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.