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Caring about children

Jonathan Boston, co-Chairman of the Children’s Commissioner’s advisory group on solutions to child poverty, has made comments that men need to become more involved in finding and enacting solutions to child poverty and deprivation. In response, over the weekend the Herald quoted Paul Callister, a respected and widely published economic and social researcher, as saying:

The bigger issue is that both men and women don’t care enough about child poverty. If we did, we’d have a Swedish or Norwegian system in place.

While Callister is right to call on both men and women to care about child poverty, his equation of caring with the implementation of a Scandinavian system is unfair.

There are many ways to demonstrate caring other than implementing Scandinavian styles of universal state provision. Those systems may be working well in Sweden and Norway—where a relatively shared popular commitment to social democracy seeks to generate equality amongst a relatively ethnically homogeneous population—but that does not mean that they would necessarily work well here nor that they are the only way to go.

Policy debates on child poverty in liberal democracies like ours tend to break down into two basic camps: those (usually like the Labour, Green and Mana Parties) who believe that more state money and programme need to be extended to families, especially those on benefits or with low incomes; and those (usually like the National and Act Parties) who believe that the state’s role is primarily to set up and secure the conditions under which parents can find work so that they can provide for their children.

To say that one camp cares about child poverty while the other doesn’t is not only simplistic—it’s wrong. People in both camps care, and people in both camps want to develop ways to enable children to live better lives.

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