Child poverty in spotlight as election looms

Saturday 14 Jun 2014 5:31 p.m.

Campaigners are ramping up the pressure to put child poverty at the centre of this year's election.

They want voters to demand action from their politicians on a range of changes, including introducing a universal benefit for young children.

With the first three to four years of a child's life said to make or break their future, campaigners want politicians to agree on an adequate standard of living for children, and then help provide it.

With the election looming, Dr Russell Wills says New Zealanders need to make their voices heard.

"Public support is growing for these kinds of ideas. The more it grows, the more public support, the more political support we will see for these kinds of policies."

Policies include a universal benefit for young children.

"Universal benefits work because you don't have to apply for them; they apply to everybody. That's why we have such low poverty among our older people."

New Zealand is behind 21 of 34 OECD countries that already have universal child benefits.

Professor Jonathan Boston, the co-author of a new book on child poverty, says children need the same consideration as older people.

"What we need is a societal consensus that children matter, they are our future. We need to invest in them, we need to care for them and we need a good future for all our children."

And it's a view that's gaining in support. The Children's Commissioner says left-wing voters place child poverty third on their list of priorities for this election.

It's a couple of places lower for right-wingers, but still important.

Dr Wills says a rethink on other benefits would also help the poorest.

"Significant changes were made to benefits in the 1990s and child poverty tripled."

Campaigners say there's no need to put up with poverty, but say it'll take political and public will to restore benefits in real terms to where they were a generation ago.

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