Whose responsibility is child poverty? The movie Oranges and Sunshine brings attention to the outrageous situation of 130,000 poor children being sent unaccompanied to Australia from the U.K to help whiten Australia. This happened from the 19th Century until the 1970s. The Catholic Church, various charitable organisations, and both governments were actively engaged in this.
These children were often told their parents were dead, when in fact they were not. These children were sent into the most spartan of environments, usually given only a shirt and shorts, not even shoes, provided with the barest minimum of food and made to do the work of adults to pay for these ‘services.’ Many of the children were physically and sexually abused. These children were aged from 4 -15 years of age when deported to Australia.
A social worker uncovered this story in the mid 1980s and asked the U.K government and the other agencies involved to help reunite the children with their identities and family if they were still alive. The government and agencies refused to take any action to assist these children, now adults, for 23 years.
While many of us may still have a very imperfect understanding of the role racism in colonisation, this story highlights how the poor/children were used as pawns in this. It was as if the U.K government thought it could eliminate a class of people while assisting Australia to eliminate an entire people. Is this what they thought was win-win problem solving?
Sadly I think the attitudes shown in the film continue today in the dominant attitudes to child poverty in this country. Those in power said the children were victims of terrible parents rather than any institution or government; they did not at any time consider these children as citizens or whole beings and there was no-one checking to see if their basic needs were being met.
We’re told by the Government that a rational response to the 270,000 children living in poverty in this country is to make those bad/lazy parents go to work and cut their benefits if they don’t (There is no such thing as the working poor, of course). Childrens’ rights as citizens and human beings are completely ignored in this scenario. While CYFs struggles to have the resources to respond to serious physical and sexual abuse, the state is not checking whether these 270,000 children have enough food, adequate shelter and clothing, let alone access to education.
A core Green Party policy for this election is to lift at least 100,000 children out of poverty by 2014. We believe all children are entitled to the basic human rights.
This can be done by:
- Extending working for families to beneficiaries
- Regulating rental housing
- Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour
- Reinstating and extending the Training incentive allowance
This is a choice for all of us; turn a blind eye, say it’s someone else’s problem; or vote to change it.
Child poverty is not an overly complex problem, in fact it’s one of the easier ones to solve.