5 Sep 2017

Minor parties wade into child poverty debate

2:32 pm on 5 September 2017

The setting of a child poverty reduction target by the National Party leader - out of the blue - has been met with some surprise, but also plenty of support.

Jacinda Ardern and Bill English during the second leaders debate.

Jacinda Ardern and Bill English during the second leaders' debate last night. Photo: Supplied / Michael Bradley

Bill English put a specific number on how many children he would like to see lifted out of poverty during last night's televised Newshub Leaders' Debate.

His predecessor, John Key, had long refused to set a target, saying child poverty was too hard to measure.

Mr English said a re-elected National government would also commit to lifting a further 50,000 children out of poverty with further initiatives.

He said the government would measure success by the level of people's incomes.

Speaking in Wellington this morning, Mr English explained why he had chosen to come out with a target now, so close to the election.

"We've never said you can't measure it, what we've said is that there are a whole lot of measures ... for instance, just take the family incomes package.

"So we can raise the incomes of the [people with the] lowest incomes and the highest housing costs ... they are the ones who are really under pressure.

"Now alongside that ... now that raises their income ... we've actually got free GP visits for under-13s.

He said while that would not increase people's income, it would reduce "material hardship."

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern applauded the target, and has committed to do the same.

She wanted more details about how National would assess whether the target was being met.

"We agree there is no one measure, in fact, there are five that are internationally used. Our proposal is to put those into law and to have targets against each of them"

"I did seek clarification from Bill English last night about which baseline he was using ... a little bit of clarity around that would have helped the argument.

The fact there was still discussion about the numbers proved why it was important to be transparent, Ms Ardern said.

Green Party leader James Shaw said the two major parties were getting with the programme.

"The Green Party went into the 2014 election with exactly this target ... we're going into this election saying actually we know what it takes to lift the 212,000 children who are below the government's poverty line, up above that."

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox said both leaders were coming up with targets on the hoof to attract voters.

"Doesn't matter whether it's red or blue, it's who their support partners are going to be," Ms Fox said.

"If we have a right wing mixed with Winston that is no hope for any of us. If we have a left wing side mixed with Winston that again is no hope for any of us."

Ms Fox said the Māori Party would stick to New Zealand's agreement to the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda which aims to cut poverty by half by 2030.

"We accepted that we would take that on.

"That they now come out with some numbers is great but these two parties have been arguing about how to measure it and where to set it for the last three years that I've been sitting listening to them.

"I'm tired of the same old rhetoric."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the promise by both leaders were political bribes and would do nothing to address the root cause of poverty - a lack of housing.

"This is preposterous because if you don't house people then how can you begin to deal with poverty?

"And here's the real point, they're not even building enough houses for those who get off at the airport, even if you cut it to 50,000 they're still not building enough houses for those - so whatever, the housing crisis is here, it'll stay here," Mr Peters said.

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