Child poverty efforts must be escalated

9th December 2019

The data doesn’t lie: Child poverty efforts must be escalated

Media Release: The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW)

The publication of the Child Poverty Monitor 2019, released today, is a reminder of the need to accelerate efforts to lift our children / tamariki out of poverty.

Among the most striking details contained in the report is that the level of income poverty for households with children has actually increased since data was released in 2017, when the current coalition government came into power.

While the data is affected by delays in updating, what this unmistakably shows is a trajectory that needs to be reversed as a matter of priority.

As we argued only last week, the severity of the situation calls for bolder action aiming for deep and lasting change. Government policies on child poverty so far contain much that is welcome and important, but as this report reminds us, we’re just not there yet.

“While we have to wait for the latest data to come in to fully assess the impact of measures like the Families Package and winter energy payments, it’s obvious that the situation is far too serious and deep-rooted to leave alone and come back to, next year or even later,” ANZASW Chief Executive Lucy Sandford-Reed said.

Complacency is not an option. The Association endorses the Monitor’s observation that the government needs to escalate measures to reduce child poverty if it is to meet the targets it has set itself on the issue.

ANZASW backs the Commissioner’s support for an increase of 20-40% in welfare payments to households most in need. It also calls for the full implementation of the recommendations of the Welfare Experts Advisory Group report; a rapid expansion of housing stock and increased support for people on lower incomes, including a range of affordable home-ownership products and papakāinga housing; fairer pay and further government commitments to achieve health equity for Māori and Pasifika communities.

Debt exacerbates poverty. The Salvation Army has said its clients owe more to government than to finance companies.

The government should therefore reconsider its decision to not provide debt relief or cancellation to the poorest households owing money to MSD, the Association said. It is noteworthy that demand for hardship grants have spiked this year, suggesting that welfare rates themselves are too low to meet the basic costs of living.

“As we have noted again and again in our advocacy, it is simply not economically or socially responsible to ignore the costs that are attached to leaving a significant proportion of our population scraping by on a bare existence, whether in or out of work.

“Children / tamariki tend to be those most impacted by these realities. To end child poverty and to cut downstream costs to lives and the public purse, incomes need to be raised in a fair and just way.

“As the Monitor reveals, children / tamariki affected by poverty are at least three times as likely to need healthcare support; the well-established links between deprivation in childhood and a host of other issues, such as offending, substance abuse and intergenerational poverty, are instructive as to the benefits of underwriting social investment in the here and now,” Sanford-Reed noted.