New Zealand 'rather late' to wake up to the reality of child poverty - Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft

One in five Kiwi kids lives in a household that doesn't have access to enough healthy food, according to the latest Child Poverty Monitor report.

This is no improvement on last year, despite the coalition Government's best efforts, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told The AM Show on Monday.

"You could fill Eden Park twice over with the number of kids who are doing it tough. That's unarguable - it's about 100,000," he said.

"If you take food, education, housing, health, they are struggling in a way that no New Zealand child should. In a country that's had such great economic growth over the last 15 years - big growth in gross domestic product - we could be doing better, and we've got the opportunity to do it."

Some of the shocking numbers in the latest Child Poverty Monitor report.
Some of the shocking numbers in the latest Child Poverty Monitor report. Photo credit: Supplied

Children living in the most disadvantaged areas are twice as likely to end up in hospital as their wealthier peers, the 2018 report says, and significantly less likelier to achieve high-school qualifications.

"Evidence that children in low income families are more likely to get sick, to leave school without a qualification, and to sometimes struggle to get food shows why this Government has made the wellbeing of children such a priority," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

But there's a catch - data quality and collection issues means this year's report is relying on data that ends at June 2017, before the present Government took the reins.

"There's a new Household Economic Survey out now - much larger sample," said Mr Becroft. "We should get those results in mid next year - that'll be a sign when we'll really see if the tide's beginning to turn."

Andrew Becroft.
Andrew Becroft. Photo credit: The AM Show

Despite the lack of new numbers, Mr Becroft says the latest report shouldn't be dismissed.

"Either way you cut it, we know there's a significant group - 100,000 or so. Whether it's two Westpac Stadiums, two Eden Parks full of children, it's a bad situation."

His solution would be to index child benefits to wage and price inflation - just like superannuation - and the decent economic growth New Zealand has had makes it affordable.

"We do it for the elderly, we do it for superannuation - we could do it for children. That safety net would be a game-changer."

The present Government has a goal of halving child poverty in a decade. Mr Becroft says it's totally possible, with National realising in its third term child poverty in Aotearoa wasn't a myth and upping benefits.

"Both Governments in a sense have said we've got to do better. I think we woke up as a country, but rather late."

He says the current Government's efforts should start to show up in data due to be analysed and released next year.

Ms Ardern pointed to the Government's recent families package, the extension of paid parental leave, the Best Start payment and free doctors' visits for under-14s as ways they are tackling child poverty.

"In a country with the resources of New Zealand, we have an opportunity and obligation to make our country the best place in the world to be a child," she said.