I don’t want to lift children out of poverty

I’ve been thinking more about how we frame our messages this election year, and I’ve realised something pretty significant.

I don’t want to lift children out of poverty.

Because poverty isn’t a hole in the ground, which a few errant kids fell into by accident. Why weren’t they watching where they were going? Can’t they just get themselves out again?

Where did that hole even come from? It’s been there forever. Hell, we put up signs to warn people – “Stay in school!” “Don’t do drugs!” “This way to the free CV-writing seminar!”

If some kids are going to be reckless and fall into the poverty hole, why should my taxpayer dollars pay for a rope to get them out?

It’s not my hole. I was smart enough to stay out of it. My parents don’t live anywhere near that hole. Why should stupid kids who jumped in get a free hand up? They’ll just jumping in again, because we haven’t made them face the consequences of their actions.

I don’t want to lift children out of poverty, because they’re not in there alone. Of course we don’t really blame them for being in the hole. But their parents? They’re adults. They should have known better. Why on earth were they wandering around a hole, with kids no less?

Some of them even have more children in the hole. We can’t reward that kind of irresponsible behaviour!

What if poverty wasn’t a hole in the ground?

What if we talked about poverty as violence. Not inevitable. Not accidental. A deliberate act, committed by human beings who hurt others for their own gain.

What if we talked about poverty as a scam. Greedy con artists stacking the deck in their own favour and stealing everyone else’s cards.

In either case, it’s a choice they’ve made, to profit and rule by robbig other people of options. Offering nothing but starvation wages and windowless garages to live in.

What if we talked about poverty as a wall. Something built by people – CEOs, rightwing politicians, the 1% – to trap everyone else and deny us freedom to live our lives.

What if we said: those people demolished the things we built together – state housing, social welfare, health, education – and used the rubble to block our path.

What if we said: we’re going to tear that wall down, all of us, together.

(What if we realised there isn’t one wall, there are multiple walls, and some people have more than one standing in their way, and we have a moral duty to destroy every single one of them, not just the ones that affect us personally?)

I don’t want to lift children out of poverty. Because I will not treat the deliberately-created, wilfully-engineered exploitation of other human beings as a natural phenomenon. A blameless boo-boo. An opportunity for abstract debate about whether the role of government is to throw a rope down or tell them to pull themselves out of the mess they got themselves into.

I want us to disarm the people who are hurting children by forcing them and their families to be poor. I want us to expose the fraud. I want us to break down the walls of poverty which have been constructed so a greedy few can hoard the profits of others’ labour.

We cannot offer solutions without naming the problem. But we’ve got it all backwards.

The problem isn’t poverty. It’s greed.

The villains aren’t the stupid people who jumped down the poverty hole. It’s the greedy. The rich. The neoliberal mad scientists who created poverty in a lab and sent it out on a dark and stormy night to menace innocent villagers.

The solution isn’t lifting children out of poverty. It’s tearing poverty down.

The right don’t want to have this conversation. They are very happy for us to keep talking about poverty as an abstract phenomenon. They love how much time we spend trying to nail them down to one specific, simple, objective measurement of poverty. They want us to keep saying poverty is a hole, so they can keep saying that it’s not the government’s job to give people free rope to climb out of it.

So let’s stop playing their game.

10 things you could do instead of a sugar tax

It’s sugar tax season again, when leftwing politicians hem and haw about increasing the costs of food they don’t like in order to coerce people to be healthier. Are you excited? I’m excited.

jafar-ecstatic

But I wonder if there’s maybe another way to do things. A way which isn’t punitive, judgemental, or unsubtly sending a message to fat people that their lives are worthless. Maybe it might look something like this.

10 things you could campaign on instead of a sugar tax

Raising wages. Guess what the major obstacle to eating a varied diet high in fruit, vegetables, and tasty protein is? Food costs money! People don’t have much money! Make sure they have more money! Rocket science.

Community gardens, school gardens, and fruit trees on berms. Just put the fresh food out there. Give kids and adults the tools and space to develop skills, provide for themselves, and develop a stronger relationship with where their food comes from.

Good school lunches. Give kids access to a wide range of fresh locally-made food and let them figure out what makes them feel good and full of energy. Bonus: local jobs and opportunities for young/unemployed people to learn skills and contribute to their communities.

