Child poverty – the depressing data the government’s spin doctors have not been braying about

New Year is a time for predictions to be made by commentators bemusingly confident they can foretell what the year ahead will bring, and for last year’s predictions to be checked.

On her blog today, Lindsay Mitchell has gone back a bit further than January 2019 to check on a prediction she made in September 2017  that Jacinda Ardern would increase child poverty if she became Prime Minister.

So how has that turned out?

On 7 of 9 measures introduced under the Child Poverty Reduction Act, to June 2018 poverty had increased. That’s fairly out-dated data now and not a particularly useful measuring stick.

But also now known is that children in benefit dependent households rose between June 2018 and 2019.

Mitchell reinforces her point with data from Otago University’s Child Poverty Monitor and observes:

It’s not a big rise but it’s the first in 10 years.

MitchelI argues that despite studying the child poverty problem as Labour spokesperson for six years, Ardern didn’t understand the drivers.

Essentially the more a country chooses to decrease poverty through redistribution, the more joblessness grows.  It is well documented now that despite having low unemployment, numbers on the jobseeker benefit – and more recently the sole parent benefit – have increased. The kind of people who choose not to work when they could, aren’t necessarily stupid. But they are quite probably not good money-managers.  For instance, they don’t prioritise their children’s needs. There is usually wisdom behind old adages. In this case, ‘Easy come, easy go.’

I don’t know if the Left will ever figure out that state-enforced redistribution to the poor doesn’t solve their problems in a meaningful or sustained way. It won’t under this leader anyway.

But here’s an election year question for you to ponder. If Ardern claims this year that her Families Package has reduced child poverty (BUT more children are in non-working homes) is that a success?

The PM remains confident she is on the right track.

Among several questions put to her by readers of The Guardian just before Christmas, she was asked: 

When is your government going to make the transformational change to child poverty that you promised?

In reply, she didn’t give a date.

She did say New Zealand’s child poverty rate will be “amongst the lowest in the world” when the Government achieves its targets set by the Child Poverty Reduction Act.

“We have committed to reducing child poverty by at least half within 10 years. The Child Poverty Reduction Act requires the government to set targets and report on child poverty every year. This is huge as it creates a framework for ongoing action and accountability by this and all future governments.

“Achieving our targets will mean our child poverty rates are amongst the lowest in the world. Every step we take to get closer to our targets represents a tangible improvement in the day-to-day lives and future opportunities of those families and children who are no longer in poverty.

“Our first two budgets have included actions to significantly reduce child poverty and material hardship. The most significant of these was our $5.5bn families package, which increased the family tax credit and accommodation supplement, and introduced the best start and winter energy payments. In Budget 2020, we indexed benefits to wages, and increased the amount that beneficiaries can earn before their benefit reduces. These changes are expected to lift between 42,000 and 73,000 children out of poverty.

“We have also taken action to ease the financial pressures felt by low-income families, by reducing health, education and other costs. The impact of many of these investments isn’t captured in current child poverty reporting the release of new Statistics NZ data in early 2020 will be the first indication of the progress we’re making in reducing child poverty.”

But a week or two before Ardern discussed her poverty targets, a headline in The Guardian made readers aware that …

Ardern government fails to reduce child poverty in New Zealand

The headline sat atop a report early in December  which quoted the Children’s Commissioner on the matter.

The Ardern government has failed to reduce child poverty in New Zealand, the children’s commissioner says, despite the prime minister’s pledge to make the country the best place in the world to be a child.

The children’s commissioner, Andrew Becroft, released the annual child poverty monitor on Monday which has found 148,000 children live in homes experiencing material hardship in six or more areas, including lack of access to basics such as warm clothing, health care and food. The figures are unchanged since the first report into child poverty in 2012.

Becroft said the poverty monitor showed the government was not meeting its ambition of drastically reducing child poverty, and bolder action was required.

The remedies proposed by Becroft (unlikely to find favour with Mitchell) call for the government to dip even more deeply into taxpayers’  pockets or reduce its spending on other services.

“I want to see family incomes dramatically raised by increasing benefits and making the minimum wage a living wage,” Becroft said.   

“And the government needs to move much faster at increasing the supply of social housing – building, buying and repurposing – and working closely with community-based housing providers.”

Other suggestions included immediately boosting the income of beneficiaries by 20-40%, widening the free school lunches programme, and making health and dental care free for all children up until the age of 18 or even 21.

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