Child poverty measures show improvements – but the PM is pressed to pump more money into income support

All  nine child poverty measures showed downward trends, compared  with  two years  ago, Statistics  NZ reports.

Hurrah!  Another  victory  for  Prime Minister Jacinda  Ardern, it seems.

After  all, she made it  clear   as  she took office that the defeat  of  child  poverty  was her  special priority.

So  what’s  this grumbling from the Child  Poverty Action Group?

The poverty  statistics,  although not  surprising, are “deeply disappointing” and for  families  with disabilities  they are “absolutely shocking”, according to Professor Innes  Asher, chair  of the CPAG.

Most of the nine measures showed no statistical change over the 21 months to March 2020.

“We’ve long said that poverty for children is a huge problem and doing just a little bit will not be enough. We urgently need the government to raise income support significantly for our children in families receiving benefits, and the government needs to use a multi-pronged approach to tackling the housing crisis.

“Incrementalism isn’t working. Persistently delaying implementing the bulk of the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group isn’t working.”

The Children’s Commissioner, Andrew Becroft,  chimed in  that the  government needs  to apply  “big, bold initiatives”.

The  first  priority must  be to lift benefits, he says.

The worry (both critics say) is that they know child poverty will have increased due to COVID-19. The data released this week was collected before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly one out of every five families living with disabilities live in material hardship, more than double the rate of families with no disabled members, the CPAG says.

“Discrimination is the reason why children who are disabled, or who have a disabled caregiver or sibling, are more likely to go without,” says Professor Asher.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, and it absolutely should not be this way. Other countries such as the UK acknowledge families with disabilities have greater expenses, and they support those families so they are no more likely to live in material hardship than others.”

Among the nine measures, the one bright note is that material hardship has definitely reduced overall (in a statistically significant way) from 13.2% to 11%.  That’s a reduction of around 24,000 children, and is likely (although not definitely) to have reduced somewhat for young Māori, from around 22.6% to 19% – around 11,000 young Māori may no longer live in material hardship.

“We expect that we’re probably seeing the effects of the Winter Energy Payment, the extension of free doctors visits to all those aged 13 and under, but also the mushrooming of private charity – food bank numbers have increased massively over the last few years,” says Professor Asher. 

However, material hardship rates for Māori and especially Pacific children are still far above national rates overall: nearly one in five Māori children (19%) live in material hardship (around 54,000 children), and more than one in four Pacific children (25.4% or around 37,000 children) compared with just over one in ten children overall (11% or 125,000 children).

Overall, 168,000 children are still in the severest income poverty, below the 40% income poverty line.

Perhaps  then it is  not  quite  the policy  triumph government  flaks  would  have us believe.

Still, the  Prime  Minister  says:

“We are still working  on it”.

And  the  Finance  Minister Grant  Robertson  is chuffed    that    NZ’s  sovereign currency ratings  have been raised by international agency S&P  on the basis  of  a  stronger-than-expected  recovery.

“The  real thing for  me  is that this is the first upgrade  that  Standard and Poors have done since pandemic, so I think that is  a real sign of  confidence in  our  recovery.  The  other  thing that is  important  is the general confidence   that will flow through, not  only  for NZ  businesses, but  also  for international  businesses, people  looking to invest”.

That’s  for certain:  NZ will need huge investments coming in if eventually it  is  to formulate  the policies  that  will  rid it of child poverty.

As  the  experts  say, the government will have to change its policy so that all low-income families with children are allowed to access all family assistance – currently  children in severest poverty are denied full access to key family assistance because their caregivers receive a benefit.

One thought on “Child poverty measures show improvements – but the PM is pressed to pump more money into income support

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.