Fairer futures for children and whānau: what we’re learning

‘Fairer futures for children and whānau’ is a key focus of our new funding strategy.

It’s clear that poverty and inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand are confronting and complex issues. To understand them better, we’re taking a systems change approach, which involves trying to understand and shift the conditions that are holding poverty and inequality in place. We’ve also been asking: How can we, as a funder, do a better job of supporting communities to address these issues and to achieve longer-term social change?

Over the last 30 years, New Zealand has gone from being one of the most equal to one of the most unequal countries in the OECD. The cost of living (rising food and transport costs, and especially housing) have outstripped benefits and wages; work for many is more precarious; and 50% of the population own just 2% of the nation’s combined savings, property and assets.

The pressures of living in hardship reduce people’s capacity to plan, save and get ahead, and the associated toxic stress can harm family relationships and interfere with healthy child development. This can cause negative outcomes that compound across generations. While families and communities try to do their best for their children, factors largely beyond their control are preventing too many children from reaching their full potential. An example is the rapid rise of the cost of housing (both to buy and rent).

We have discovered that the policies of successive governments over the last 30 years (such as the benefit cuts of 1991) and global economic trends are linked to the rise of poverty and income inequality. However, the other side of the coin is that government policies (such as those that raise family income levels) are powerful levers for change.

Child poverty now being acknowledged

Thankfully, due to advocates campaigning over many years, both main political parties now acknowledge that child poverty is a problem. 2018 saw the Child Poverty Reduction Bill passed into law and there seems to be energy for change. At the same time, we know that strong and sustained advocacy is required to drive the level of change needed.

And despite good intentions, there are many barriers to government-led change, including short-term government cycles, the adversarial nature of our government system, legislative and budget constraints, and economic conditions.

We are also learning that there is an art (and science) to building public support for transformative change. While New Zealanders are concerned about poverty and inequality, proposed solutions to income inequity are often controversial (including tax and welfare reform, paying employers a living wage, addressing the gender pay gap, and exploring the concept of a universal basic income). As a society, are we able to see beyond popular narratives that blame people for their circumstances and address the broader societal conditions that contribute to poverty and inequality?

Community leading the way

Positively, innovative community-led initiatives are strengthening supportive connections between people, helping children and families to overcome many of their challenges, while reducing their levels of stress, and helping them access opportunities to get ahead. These ‘bright spots’ include Maori-led initiatives (such as Hikurangi Takiwa Trust) and those that involve families leading change themselves (such as the Kootuitui Whānau in Papakura). There is inherent strength in families and communities.

To create a fairer, more socially just society, we believe that the balance of power and influence needs to be tipped more in favour of children, families and communities so that they can have a greater sense of control over their own lives and hope for the future.

Unfortunately there is no ‘silver bullet’ to achieve ‘fairer futures for children and whānau’ and funding individual programmes will not help to shift the government policies, deeply held societal beliefs and power imbalances (including bias and discrimination based on ethnicity and gender) that enable poverty and inequality to persist. For this reason, we want to support activity (at both national and community levels) that aims to shift some of these underlying dynamics. In addition, we see a role in supporting change makers (including other funders) to connect and learn together.

What’s next for Fairer Futures?

In 2019 we’ll be engaging more deeply with communities, groups, collectives, and other funders to understand the key issues and outcomes communities want to work towards together and how we could best support this work. We’ll also continue to reflect on our own practices as a funder, so that we can identify ways we can better support for longer-term social change.

Although we don’t accept unsolicited approaches for funding, we would love to connect with groups taking a collaborative approach to address the root causes of poverty and inequality in Aotearoa.

We will post further updates about the Fairer Futures focus area here and on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/ToddFoundation as our work develops.