Addressing child poverty is a long term task

For me a nation is defined by how well it treats its most vulnerable sectors of society: the elderly, the very young, the sick and those whose circumstances are the result of complex circumstances – often a mix of bad choices earlier in life and a lack of help since. It is defined by whether those people are able to live a life of dignity; are afforded same or similar chances as others; that those whose conditions are terminal are comfortable.

Children are at the very early stage of the spectrum. They have their whole lives ahead of them and how they are able to live those lives and how they are raised will go a long way towards determining what sort of person they turn into later on. They are yet to learn how the world (does not)work.

Their parents might both hold down full time minimum wage jobs and spend most of the money they get after tax just paying the rent, never mind transport, food, and other costs. They might come from a family that has only ever known poverty and was not able to grow out of it, thus being thrust into a vicious cycle that only a sea change in social welfare can address. If the family has fallen into crime, with drugs and criminal activities happening around the children, before they even go to school, they will have seen stuff no one should see.

It has taken two decades for child poverty to get where it is today. The thought that it might somehow be addressed in a single Parliamentary term is ludicrous. As the latest figures out appear to show, the number of children considered to be in poverty is stagnant. It is neither increasing or decreasing and the number of children now thought to be suffering material hardship has increased by around 4,100.

Child poverty is measured in three ways:

  • The first measure, children living in homes with income less than 50 per cent of the median (currently $1016 a week) before housing costs, counted 16.5 per cent or 183,500 children in 2018.
  • A second measure, 50 per cent of the median income after housing costs

It is perhaps the third measure that resonates the most. Children in material hardship are those in homes lacking the:

  • Ability to see a doctor
  • Ability to pay power bills
  • Basic material needs – such as shoes to wear to school

Treasury estimates poverty will be reduced by 10-12% as a result of the government’s efforts. In other words 88-90% of those in poverty will still be in poverty when current measures expire. I understand solid policy takes time to formulate and implement, but this is hardly the whole sale reduction we need to have happen.

I don’t expect that New Zealand will ever quite eliminate poverty, but if we as a nation are not aiming to cut – maybe over 15-20 years – the number of children in poverty by 50% or more then our politicians are not being pushed hard enough. We are not getting “bang for buck” from them as elected Members of Parliament and we need to say so.

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