Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You can't manage what you don't measure

So how do we deal with child poverty? CPAG's report, Left Further Behind: How policies fail the poorest children in New Zealand [PDF, large] makes the obvious point about the inadequacy of benefit levels and recommends extending the Working For Families "in-work" tax credit to all children. It also recommends better access to healthcare and early childhood education, and more funding for low-decile schools to counteract the effects of poverty. But it also makes another point: our government currently doesn't bother measuring child poverty (poor children apparently not being as important as, oh, sheep numbers). We have no formal "poverty line" (fixed or moving) allowing us to track poverty, we don't regularly track hardship and deprivation, and politicians certainly don't set themselves numerical targets for reducing those things.

This has to change. Its an old point, but a valuable one: you can't manage what you don't measure. Our refusal to measure poverty in this country helps to hide the problem, and means we can't tell if our policies are working. It also (conveniently) means politicians can't be held accountable for their failure to reduce poverty. They can simply hide behind the lack of statistics and fudged definitions.

CPAG recommends setting formal indicators with regular reporting and targets to reduce and eventually eliminate child poverty. I agree. This is not something we should tolerate, and we should not let our politicians off the hook on it any more.