It’s understandable why we’ve generally accepted the rightwing line that “you can’t just throw money at the problem” of poverty. It seems far too simple: people do not have enough money, ergo give them money.
So we end up kind-of-agreeing with the idea that it’s all a big complicated systemic mess which needs to be handled in a number of different ways, which conveniently enough always end up funnelling money into the hands of private business (so they’ll “create jobs”) and making life even harder for the people who have the least (to ensure they’re “deserving”).
The thing is … money basically does fix the problem. Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw of the Morgan Foundation writes at the DomPost:
Boost the incomes of the poor with no conditions attached? Cups of tea will be spat onto the newspaper across New Zealand. However, when we brought together the highest quality evidence, the science was clear. Many will claim there is no silver bullet for fixing child poverty, but the evidence suggests they are not quite right. The best evidence we have tells us that boosting the incomes (without strings attached) for our poorest families will close about half of the gap in health, education, and employment between the haves and the have nots.
The research shows it. The Economist says it. And it does simply make sense, because we live in a capitalist society. In Simpsons quotes, this means:
Money, and having it, and utilising it to get the basic necessities of life, is basically the central pillar of human life in a capitalist society. (It shouldn’t be, but that’s a whole other post.) Poverty is the specific lack of money. And it’s not like there isn’t enough money to go around: it’s simply being funnelled into the hands of a few. I may sound a little leftwing here, but you know what the obvious conclusion is to me?
We fix poverty by redistributing the wealth of the nation more fairly.
For the NZ left in 2015, however, there’s a few challenges to face. We’ve accepted a lot of rightwing framing about the deserving poor, the undeserving poor, and the supremacy of paid work as the be-all and end-all of human value. It’s not a simple matter of taking this research and saying “see? Money does fix the problem!” Because it’s been a very long time since Labour, at least, was the party of raising benefits and supporting the poorest New Zealanders unconditionally.
Berentson-Shaw also says:
Pushing parents into work simply shifts them from welfare poor to working poor; between 40 and 50 per cent of our kids in poverty have working parents. The only time in recent years New Zealand reduced child poverty was when we gave cash to some poor via Working for Families.
And Working for Families was explicitly denied to parents on benefits. It was a step in the right direction – but one only taken by reinforcing the idea that the children of beneficiaries can be used as leverage to force their parents into paid work. By accepting that beneficiaries must be forced into paid work. Even when its simply not available.
I’m looking forward to seeing the next two articles on poverty in the DomPost. New Zealanders already agree that inequality is a massive issue and needs to be addressed. Hopefully we can change the conversation from the mean-spirited rightwing frame and get the basic message out there: we are a nation of people who care for each other. We can ensure that every family has the basics of life, and a life with dignity. That means a great public education system, healthcare, state-provided housing, feeding the kids, and giving everyone enough to live on.
It may be that giving people money is “only” a short term fix for their situation. But I care about people, so here’s what it comes down to: right now, there are kids going hungry in our country. Paying their parents enough to put food on the table means those kids aren’t going hungry. If your preferred solution is “let those kids continue to go hungry while we address the Wider Issues” I am not going to be subscribing to your newsletter.