NZ child poverty: Calls for strong Govt action

Labour children's spokesperson Jacinda Ardern (File)
Labour children's spokesperson Jacinda Ardern (File)

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says the Government has acknowledged there is an issue with children in hardship after calls for urgent action followed a new report that reveals 29 percent of New Zealand children are affected.

The Child Poverty Monitor Technical Report, released today, also found three out of five children living in poverty faced persistent poverty. The percentage has almost doubled in the last thirty years.

But Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says there is "no new data" in the report.

"We've delivered on a promise to do something about it. We are focused on taking steps to help those families living on the lowest incomes rather than being focused on a single measure," she said in a statement.

Save the Children chief executive Heather Hayden says child poverty could have a huge effect on our economy.

"Unless there is a change of course, we're at risk of writing off the future of hundreds of thousands of New Zealand children – sentencing them to a lifetime of poverty.

"This is not just up to the Government to fix, but for all of us to make different choices so the 305,000 children currently struggling every day to get what they need to thrive, can have a future," she says.

Former Green Party MP and activist Sue Bradford has slammed the Child Poverty Monitor's awareness efforts, including a #itsnotchoice hashtag and a selfie campaign launched on their website.

"It doesn't matter how many people take selfies of themselves with a cool slogan. Nothing will change until those in power take poverty seriously," she says.

She says the welfare system needs to be reformed, so that beneficiaries and children are provided with enough income to cover adequate food, clothing and shelter. She also wants to see state housing construction accelerated and a committment to training the unemployed who "want and need jobs now".

Auckland City Missioner Dame Diane Robertson says there has been a steady increase in the number of families needing emergency food assistance. She says the child poverty figures released today are reflected in their own data.

The Mission distributed 1,673 emergency food parcels from September to November in 2013. This year 2,306 were distributed in the same period.

"That’s a 28 percent increase. A third of the families requiring assistance are asking for the first time, which shows the desperation there is in the community," she says.

Chief executive officer of the Public Health Association Warren Lindberg says the increase reflects an inter-generational trap.

"Throwing an extra $25 a week at poor families, as promised in this year's budget, will simply not be enough and a much more comprehensive approach that looks at how the economy includes and excludes opportunity for people is required," he says.

He calls for a reform of income support so children have the same opportunities whether their parents are in paid work or not, and setting national standards for housing.

Labour’s spokesperson for children, Jacinda Ardern, says the report shows average pay rates haven't kept pace with economic growth.

"The Government has persistently avoided the issue of incomes, but if we want to make a difference to our kids' futures then it's unavoidable," she says.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says "something's gone drastically wrong".

"Ministers can say what they like about their management of the economy, but when increasing numbers of children are dying from preventable conditions associated with poverty it's clear the Government is on the wrong track," she says.

3 News / NZN