Please, sir, can I have the implementation of a number of already-identified measures that have been shown internationally to mitigate poverty and benefit the wider economy?
by Lyndon Hood
One evening last week I was taking my constitutional when I happened upon one of those impoverished children I keep hearing of.
“Oh, hello! What have we here?” I exclaimed.
“Evening, Guv’nor.” the child replied. (Those may not have been the exact words, I wasn’t really listening.)
“I say, I know a joke about you.” I said, “Would you like to hear it?”
The child looked all ears. Or at least looked as much ears as one can be when one is already a significant proportion gnawing hunger and sniffle.
“Well, it seems the other day in Parliament, the Prime Minister, you see, he was being asked if he agreed the poverty measure he liked last time says New Zealand has the highest inequality ever and there was this graph, you understand. And he said that the graph… Oh, hang on, I’ll do the voice. So the PM said, ‘That graph looks like the National Party’s poll ratings while in Government, so I appreciate the member showing it to the House.’ Ha! It’s funny because the graph, you see, it went up. Jolly man, that Mr Key. Good for morale. Bread and circuses. Without the bread in this case, obviously. Anyhow, there’s your joke. Eh, what?”
My audience looked up at me, face displaying not even the barest trace of laughter. This particular youth was certainly suffering from poverty of amusement, if nothing else.
“Oh, honestly,” I said, “Are there really two hundred and seventy thousand deprived children in this country? Well all I can say is if the other two hundred and sixty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine are all as po-faced as you I worry for the future.”
The urchin repeated the ‘failing to react’ lark. Flawlessly.
Was it an urchin? To my mind it didn’t look nearly Victorian enough. Those Victorians – the British ones, not the Australian ones – they knew how to deal with poor people. Put them all to work for a few years, then I’m sure we’d all get along splendidly. Why oh why are we closing coal mines when there are all these children who apparently need the money so much?
“Anyway, I should start packing if I were you. You’ll be out of this poverty biz in no time, once these welfare reforms get going. Parents getting a job’s the most important step out of poverty, don’t you know, so once they’ve cut your mater and pater’s benefits for their own good, you’ll be on easy street. Something to look forward to!”
Comprehension failed to dawn across the youth’s grubby, innocent face. I decided to explain the cause and effect of this process more clearly.
“Well you see there’s the benefit, which is, well I suppose just enough to keep you all alive, give or take… so if we give them less money, then when they have to feed you they won’t have any money left. And that’s good for you, because… wait a moment… I think I went wrong at the beginning. It was all so clear when Leighton Smith explained it. See, they need to be quite literally forced into jobs, just look at the numbers: for some reason since the economy collapsed the number of work-shy skivers has almost doubled.”
The child chewed thoughtfully on gob of mucus, and began to speak.
Here comes the shakedown, I thought. It probably expects me to pay for a wide screen TV. What have we come to? Beneficiaries should be made to buy CRT televisions, even if they have to go to an antique shop to do it.
“So that’s the plan, is it?” it said, “For fixing things?”
“The whole plan?”
“That is certainly the nub of its gist.”
“Gor lummie. At least the last lot left well enough alone.”
“Well if you don’t like it perhaps you should fly to Australia. I’ve heard it’s just the thing. And as it happens that’s not all. Education, for E G, is utterly critical. They’re going to take our already excellent education system and improve it. By making it more like other, less good, education systems. Of course that poverty of yours might be a bit of a damper on your educational success, so you might consider becoming rich some other way beforehand. I expect the underlying settings will be your friend there. Those are fixed, you see. They’ve fixed the underlying settings. Kick in any minute. Just you wait ’till those underlying settings get going.”
The child just stared at me. Its face remained a picture of blankness. Had I been asked to sketch a portrait I should not have had to put pencil to paper. I thought perhaps I needed to speak more clearly.
“WHAT’S THE MATTER?” I enunciated, “TOO MANY THIRD-WORLD DISEASES? TOO MUCH SECOND-HAND MARIJUANA SMOKE? NOT PROPERLY BREAST-FED? OVERCOME WITH DESPAIR AT THE BLEAK PROSPECT OF A LIFE WHERE EVEN THE SLIGHTEST JOY IS WITHDRAWN IN THE NAME OF GIVING YOU AN ‘INCENTIVE’ TO TAKE SOME MISERABLE JOB THAT DOESN’T ACTUALLY EXIST ANYWAY?”
“No Guv. I’m smart, me. I’m doing something with my life.”
“Ah, self-responsibility! Got a job sweeping chimneys? You know what they say, ‘Get in on the ground floor’. Ahahaha.”
“I’m making the most of the chances I have been presented with and returning to society as it has given to me.”
“How’s that, then? Dobbing in your parents for spending their welfare on Playstations?”
“No Guv. Keeping you distracted while my mates strip your car.”
I can tell you my heart positively sank to my boots. I hardly dared look. I gingerly turned around and — well, blow me if my car wasn’t exactly how I had left it.
When I looked back, however, the child had transformed – into a picture of malicious glee. It pointed at my face, and it laughed and laughed and laughed.
Well, really. I don’t see what’s funny about that.