Monday, October 03, 2016

Targets for everything but poverty

The National government loves targets. It has targets for hospital waiting times, for water quality, for renewable energy. One of its core programmes is "Better Public Services", which sets targets for crime, education, employment, and the cost of dealing with government. It even has targets for climate change and making New Zealand predator-free. It does this, because it thinks targets are a good way of focusing the government's mind on achieving important policy goals and that it is important for the public to be able to see whether the government is succeeding or failing.

So what are we to think then of John Key's refusal to set a target on child poverty?

Cut the 150,000 children living in poverty by 10 per cent by the end of next year?

It's a target the new Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft wants the Government to back but Prime Minister John Key won't put that number on it.

Key told RNZ on Monday that he wasn't "rejecting" Becroft - someone the Prime Minister says is doing a good job and was appointed for his skill set - but disputes that a number and a target can be put on child poverty.

"We're very focused on reducing that number. We don't have one agreed measure...let's accept (Becroft's) measure then my point would simply be that I can't tell you today exactly what it would take to get a five or 10 per cent reduction," Key said.

"My point is's difficult to just have one measure."

No-one is pretending that a single measure tells the whole story here. At the same time, picking a measure - such as the material deprivation index, or the number of children living in households with an after housing costs equivalised income less than 60% or 80% of the median - and working to improve it would unquestionably do a world of good. And from a government which has targets for absolutely everything else and uses them as a core policy tool, the refusal to use that tool for child poverty sends a very clear message that it is simply not a priority to them. That they just don't give a shit. That John Key does not care how many children go cold and hungry in this country. And that is simply disgusting and cowardly.