Opinion: Why are poverty rates shocking even as our economy grows?

Village boy in Turkey wearing pair of old shoes.
Photo credit: Getty.

OPINION: Poverty is a very real issue in our country and it's time we all took action with a collective approach, or we will all suffer the impact well into the future.

Between 2013 and 2017, our economy grew by 14 percent, but there has been no discernible change in child poverty rates.

We know that roughly 285,000 Kiwi kids are living in poverty and 100,000 of these are classed as living in severe poverty - and it’s not only children in families with benefit dependency.

The reality is around 40 percent of children living in poverty are from working households. We know that Māori and Pasifika families are over-represented in poverty statistics. We know that rising living costs means food and adequate heating are the first things to be skipped.

We know that damp, inadequate housing and poor access to healthcare leads to more serious health problems later in life. We’ve seen an increase in the number of new families coming to The Salvation Army for help – 336 new families every week that have never been to us before.

The reasons for poverty are multi-faceted and complex, but the end goal needs to be equal opportunities that enable all people to thrive and reach their full potential, without the stress of lacking the basic needs to survive.

With the way we are headed as a country now, we should be alarmed. We were only last week called out by the UN for our shocking child poverty numbers. Over the last 10-15 years, there has been a focus on building a bigger, better economy.

While that theory might have promised a trickle-down effect, we are still to see this. Instead, we've seen a huge hole grow where poverty has been left to flourish. We need a cross-party and collaborative commitment to end poverty.

A long-term focus set in stone that won’t change with the change in government. We need a plan that is high impact, sustainable and persistent. Government, together with NGOs and community groups need to come together and share the rich knowledge each holds to find solutions.

What works in Auckland, might not work in Wellington and so on. This is where the local community can help the most. Efforts need to be made to ensure that economic growth is inclusive.

We need a fairer tax system and less judgement on vulnerable people. I am pleased that WINZ and the Ministry of Social Development are working with NGOs to make steps to change the culture, and that NGO groups have the chance to speak into this.

Clients are too often misunderstood and may become marginalised. With a collective and relentless approach, we can tackle this together in a timeframe of 10 years.

I might be ambitious, but ambition is what is needed to drive real action. I'd encourage people to take a look around and see where they can make change. Donations, time, a helping hand. It all helps.

Pam Waugh is Head of Welfare Services for the Salvation Army.

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