Salvation Army report highlights 'stubborn' poverty, 'sharp increase' in teen suicide rate

Despite "limited improvement" being made in the lives of many New Zealanders, poverty remains "stubborn" for those most disadvantaged in the country, the latest Salvation Army State of the Nation Report has concluded.

The annual report monitors social indicators such as employment, housing, crime, addiction and gambling to assess how New Zealand is progressing socially. 

All in all, the Salvation Army described the results as "a mixed bag". 

Although the Government could "take heart" that some level of progress was being seen across most indicators, "poverty at the most disadvantaged levels of our community remain stubborn", said Lieutenant Colonel Ian Hutson, the Salvation Army's director of social policy. 

Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni told Newshub she welcomes the feedback in the report.

"This Government is committed to improving New Zealanders' wellbeing and is focused on the right areas: lifting incomes and reducing child poverty," she said.

But Simon Bridges says it shows the Government is failing.

"This just isn't good enough. The Government urgently needs to build on the work that National did around family violence while in government," he told Newshub.

"Given the Government's commitment to doing more to support Māori, it is disappointing, though not surprising, to see the report also highlights little progress in addressing inequality of outcomes between Māori and non-Māori."

The report found positive signs in the fact that unemployment was low, household incomes were increasing and child poverty was "somewhat reduced".

Despite that, "factors linked to poverty like high social housing demand, crime, and children at risk of harm still exist", Hutson said. 

Georgie Craw, executive officer of Child Poverty Action Group, said the report shows that although there have been some helpful policy changes by the Government recently not enough has been done. 

"We still have a long way to go to release the pressure on families and children," Craw told Newshub.

"We just haven’t seen the level of commitment needed to unlock opportunities for families living in the deep poverty that has grown over the past three decades."

The report was divided into five sections: Our children; work and income; crime and punishment; social hazards; and housing.

In terms of the nation's children, the report found that there had been "some progress" in combating child poverty. However, there was "a real concern" over the trend of serious assaults against children and the rate of youth suicide in the country.

Although the number of reports-of-concern about possible abuse and neglect of children has declined after a large increase in 2018 - "overall, not enough real progress seems to be being made for those children at risk of abuse and neglect".

The report found a sharp increase in the teen suicide rate, which it found was "part of a recent increasing trend".

"This is a signal of real concern for the social and mental wellbeing of young people."

Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, says there is a "very clear correlation" between child poverty and children suffering mental health issues.

Children living below the poverty line were "much more likely to be not optimistic, to not feel useful, to feel like a failure".

Poverty also led to children being stigmatised and lacking the resources to participate in the community, Robinson said.

"All of those factors clearly contribute to poor mental health or to that sense of despair that can lead young people to feel suicidal".

Children suffering abuse and neglect were also far more likely to suffer mental health issues and face an increased risk of suicide, he said.  

The report found that overall, crime had declined slightly, though there was essentially no change compared to the previous year. 

"Violent crime including sexual assault does not appear to have declined in any meaningful way," the report said, adding that family violence rates "remain stubbornly high", as does the rate of recidivism. 

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