It’s not about Race or Age or Gender or Religion…it’s about Poverty

For a long time I have had a bit of an untested theory. I’ve come to a place where I don’t think the negative statistics in New Zealand are about race, age, gender or religion.  I think they’re about poverty and the by products of poverty.

Let me back up a little and give you an example of a common ‘talkback’ conversation.

The headline reads something like, “Another baby dies at the hands of its caregivers.” This is what happens on talkback; ‘Owen’ from Nelson phones in as this is his pet topic. Within 60 seconds ‘Owen’ has already told New Zealand to “wait and see…they’ll be native…their whanau will support them…you just wait.” Now sadly ‘Owen’ is right far too often, but is his underlying racist bias accurate? Is being Maori a significant factor in killing your kids? That’s where I think the conversation becomes interesting.

I would put to you that being Maori is not as much of an issue in this as many may think. Let me ask you this question. How many wealthy, well educated Maori (or any race) are killing their kids? The answer is, “Not many…if any!”

So if being Maori means you’re over represented in our sad statistics, why are not wealthy, well educated Maori over represented in this, or any, negative social issue?

Poor Maori over represented…wealthy, educated Maori not…hmmmm.

Just for context, contrary to some commentators child abuse is not an issue exclusive to Maori as I demonstrate in this post on my old blog ironically posted exactly one year ago to the day. In there you can read that former Child Commissioner Ian Hassall says…

“Roughly the same number of Maori and non-Maori children are killed in New Zealand.”

Martyn Bradbury came to  the same conclusion in a post in the middle of last year.

No one is arguing that Maori are not over represented, but my question is, “Why?”

Well lets look at another people group.

How many European/Pakeha/White (whatever word takes your fancy) are in these negative statistics? How many Pakeha lawyers or Doctors kill their kids? Again I think you’ll find the answer is, “Not many…if any!” What about Pakeha in poverty, the underclass, white trash…those guys…how do they feature in the negative statistics? Well coming back to my first point, without having had the research or data in front of me, I have assumed, and many of you would agree, that they would be over represented in those statistics, especially compared to their wealthy, educated Pakeha counterparts. I think that is a fair and safe assumption.

Well it has been an assumption…until now.

Today has seen a longitudinal paper released which has followed over 1,200 people for 30 years. The study looked at children born in Christchurch who grew up in either poor, or rich, families

Those from poor families were more likely to leave school without qualifications, have babies before they were 20, commit crimes, go on welfare and have addiction and other mental health problems in adulthood.

Most of these effects were explained by factors which tended to vary in line with family incomes, such as parents’ education, addictions, criminality and marital conflict and breakup, and the children’s own intelligence.

But study director Professor David Fergusson said the effects of childhood income on later educational and career achievement persisted even after allowing for all other factors

So if you grew up poor, you tended to stay poor. If you were poor you were also a much higher chance of being a part of those negative statistics we were talking about earlier. The key factor here is that this extensive study shows us that the main contributing factor to being a part of negative statistic in society is poverty and the by-products of that poverty. Not race.

It also showed that if you were raised in a poorer family you were also more likely to have mental health issues.

The study asked detailed questions about people’s lives which also enabled the researchers to diagnose whether they had depression, anxiety disorder, drug or alcohol addictions or anti-social behaviour.

On average, those from poor families had slightly more of these disorders than those from rich families.

Here are some of the key findings of the report

Almost 40 per cent of those in the poorest fifth of families left school without qualifications, compared with fewer than 10 per cent of those in the richest fifth.

A third of those from the poor families but fewer than a tenth of those from rich families fell pregnant, or got someone pregnant, before they were 20.

A third of those from poor families, but only a sixth from rich families, committed a violent or property crime between the ages of 18 and 30.

20 per cent of those from poor families, but only 4 per cent from rich families, spent some time on welfare before they were 30.

Those from poor families earned an average of just under $40,000 a year by age 30, while those from rich families averaged $60,000.

I wrote earlier in this post that “being Maori is not as much of an issue in this as many may think” but it does impact these negative statistics, but not because they are Maori… because so many Maori are ‘poor’.

What the mainstream media needs to understand, and needs to address, is that these issues, these negative statistics in our society, issues like crime, mental health issues, physical health issues, low education, addiction, incarceration are issues of poverty and the by products of poverty, are not issues of race, age, gender, religion or anything else.

Why are Maori over represented in these statistics…because they are over represented in ‘being poor.’ If more of them are poor…then more of them come up in the negative statistics.

So do we solve this problem?

Well I firmly believe that we cannot solve any problem until we acknowledge the issue and seeing as mainstream NZ would try to convince us these are issues of race…or religion…or age…then we are doomed to keep this sad cycle of negative social statistics going.

Let’s acknowledge the problem, then maybe together we can find a solution.

