The Vote is a monthly debate programme which shows on TV3 in New Zealand. This week the title of the debate was “Our Kids: The Problems not Poverty, It’s Parenting.”
The moment I read this title I was wary.
Arguing the affirmative – that issues of child neglect and abuse in New Zealand stem from poor parenting and not poverty were Christine Rankin, the Conservative party, Bob McCoskrie, Family First NZ, and Hannah Tamaki, co-founder of Destiny Churches, NZ. Leading this team was Guyon Espiner.
Arguing the negative – that issues of child neglect and abuse in New Zealand stem from poverty and not poor parenting were Dr Russell Wills, paediatrician and Commissioner for Children, Celia Lashlie, former prison manager and author, and Hone Harawira, Mana party. Leading this team was Duncan Garner
The debate was passionate and spirited, but it failed in my opinion, because it is based on a false choice. It seems to me that issues of child abuse and neglect result both from poverty and poor parenting. Furthermore, both can affect each other. A parent stressed out by bills or having to work long hours, may not have the time to invest in their children. Someone with limited parenting skills may not know how to budget or buy healthy foods.
Indeed, several of the debaters struggled to try and make their case for their side without acknowledging it was affected by what the opposing side were advocating.
Despite the flawed question their were some excellent arguments during the debate. Celia Laslie made the point that by putting it down to “poor parenting” middle New Zealand may feel “let off the hook” regarding working towards addressing poverty in New Zealand.
Duncan Garner also challenged Hannah Tamaki on whether tithing in Destiny church contributed to poverty amongst the poorer parishioners.
Though probably what most bothered me about the debate is that this approach to “solving a problem” is the very antithesis of how science is applied to a problem – cherry picked evidence, statistics pulled out of the air, anecdotes, special pleading. Science works by gathering together all the evidence, discarding that which is less reliable, and then developing shared conclusions based on the strength of the evidence.