In three recent post on da-boss (here, here and here) I complained about the misleading poverty stats used by social activists and politicians to promote their pet causes. Well, looks like I am not the only person in Aotearoa to have picked it up:
Jamie Whyte’s piece is so good I will quote from it liberally:
There is no poverty in New Zealand. Misery, depravity, hopelessness, yes; but no poverty. The poorest in New Zealand are the unemployed. They receive free medical care, free education for their children and enough cash to pay for basic food, clothing and (subsidised) housing. Most have televisions, refrigerators and ovens. Many even own cars. That isn’t poverty.
I agree – if we accepted this as poverty we would need to invent a new word for the plight of kids in Chad or Sudan because the two do not belong in the same realm. But wait – there is more:
Why then do we keep hearing that more than 20 per cent of New Zealand children live in poverty? Those who tell us this do not mean by “poverty” what most people do. They have a statistical definition: you live in poverty if your household’s income is less than 50 per cent of the national median (after tax and housing costs, and adjusted for the number of adults and children in the household).
For example, the Herald recently published an article by Susan St John, spokeswoman for the Child Poverty Action Group, that claimed 220,000 children live in poverty because they “fall under the stringent 50 per cent after-housing-costs poverty line”.
Alas, the measure is not stringent; it is ridiculous. It means, for example, that doubling everyone’s income would have no effect on the amount of poverty in New Zealand. Our incomes would all remain the same percentage of the median.
Yes, you read it right – according to one popular definition of poverty doubling everyone’s income would not make anyone less poor! But how do other countries stack up in the poverty count?
Using this definition, a 2014 Unicef report claimed there is more child poverty in Japan than in Hungary and more in the United States than in Greece. This at a time when the Greek economy was in tatters, unemployment was running at 27 per cent and masses of Greeks were queuing for handouts at soup kitchens.
It is a relative rather than absolute measure of poverty. Being an American pauper means having half the income of the average American. Being an Indonesian pauper means having half the income of the average Indonesian. Never mind that an American “pauper” may be richer than the average Indonesian.
This is exactly what makes this particular definition of poverty meaningless in terms of people being able to lead a normal, dignified life. So why do the likes of Child Poverty Action Group use it?
Why would anyone use such a preposterous definition of poverty? Interviewed by The Guardian, British poverty campaigner Peter Kenway defended it on the grounds that “it is a simple and reliable statistic which has played a huge part in propelling poverty up the policy agenda.”
This is exactly why i hate activists who only care about pushing their particular bitch “up the policy agenda” at any cost – including distorting the reality.