After nine years National – now occupying the Opposition benches – is finally seeing the fruits of its labour in addressing New Zealand’s unacceptable child poverty rates.
According to the 2017 Child Poverty Monitor, released by the office of the Children’s Commissioner today, the number of children living in homes considered to be in income poverty has dropped one percent in the last year – from 295,000 (28 percent) in 2016 to 290,000 (27 percent) this year.
Other figures from the annual report, now in its fifth year, also show a dip in the number of children considered to be from New Zealand’s poorest homes – with 70,000 children (six percent) satisfying the threshold for experiencing severe material hardship, down two percent from 85,000 in 2016. Children living in severe material hardship do not have access to more than half of a select list of 17 basic household items.
While Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft was encouraged by the latest report, he emphasised the need for the new Government to actively respond to child poverty problems.
“It is essential that we keep up this momentum,” Becroft said.
“We need to see changes like these every year to see a substantial long-term decrease in poverty, and ensure these gains are not cancelled out by increases in the cost of living. We can see for the first time some real progress towards wiping out child poverty, but it will take many small steps to get there.”
Becroft, who has championed the need for Government commitment to child poverty reduction targets, also touched on the link between benefit payment levels and child poverty.
“Following an increase in benefit levels in 2015 and other adjustments by the previous Government, we have seen a small drop in the number of children living in households on low incomes or lacking the items they need for everyday living.”
Paula Bennett, now National’s spokeswoman for children, was quick to capitalise on her former Government’s approach to addressing social issues like child poverty. Like Becroft, she highlighted the 2015 benefit payment increases – which came after a 40-year freeze on increases.
“We’ve had the lowest number of sole parents on welfare since 1988,” she told Newsroom.
“That means that these women have a sense of pride in themselves, have an increased income, and as a consequence, their children will be living better lives.
“[The drop in child poverty figures show] that we had done the hard work behind the scenes, that we have put in the whole processes that have actually changed Government agencies and how they viewed this work and what will be done.”
Another key figure from the monitor also highlighted the spiralling nature of New Zealand’s child poverty problem – with a 35-year comparison showing a much more dire picture for today’s young families.
“In 1982, the percentage of children in families experiencing income poverty was 14 percent, compared to 27 percent now,” the report said.
Becroft, who has been encouraged by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s commitment to eradicating child poverty, hoped things would significantly improve under the new Government.
“We are very encouraged to see the commitment to put child poverty measures and an obligation on governments to set regular targets into legislation, as well as the number of Government initiatives signalled in the ‘first 100 days’ work programme, including the proposed Families Package, Best Start and increases to Paid Parental Leave,” he said.
“These policies will make a real difference in reversing the trend.”