Dunedin public certainly caring

Dunedin's Dame Pat Harrison, DCNZM, QSO, says the public with which she is familiar is one that cares deeply about poverty issues and economic inequality.

The suggestion by academic Dr Bryce Edwards (ODT 10.12.13) that people have become bored with economic inequality and poverty issues is, at its best, most disingenuous.

The headline ''Poverty issues boring public'' paints for me a public which is complacent, self-satisfied and unfeeling, impervious to the plight of others.

The public of Dr Edwards - commenting on the release of the Child Poverty Monitor - is not the public with which I am familiar.

Nor do I believe that its ''story will die an early death'' since it tells a story of a quarter of New Zealand's children facing a bleak future of poor health, difficulties in learning and diminished opportunities where social freedoms have been restricted through lack of money.

We have a story which records 47,000 children who have been exposed to family violence and 23,000 with a parent in prison.

The story encompasses 55,000 young people not in education, employment or training.

And the story does not end there, for in the telling of a youth suicide rate second highest in the OECD, it speaks of those young people as profoundly unhappy and without hope.

These are the stories which must be firmly set on a political agenda for both social and economic reasons, and when the public becomes aware, they are more certain to gain leverage.

A public which is apathetic and not wanting to hear loses its sense of community. That is certainly not the public I have encountered in this city.

It is a public which readily acknowledges the work of our combined social services who provide a strength and resilience capable of lifting many out of poverty.

The volunteers who staff the foodbanks come face to face with unrelenting poverty; those who work with solo mothers and their babies cannot escape signs of hardship; young people facing unemployment gain opportunities through several community-based training organisations to be freed from poverty.

It is noteworthy that, where these community-based organisations work with schools or agencies, there are a number of significant hidden successes.

Dunedin's truancy rate is amongst the lowest in the country; youth offending has been consistently decreasing; teenage pregnancies are low in comparison with other centres.

And against the background of such appalling national statistics, each of our post-primary schools has achieved above the national average.

It is important that any city, particularly one whose median wage is $23,000, must always be alert to any deterioration in wellbeing.

Therefore, the public should welcome statistical evidence which shows that poverty indicators are being monitored and it is my belief that they do.

There is, in Dunedin, evidence of social cohesion, a long and proud tradition of social services and of innovative solutions to social problems.

Underpinning the city's economic strategy is an equally important social wellbeing strategy, developed through comprehensive public consultation.

These are healthy signs that our citizens are alive and involved - that is the public I know and I refute any claims otherwise.


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