Why child poverty seems to be on the decline, according to the Children's Commissioner

The Children's Commissioner has credited charities with helping turn child poverty statistics around.

The latest Child Poverty Monitor showed a significant drop in children living in material hardship between 2015 and 2016, but only a small dip in the number of those living below the poverty line in terms of household income.

"For the first time the stats are coming down - slightly," Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told Three's The Nation on Saturday.

"It's a good basis for future work. But it's too early to say if it's a trend."

Material deprivation is defined as going without essentials, such as warm and dry housing, nutritious food or a raincoat. Mr Becroft says these are the kinds of things charities and community groups provide - and they're doing a fantastic job.

"Communities are behind what's going on, charities are doing good work. I think that's underestimated in all of this, in terms of providing food, clothing, lunches, breakfasts."

But charities can't fix income poverty, and that's where the statistics have barely budged. Twenty-seven percent of children live in homes with incomes below 60 percent of the average, after housing costs - down from 28 percent in 2015.

Mr Becroft says fixing income poverty is a "marathon, not a sprint", and hopes the new Government will stick to its promises of not only setting targets, but publishing its results.

"It would be great in fact if this Child Poverty Monitor wasn't required every year - that there was Government transparent reporting."

Child Poverty Monitor
Photo credit: Child Poverty Monitor

Asked by The Nation host Lisa Owen what single change he would make to give kids a better shot at life, Mr Becroft said it would be to index child benefits to incomes - just like superannuation is.

"I would love to see child benefits linked to wages and prices, so we avoid the occasional increase and then a gradual decrease. We [should] have a continual linking to economic growth. That [is] the single best thing we could do.

"We have to get off the system we've used at the moment of one-off, single initiatives every six or seven years… we've got to have parity and relativity. We can't leave benefits just to one side."

Child Poverty Monitor
Photo credit: Child Poverty Monitor

Another idea he wants the Government to consider is funnelling money paid in child support directly to the families, rather than going to the state, to be redistributed.

"I think [men] would be much more willing and have a much greater stake in what's collected to know it's going back to their child."

Most experts agree child poverty exploded in the 1980s and early 1990s - thanks to benefit cuts - before stabilising, and successive Governments have failed to fix it.

It's becoming increasingly difficult thanks to the rising cost of housing.

"For the 20 percent most disadvantaged families, in the late 1980s about a quarter of their income was spent on accommodation - now for those same families, it's 52 percent of their income," said Mr Becroft.

The Government is set to release its child-focused incomes package next week.