Children's Commissioner calls for action after report reveals one in five children live in income poverty

Child poverty advocates are calling for action after a new report revealed one in every five children in New Zealand is living in income poverty - and COVID-19 could make it worse.

The Child Poverty Monitor released their annual report on Wednesday in partnership with the Office of the Children's Commissioner, the JR McKenzie Trust and Otago University.

The data reveals that over 13 percent or 150,000 of Kiwi children experience material hardship. This means they live in households unable to afford six or more essential items including having enough to eat, fresh vegetables, and warm clothes.

It also found 235,400 children live in low-income households which is about 20.8 percent of all people aged under 18 years old.

But while the country is roughly on track to meet the Government's 2021 targets under the Child Poverty Reduction Act 2018, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft and the Treasury are warning COVID-19 may increase poverty and hardship rates further.

"We all want every child in Aotearoa, no matter their background, to have the support and opportunity to flourish," Becroft said.

"But for the past 30 years, New Zealand has knowingly excluded a large group of tamariki from that vision.  Large numbers of tamariki are still being denied what they need to thrive, a situation that COVID-19 could make worse - if we let it."

The executive director of the J R McKenzie Trust Robyn Scott said she believes more needs to be done to support the wellbeing of children after the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Government responses to COVID-19 including wage subsidies, a small increase in benefits, and the temporary doubling of the Winter Energy Payment were a great start. But business also needs to play a part with better pay and conditions, and opportunities for people to develop."

Becroft has come up with three solutions he would like to see the Government implement: raising family incomes by increasing benefits, increasing the supply of state and social housing and bring in new ways to manage rental costs and quality, and helping families in their immediate needs. This could include expanding the food in schools programme and extending free medical care to everyone under the age of 18, he said.

"The Government, with cross-party support, laid strong foundations on which to build better progress for children. These include the Child Poverty Reduction legislation, the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, and linking benefits to wages. Now, our children need some walls built on those foundations - big, bold permanent changes that ensure all tamariki have what they need to flourish."