Make school sports free. Like, really? I’m not even a parent and I’m hearing about schools charging up to hundreds of dollars, per kid, per team they’re on, per term.

Pools, playgrounds, skate parks, basketball courts. Outside of school, create safe local places for kids and adults to get out and be active.

Raising wages. You know what else makes people reach for convenient pre-packaged highly-processed “junk” foods? Working two or three jobs because they can’t afford to pay the rent, much less be at home every evening to cook a meal from scratch, or go out to the park to play frisbee.

Break up the supermarket duopoly. Two companies control most of our supermarkets, which pushes prices up. Encourage local farmers’ markets especially in urban centres, make it easier for small grocers to get started, crack down on price-fixing and supplier bullying.

Reverse the government’s $1.7 billion cuts to health and then some. Build a health system focused on prevention (of actual diseases, not existence-of-fat-people-itis)

Adopt a Health at Every Size approach. It may sound terrifying, but trufax – when you stop focusing entirely on people’s weight and promote actual physical and mental health, you get happier healthier people. End sizeist policies which exclude fat people from healthcare, and get medical staff looking beyond body size.

RAISING WAGES. Like, seriously. You know what causes a hell of a lot more damage to people’s health than having a fat ass? Stress. Not all the kale in the world is going to save your life if you’re barely sleeping from worry and overwork, never getting any natural light, or constantly fretting about unexpected costs or keeping up appearances despite being skint.

The ironic thing is, many of these policies are already in the political picture. But time and again we get distracted by the policy equivalent of the South Beach Diet- it’s quick! It’s easy! It might damage your health in the long term but you’ll do it anyway because there’s literally nothing worse than being fat!

Our distaste for the huge corporations who sell the packaged/processed/unrecognisable/cheap/nasty food we label as “junk” distracts us from the reality that they are only able to profit because far too many people do not have the luxury of picking and choosing a perfect organic macronutrient-balanced meal plan every week.

I get it. Those guys suck. But ultimately, a sugar tax does nothing but make the cheapest food available more expensive, in an environment where many people cannot make ends meet anyway. Those people won’t find magical quinoa salad under the mattress in the boot of their car if a bag of potato chips costs 50c more.

There are so many other things we can do – so many things that would improve people’s lives without marching into their homes and telling them what’s good for them. A more positive, supportive approach which says people have free will and good hearts, which trusts them to make the right choices for themselves and their whānau. Which is what we’re meant to be about, isn’t it?

Women of #nzpol Twitter: on weight, food and pregnancy

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

sansa misandry

I got the inside running on this one by catching five minutes of Breakfast on One’s interview with John Key:

The rest of the media weren’t far behind.

I just want to note the first sentence of the article Andrea Vance linked to:

More than 60 per cent of pregnant women gain more weight than is recommended, which has implications for a child’s weight later in life.

Not implications for health; implications for weight. We’re so wedded to the notion that being fat automatically means you’re unhealthy that we don’t even need to establish whether or not weight gain in pregnancy leads to health issues. It just must because ew, fatties.

Take it away, Twitter:

And back to me:

For many, many informed perspectives on what happens when you force fat people to go to the doctor, check out First Do No Harm.

This is a common tune for me, but I’m just going to repeat it: fatness does not equal poor health. Thinness does not equal good health. Correlating certain diseases with fatness does not mean fatness causes those diseases. Considering the incredibly fatphobic society we live in, it’s ludicrous not to consider the effects of stress, deprivation, and societally-applauded yo-yo dieting on the overall health of fat people, even IF fat people were inherently less healthy than thin people, which they’re not.

And when it comes to policing the every waking thought and action of pregnant people – including how much weight they gain during pregnancy – there really aren’t good grounds to be talking about “evidence-based approaches”.

Stop talking about weight. Stop judging people based on their weight. Stop buying into the weightloss industry’s propaganda. Because if you want to know the #1 reason why we’re not having national conversations about food access, living wages, family time, and health awareness? Maybe it’s something to do with the fact we keep saying it’s all fat people’s fault for not being able to put down the doughnuts.

And for god’s sake stop making pregnant people responsible for the welfare of our entire society.

Today in dehumanizing fat people

Check out this glorious first sentence in an article about a health policy announcement:

The Government is preparing to make a major announcement in the fight against obesity, as it looks to reverse a trend of expanding waistlines and the burden of disease that goes with it.

