Budget 2021: Benefit increases, rent reforms needed to tackle child poverty in New Zealand - experts

Raising benefits and rent reforms are some of the key areas that need addressing in this year's Budget to tackle child poverty in New Zealand, experts say.

Thursday is Budget day, and many people are vying for a slice of the multi-billion dollar pie.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in 2017 she wanted all children in New Zealand to grow up free of poverty, but four years in, there are concerns from experts the Government hasn't done enough. There are key areas Budget 2021 needs to address to help this.

"There's incremental changes, but it's not good enough to be a little bit better than we were a few years ago," Janet McAllister, Child Poverty Action Group spokesperson, tells The Project. "There are still children suffering."

For Budget 2021 to make a real impact, she says there are key areas that need a financial boost.

"In a nutshell, liveable incomes for all families and whānau with children. So we need to lift benefits, we need to lift family assistance."

For the Government to get an A on the Budget, economics commentator Bernard Hickey says there are two areas it needs to address.

"It needs to deliver on the recommendations of the Welfare Advisory Group to increase benefits by $5 billion a year," he says.

"Secondly, it needs to outline how it's going to build the 50,000 to 100,000 houses that are needed to even start to deal with our housing crisis."

Raising benefits is also what Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft wants to see and says this is "now non-negotiable and must happen". Housing is also an important issue for him.

"Housing's a huge driver for family poverty and affects children. I wish we could magic up more houses tomorrow, but we can't," he says.

"One thing we could do is link the accommodation supplement to actual housing costs, and I think to ensure it didn't go direct to landlords - we don't want them gobbling up any increase - I think we need to see some form of rent rules, rent regulations that would control rent at the lower end of the market."

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

While the experts say a benefit increase and rent reform are the bottom lines, there are still other areas that will help children out of poverty.

"One would be free medical care until age 18. That would go direct to children and would be terrific," Becroft says.

Dr Matt Roskruge, co-director of Te Au Rangahau and associate professor at Massey University's School of Economics and Finance, says one thing that may be "scary" for governments is trying to break cycles of poverty.

"So there, we might be looking at things like greater criminal justice reform, putting more money into mental health, to rehabilitation programmes, to work-ready programmes, into adult education. Even public transport, because one of the biggest barriers for families living in poverty is just getting to places."

Becroft says child poverty didn't happen slowly and gradually - it happened after the 1991 Mother of all Budgets delivered by the National Party.

"Benefits lost relativity with wages and were unable to keep people and children, in particular, flourishing and well. And we've never made it up and that's why this Budget has to do it."