New Zealand moves up global child poverty rankings, UNICEF says new government must prioritise children ahead of tax cuts  

The report said that New Zealand has "made recent progress in child poverty reduction," though it "still has relatively high rates".
The report said that New Zealand has "made recent progress in child poverty reduction," though it "still has relatively high rates". Photo credit: Image: Getty Images

UNICEF is putting pressure on the new National-led government to put children's welfare ahead of tax cuts if New Zealand is to maintain momentum in the fight against child poverty.  

UNICEF's 18th Report Card, 'Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth,' was released on Wednesday and shows New Zealand has risen to 19th out of 39 countries in the report.

Released by the Innocenti research unit, the report compares child poverty rates in high-income and upper-middle-income countries in the EU and OECD and a country's ranking is based on absolute rates of child poverty and proportional change in child poverty rates over a seven-year period.  

New Zealand's most recent rate of child poverty, average between 2019 and 2021, was 21.1 percent, which ranked 29th, but the change in child poverty, which compared 2012-2014 to 2019-2021, was a drop of 11.7 percent, which ranked 17th best.  

The report said that New Zealand has "made recent progress in child poverty reduction," though it "still has relatively high rates".  

"It's encouraging to see the focus on child poverty reduction in New Zealand over a number of years is starting to have a positive impact on our precious tamariki," UNICEF Aotearoa CEO Michelle Sharp said.  

"However, we still have a long way to go. Now is the time to double down on our efforts and ensure we have Government-wide commitment to seeing numbers continue to trend downwards," she said.   

The report noted New Zealand's high poverty amongst Māori and Pacific children (20 and 24 percent respectively) when compared to children of European descent (around 8 percent) as well as the high rates of poverty amongst children with disabilities who were twice as like to live in material hardship.   

The report concluded cash benefits were among the most effective ways to support children and families and alleviate child poverty.  

On Monday the new government announced a small, mandated increase in Family Tax Credits, but going forward it plans to freeze the Working for Families abatement threshold at $42,700, where it has been since 2018, rather than increase it to $50,000 by 2026 as indicated by the previous Labour government.  

UNICEF said this means families with children will miss out on crucial money for the basics.  

"We are urging the newly formed Government to prioritise children in its Budget. This includes adjusting the Working for Families abatement rate to ensure money ends up in the hands of those who need it most," Sharp said.

"The report titled 'Child Poverty in the Midst of Wealth' demonstrates what we are experiencing here in Aotearoa New Zealand. There is more than enough to go around, and children's basic needs shouldn't be compromised to deliver tax cuts".  

UNICEF Aotearoa is also calling on the new government to:  

Expand the Best Start payment to the age of five now, and establish a roadmap to a universal child payment up to age 18 by 2030.  

Keep the campaign promise to maintain healthy school lunches in schools, and in future budgets make Ka Ora, Ka Ako permanent and available to all children in all schools.  

Develop a housing strategy that ensures warm, dry, safe and secure homes for families, particularly for the more than 3500 children currently living in motels. We urge the new Government to keep election promises of supporting the community housing sector to grow and provide warm and dry homes to New Zealanders in need.