caucus run. Judith Collins.

Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Ms Collins defended her comments, telling Morning Report they had been twisted out of context.

"I do not blame poverty on criminality and I object strongly to anyone who wants to link those two."

In fact, many of the victims of crime were poor people, she said.

There was enough money available through the welfare system for those who needed help, Ms Collins said.

"There is actually money available through our very expensive welfare system, so there is no need for anyone to steal, no need for anyone to commit crime, because of lack of money."

She had seen evidence of the welfare system working as the MP for Papakura.

"There are many people who, often when Work and Income work with these people ... suddenly find that they can, in fact, get opportunities to either work ... or to get them the benefits and entitlements that they can get."

Working families could get the accommodation supplement and Working For Families tax credits, she said.

Comments rejected by child poverty advocates

Earlier, Ms Collins' comments were criticised by Every Child Counts, which represents several groups including Barnardos and Plunket.

Executive officer Lisa Woods said people often blamed parental irresponsibility for child poverty, but research showed that was not the case.

She said parents often worked harder for their children when they were in financial difficulties.

"What research tells us is that parents prioritise the needs of their children and they do what they can," she said.

"When they get extra income they spend it on things for their children, such as extra food instead of drugs and alcohol, which is sometimes the stereotype out there... But we know that is not the case."

Child Poverty Action Group spokesperson Nikki Turner said Ms Collins' comments were disappointing and showed a lack of understanding.

"Clearly other facets of family life are important, but when a family has inadequate income it puts enormous stresses on family life that affect the child's ability to engage in society."

Dr Turner said income was needed so that a child could feel a part of society, and integrate into it, and ignoring that fact revealed a serious misunderstanding of the problem.

Comments don't reflect reality - Labour, Greens

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the reality was many families struggled to get by because wages and benefits were so low.

"There would be enough resources for everyone if there was a fairer system of distribution, a fairer system for benefits, fairer system for wages. But as we know so many New Zealand families are working more than one job, trying their best to put food on the table for their kids, and really struggling because wages are so low."

Mrs Turei said she was deeply disappointed with Ms Collins' comments, as she was tarring every low income family as a bad family.

"She's completely out of touch, and I think that's very embarrassing for her - and I think when she talks about these issues that she knows nothing about, she displays her ignorance, she can hurt families with her ignorance and she knows better than to do that."

Labour's spokesperson for children Jacinda Ardern said the Minister was desperately trying to deflect attention from the real causes of child poverty - low incomes and the housing crisis.

"That's completely counter to what I have seen, and the many, many cases I have seen of families who are doing all they can, often working multiple jobs, trying to the very best they can by their kids - to have that experience written off by a Minister is very poor."

However, Ms Collins later said she made her comments in response to a question which she felt had unfairly linked child poverty to crime.

"Actually it is really insulting for people to imply that because somebody is financially poor that they are therefore a criminal and causing problems for the police - so actually I take umbrage at anyone suggesting that someone being financially not well off is a driver of crime," she said.

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