Report: fewer children in poverty this year - but more work still needed
In the last year 50,000 children have been helped out of poverty - a figure which has been applauded, but comes with a word of caution against complacency.
A new report out today showed the growth in child poverty had stalled and the numbers were improving in key areas, though thousands of others continued to face various levels of hardship.
The Child Poverty Monitor 2017 showed there were 50,000 less children classed as living in poverty since the 2016 report, but more than 400,000 were still going without some basic necessities, such as good shoes, clothes, food and visits to the doctor and dentist.
The report showed 7 per cent, 80,000 Kiwi children, were said to be in severe poverty, facing material hardship and living in a low-income household - but this was 10,000 less (down 1 per cent) on the previous year.Advertisement Advertise with NZME.
Meanwhile 290,000 children were living in homes where money was tight, down 5,000 (1 per cent) from the previous year.
Children's commissioner judge Andrew Becroft said these figures were positive, but said progress made under the previous government needed to be sustained.
"We have seen a small drop in the number of children living in households on low incomes, or lacking the items they need for everyday living," he said.
"But there are still 290,000 children in households on low incomes and up to 135,000 children lacking basic items."
Becroft said it was encouraging to see the measures the new Labour-led government had put in place as part of its first 100 days work programme.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had pledged throughout her election campaign to end child poverty and created a role of minister for child poverty reduction, which she took, once in government.
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Despite the progress made this year, and promises of continued support for children and families in need, Becroft urged politicians and those working in the sector not to get complacent.
"We can see for the first time some real progress towards wiping out child poverty, but it will take many small steps to get there.
"It is essential we keep up this momentum. One small step will not be enough. We need to see changes like these every year to see a substantial long-term decrease in poverty, and ensure these gains are not cancelled out by increases in the cost of living."
Ardern we lcomed the improved numbers but said there were still thousands of children going without and she was prepared to be held to account for improving their lot.
"The Families Package, and my Child Poverty Reduction Bill, will have a significant impact on families who are struggling to pay for the basics for their children and will ensure the public can track our progress," she said.
"Details of the package will be announced next week. It's targeted at those who need support the most, and will be much more effective at lifting children out of poverty than the Opposition's plan.
"My Poverty Reduction Bill is an opportunity to reach a long-term commitment to tackle child poverty and I'm keen to work with the Opposition to make that commitment durable."
National's spokesperson for children Paula Bennett said it was "great news" that 50,000 children were no longer in poverty.
"It further consolidates our track record as a party that shows it cares. It mainly goes back to the benefit changes and increases we made in 2015 - those are genuinely making a difference for families."
National's 2011 welfare reforms, which moved many people off the benefit, had also contributed to the improved numbers as many more parents were now in work, Bennett said.
Bennett said National would need to see the details before signing up to Labour's Child Poverty Reduction Bill.
"If she really wanted cross party support she will have other parties involved in designing it. We're really keen to look at it on its merits.
"It's got to have a means to identify the children, a way to measure the success of whatever the intervention is."
The Child Poverty Monitor report was funded by the J R McKenzie Trust, an organisation with over 75 years of involvement in important social issues, and was in its fifth year.
Trust execu tive director Robyn Scott said the report helped track the country's progress towards helping get its youngest citizens out of poverty.
It is a joint project by the Children's Commissioner, J R McKenzie Trust and Otago University NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service (NZCYES) that tracks progress through a number of measures, including material hardship and family income.
Scott said it was important for New Zealanders to realise all could play a part in helping alleviate child poverty.
"The Government initiatives are very welcome, but we mustn't lose sight of the fact that everyone can play a part in improving children's lives.
"Community groups, businesses, schools and individuals can also help by providing the range of opportunities and experiences all children need."
Director of the NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service at Otago University Dr Mavis Duncanson said all children deserved to get what they needed to be physically and mentally well.
"A warm dry home, a sustaining meal with vegetables and protein regularly, clothes and shoes that fit properly, a place to study quietly, and the use of a computer and internet at home.
"Children in households with the lowest material living standards are much more likely to lack these basic needs as well as miss out on the experiences and life chances that we would want for all children."
12% of children are living in material hardship. That means 135,000 New Zealand children are in households that are living without 7 or more items, from a total list of 17, which are considered necessary for their wellbeing. This is down from 14% or 155,000 in 2016
6% (or 70,000) of New Zealand children are experiencing even worse material hardship with households missing out on 9 or more items from the list of 17. This is down from 8% or 85,000 last year
27% o f children are living in low income homes. That means 290,000 New Zealand children are in homes where money is tight and are considered to be in income poverty.
This is down from 28% or 295,000 in 2016
More than 7% of children are in severe poverty. That means 80,000 New Zealand children are experiencing both material hardship and living in a low income household. This is down from 8% or 90,000 in 2016
While child poverty has been reasonably stable for a number of years, it is significantly worse than in the 1980s. In 1982, the percentage of children in families experiencing income poverty was 14%, compared to 27% nowSource: Google News