The number of New Zealand children in households facing material hardship has dropped by 20,000 in the last two years, according to newly released child poverty statistics.

However, the data has highlighted the plight of disabled Kiwi kids, who are more than twice as likely to be in material hardship.

Statistics NZ has released its latest child poverty statistics using data from the 2019/20 Household Economic Survey, setting out progress compared to the 2017/18 survey – the baseline laid out in the Child Poverty Reduction Act passed into law in 2018.

While New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown meant the survey covered only nine months instead of the usual 12, from July 2019 to March 2020, Stats NZ says it is still confident in the quality of its figures.

The new numbers show all nine child poverty measures have trended downwards in the last two years, with the Government’s first three-year target as set down in the legislation set to be assessed next year.

The percentage of children living in households with material hardship – lacking more than six of 17 assessed “essential items” such as fresh fruit and vegetables or access to doctors’ visits – dropped from 13.3 percent in 2017/18, or 147,600 children, to 11 percent in 2019/20, or 125,200 children.

The percentage of children in households with less than 50 percent of the median disposable income before housing costs dropped by 1.9 percentage points, or 16,300 children, over the same period, while taking housing costs into account saw the decrease grow to 4.6 points, or 43,400 children.

In addition to those three “primary” measures, the six supplementary measures taken by Stats NZ also improved over the two-year period.

Stats NZ said it was able to provide detailed statistics on disabled people and their households for the first time.

Nearly one in five disabled children lived in material hardship, more than twice the rate for non-disabled children, while children in a household where at least one person was disabled were also more likely to live in material hardship than where that wasn’t the case.

Māori and Pacific children were also overrepresented in the child poverty statistics, with 19 percent of Māori children and 25.4 percent of Pacific children living in material hardship – compared with an 11 percent average for New Zealand children overall.

However, Māori children made up nearly half of the annual decline in the number of children facing material hardship from 2018/19 to 2019/20.

“What’s clear is that one-offs won’t cut it – we need sustained, continuous and big, bold change.”

Responding to the new statistics, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was “pleasing to see our actions having a real impact on children’s lives”.

“Today’s numbers demonstrate our actions to reduce child poverty are making a real difference in children’s lives, and they are a promising indication our goal of halving child poverty within 10 years is on track,” Ardern said.

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft said he was cautiously optimistic about the trends, but warned that Covid-19 had been a “game-changer” whose effect was not reflected in the numbers.

“What’s clear is that one-offs won’t cut it – we need sustained, continuous and big, bold change,” Becroft said.

While the Government’s families package had had a clear and demonstrable impact, the number of Māori and Pacific children in poverty was an “immense and profound” concern.

“We need specific targeting for Pasifika and Māori, there’s no way around that. I mean, how can our Western world country not feel shame, when that level of disproportionality is laid bare on a day like today?”

It was also frustrating that the data lagged behind the current situation, as he had heard from the frontlines of families struggling with the basics and food banks facing record demand.

Council of Trade Unions economist and director of policy Craig Renney said the fall in child poverty was welcome news, but more work was needed for the Government to deliver on its promises.

The numbers “will be cold comfort for the more than 200,000 children who are still recorded as living in poverty according to the official statistics”, Renney said, with 125,000 children still living in material hardship.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

Leave a comment