Notice what’s missing?

People.

“Expanding waistlines!” it cries. “The burden of disease!” it shrieks. We’re “in a fight against obesity!” it declares. Fatness isn’t a simple physical descriptor in our society: it’s a monster, an autonomous phenomenon which will destroy us all as soon as it can get off the couch.

Whatever the Government’s announcement is, I’d like you to bear in mind a few simple facts:

  • Fat people are people
  • The fact some diseases are statistically linked to being fat does not mean that being fat causes disease
  • Being fat isn’t a disease either
  • Being thin isn’t proof of health
  • You can’t diagnose medical conditions just by looking at someone’s weight
  • There are plenty of diseases and conditions associated with height but no one declares a war on tallness
  • When you live in a society which treats your very bodily existence as proof of your immorality, stupidity and sickness, it’s not exactly a surprise you might get ill.

And if the Government’s announcement is any one of the usual grab-bag of food/exercise strategies:

  • Having access to a broad range of different foods, affordably and easily, is good no matter what your size is
  • Having opportunities to be physical active in a fun and non-coercive way is good no matter what your size is
  • People of any size may have nutritional needs or physical disabilities which you can’t see.

We’re a beautiful, incredibly diverse species, people. We don’t all fit into one box of dietary needs and physical capabilities.

If the Government is creating genuine opportunities for kids to eat a variety of foods – not a narrowly-defined “healthy diet” – or to get out and play – not conform to narrowly-defined notions of “fitness” – awesome.

If the Government is saying “wouldn’t it be nice if all the fat people went away” … not so much.

Anne Tolley’s next abhorrent idea: forced sterilization of poor people

It’s going to be incredibly difficult not to Godwin the hell out of this one, people.

Appearing on TVOne’s Q+A programme this morning, Social Development minister Anne Tolley would not rule out more actively trying to limit or prevent births to families which have come to the attention of authorities.

“Well, we’ll wait and see what the panel report. I expect that they’ll be saying, ‘We should get much, much faster contraceptive advice in. We should be offering, you know, tubal ligations, all sorts of things and counselling those families’,” she said.

Tubal ligation is not a form of contraception. Tubal ligation is a form of sterilization.

And sure, anybody who wants to make an informed decision to get a tubal ligation should be able to. I know plenty of childfree people who’d run at the chance, after many years of “you’ll want kids when you’re older” concern-trolling from the medical establishment.

But let’s not confuse Anne Tolley’s suggestion with any kind of progressive reproductive healthcare policy. This is simply National applying further bullying to “undesirable” people not to have children. And there are many words for that, and most of them are rightly associated with, shall we say, certain fascist societies.

Let’s remember how this government generally acts towards people on benefits, and ask ourselves if we really believe the “offer” of sterilization or counselling or long-term contraception is actually being made in an open-minded, compassionate way.

Let’s remember that their plan of offer free long-term contraception – which was an expensive failure – wasn’t just targeted at beneficiaries, but at their teenage daughters – and what kind of message that sends about “those kind of people”.

I support reproductive choice. I support the state making options available to people, on their own terms, to control when they have kids and how many kids they have. It’d be great to see a government which actually cared enough about stopping unwanted pregnancies to extend free doctor’s appointments for sexual health to more young people, or ensuring quicker access to abortion services.

But that’s not what we’re getting. We’re getting another dystopic, daddy-state interference in the lives of people who are already pushed to the absolute limits. We’re applying the power of government to threaten people who have incredibly little with even less if they dare to have a family the powers-that-be don’t approve of.

It’s grotesque. And worse, it’s probably not even sincere. Anne Tolley knows this won’t solve any of the problems she says exist in our social welfare system. But it will get great headlines about cracking down on those filthy bludging breeders-for-a-business. And even people on the left won’t be rushing to call it out for what it is: a repugnant attack on basic human rights.

~

Some people want to see the good in everything and think we should focus on the important stuff – better access to contraception – instead of calling out Tolley’s horrific agenda. Unfortunately, the coverage this morning makes it all pretty clear:

The Minister for Social Development wants to find a way of stopping the most at-risk beneficiaries from having more children.

Anne Tolley admitted it was a tricky subject, but said something had to be done about the women who have multiple children taken into care.

Emphasis mine; coercive restrictions on poor women’s reproduction all hers.