Ardern government fails to reduce child poverty in New Zealand

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

The Ardern government has failed to reduce child poverty in New Zealand, the children’s commissioner says, despite the prime minister’s pledge to make the country the best place in the world to be a child.

The children’s commissioner, Andrew Becroft, released the annual child poverty monitor on Monday which has found 148,000 children live in homes experiencing material hardship in six or more areas, including lack of access to basics such as warm clothing, health care and food. The figures are unchanged since the first report into child poverty in 2012.

Becroft said the poverty monitor showed the government was not meeting its ambition of drastically reducing child poverty, and bolder action was required.

“I want to see family incomes dramatically raised by increasing benefits and making the minimum wage a living wage,” Becroft said.

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“And the government needs to move much faster at increasing the supply of social housing – building, buying and repurposing – and working closely with community-based housing providers.”

Other suggestions included immediately boosting the income of beneficiaries by 20-40%, widening the free school lunches programme, and making health and dental care free for all children up until the age of 18 or even 21.

The commissioner said New Zealand already had the resources and ability to reduce child poverty, but it was not working fast, or hard enough.

The child poverty reduction legislation, the child and youth wellbeing strategy, the winter energy payment and the best start payment for children all drew praise from the commissioner, but the Labour Coalition government, led by Jacinda Ardern needed to focus on “significant and permanent changes” – not “one-offs”, he said. The number of families on the waiting list for state housing was at record highs.

Last month, on world children’s day, Ardern said she was proud her government had made “a good start” on addressing child poverty.

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“One of our toughest long-term challenges is to tackle child poverty,” Ardern said.

“I’m proud that we’ve made a good start on our plan to ensure families can give their kids the best possible start at life, which benefits all of New Zealand.”

The commissioner’s report is backed up by poverty groups on the ground, which say they are disappointed by the lack of urgency in the sector.

Matthew Tukaki, executive director of the New Zealand Maori Council called the latest figures “appalling” and said while benefit rates needed to rise, so too did incomes for “the middle-class working poor” – a point echoed by the children’s commissioner.

“And let’s not forget we have working whanau living in their cars with their tamariki around places like Auckland because they cannot afford the rent or even then bond and lets not talk about the fact many will never won their own homes because of the lack of being able to save because they are just trying to keep up with cost of living.” Tukaki said.

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