Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu calls for urgent action after report estimates 18,000 more children pushed into poverty

A group working to create social change and improve outcomes for Māori is joining the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in calling the Government to urgently address findings in a new report.

The report, called The first year of COVID-19: Initial outcomes of our collective care for low-income children in Aotearoa New Zealand, reveals that an additional 18,000 children were likely pushed into poverty in the 12 months to March 2021.

Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, the Whānau Ora commissioning agency for the South Island, says these results are consistent with what they've seen in the community.

"Over the past year there has been an unquestionable increase in requests for support for the basic things like kai, power and data and accommodation costs," says CEO Helen Leahy.

"In fact, the increased demand led to the development of our Puna fund, created specifically to combat the impact that COVID-19 has had on our most vulnerable communities."

During the initial lockdown, Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu launched Manaaki20 to help identify and meet the needs of Māori, as well as creating a community of support and engagement.

Leahy says while COVID-19 transmission rates were lower than predicted among Māori, it shouldn't overshadow the fact they are still bearing the brunt in poverty, homelessness, food security, and overall inequity.

New modelling in the report shows young Māori and Pasifika children were about 2.5 to three times more likely than Pākehā children to have entered poverty in the 12 months after the start of the lockdown last year. Changes in youth homelessness and chronic absences for low-income students were also worse for Māori and Pasifika people than for Pākehā.

"Our hope is that this report will demonstrate to Government that Māori simply must be included in the design and delivery of any strategy to reduce child poverty," Leahy says.

"Its findings confirm that Māori-led solutions over the past year reduced the predicted harm of COVID-19 for Māori. This absorbed the initial shock for whānau but since then, we have seen that the systemic levels of inequity including unemployment and underemployment remain entrenched.

"The Whānau Ora community stands ready to support the implementation of Māori frameworks and approaches to protecting our greatest asset - our tamariki and mokopuna."

In a statement, Minister for Child Poverty Reduction Jacinda Ardern said the Government had tried to mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19 on Kiwis on the lowest incomes.

She points to the benefit increases, changes to income support, the COVID-19 rent freeze and wage subsidies as evidence of the measures to help struggling families.

"On our official measures we have lifted 43,000 children out of poverty on the after housing cost measure," she said.

"We know there is more to do and we remain committed to making New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child."