8 thoughts on “It’s not about Race or Age or Gender or Religion…it’s about Poverty

  1. James January 18, 2012 / 21:57

    Yes…its not the race of a person..which is set and outside of that persons control and therefore not their responsibility….its the ideas that person has adopted from wherever that are ingrained in their minds. I believe that poorer Maori are closer to the tribalist /collectivist tradition of their forebears than the richer more educated Maori are and so are hit harder by the negative aspects of that while the richer ones,being more “parkehaized” (individualist) do not. The thing that holds Maori down and delivers them such negative outcomes is that collectivist culture mindset coupled with the hideously destructive influence of state welfarism….the one-two punch combo that they haven’t been able to beat.

  2. Tony January 18, 2012 / 23:29

    God where do I begin, my parents separated when I was eight, we were pretty poor, especially my mum by herself. We lived in a two roomed flat. No welfare tho just wages. Latch key kid from the time I was 7.
    Education and thought processes were encouraged. Books and reading encouraged. Caned at school from the time I was 6 till 18 if I did something wrong. And I got caned a bit. Eventually I stopped getting caned.
    Did I turn out okay? Well I think so, but thats only my opinion. Mind, I would now be accused of being upper middle class and (horror of horrors) an employer.
    My early life left me with a belief that poverty exists only in the mind of the parents. The parents are the ones who shape the next generation-nothing to do with governments, laws, economics, marital status. Great parents come from all spectrums, all races and all socio -economic groups ( how many of us know the rich kid gone bad).
    I agree with James… the welfare state has a lot to answer for. Great in principle, no two ways about that, but in practicality-well it leaves a lot to be desired.

    • Steve Northland January 19, 2012 / 21:35

      Good onya Tony – some people by their natures and their individual entireties do beat the odds. All credit to them and you too obviously. However, the failure of most to beat the odds in the impost and burden of poverty can’t justify pejorative against that “most”.

      Look at the Christchurch findings. There’s a rotten inevitabilty there. It’s essentially statistical and therefore, because statistical, definitionally disallowing of pejorative. Except in respect of the selfish mongrel few. And there are more than a few selfish mongrels in the “doing quite nicely thank you” and wealthy classes. Don’t forget that. They have more causative culpability in the present financial crisis than any number of your “bene-bludgers”.

      That is an unassailable, square fact ! So let’s not we who for whatever reason escaped the rape treat the raped as the cause and personally culpable.

  3. Lindsay January 19, 2012 / 16:08

    “Why are Maori over represented in these statistics…because they are over represented in ‘being poor.’ If more of them are poor…then more of them come up in the negative statistics.”

    The lowest median household incomes belong to Asian and Pacific people. Asians are not over-represented in child abuse and neglect statistics. And Pacific families are not over-represented anywhere near the degree that Maori are. The correlation is with welfare dependence. Not income levels. There is research available comparing outcomes for children in similar low income homes, and those whose source of income was benefits had worse outcomes than those whose source of income was from working.

  4. Robyn Hood January 19, 2012 / 16:29

    So having jobs that pay an amount that dignifies the value of the work for everyone would help the problem? Maybe.

    But what about what we actually value?
    Do the value the lady who wipes the bums and cleans up the vomit of our demented grandparents (and 20 of their housemates with norovirus) within an hour, more that the figurehead of a city who’s main role is to be a spokesperson for the council? Dollarwise, it would suggest not.

    The poverty seems to be in our hearts for each other- we’re so distressed and always looking for someone to blame- we probably wont be happy until someone else is the bottom of the heap that we can look down on- no wonder we looked so kindly apon “Blanket Man”.

    The answers to the poverty question need to be looked at very widely.

  5. Iri Sinclair January 20, 2012 / 15:02

    OMG Poverty is a class issue. Working class Maori, Pakeha and Pacific people have more in common economically, and this fact has nothing to do with culture or ethnicity. Most Maori are working class – why? Because the Crown stole Maori land, committed mass murder in Taranaki and Northland and in the Waikato etc, and on-sold the land to rapacious white settlers. Once robbed of their property and resources Maori were forced into becoming Labourers for the white settlers who squatted on the land in Canterbury and elsewhere. Most Maori have not been able to escape intergenerational poverty because they are working class.
    Poverty is an entrenched part of NZ settler society. Maori are an entrenched part of the working class of this country. White hand-wringing social liberals make me sick.
    I am a Maori woman.
    The Labour Party in 2012 still wont have a Maori woman in a leadership role for fucks sake.
    The actual problem is that economics used to drive social relations in society from the time of industrialisation in 19th century Britain. Now economics has been wrenched from social relations and in fact destroyed the middle-class worldwide. Currency traders in dealing rooms around the world run the world. Governments do not. Plutocracy is the new world order – Goldman Sachs runs the USA. Key is selling our public assets to his banker mates.
    And racism is alive and well in Aotearoa, and endemic in the Labour Party which is on a fast race to becoming the 3rd opposition party and disappear into oblivion. That is, unless we do something about it. I am a member of the Labour Party.
    Iri Sinclair BA LLB

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