2 Dec 2014

Child poverty a focus of next budget

4:23 pm on 2 December 2014

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is vowing next year's budget will include a focus on child poverty, as a new report shows almost a quarter of children still live in poor households.

The report found that 180,000 children are going without basic essentials such as fresh fruit and vegetables or a warm house.

The report found that 180,000 children are going without essentials such as fresh fruit and vegetables or a warm house. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The second annual Child Poverty Monitor showed 260,000 children, or 24 percent, were living in income poverty in 2013, compared to 285,000 in 2012.

Anne Tolley.

Anne Tolley. Photo: RNZ

This compared with only 10 percent of those aged 65 and over living in income poverty - a measure which looks at the amount of money families have to pay bills and purchase everyday essentials.

Ms Tolley told Morning Report Prime Minister John Key was leading plans focused on the thousands of children living in hardship, with not enough money going into the household.

"It's shaping up to be a really big piece of work, some of it short term but most of it very long term."

Ms Tolley said the government was already looking at the supply and cost of housing, bringing together cross-government agencies and increasing the number of beneficiaries going into work.

The Labour Party said New Zealand should be embarrassed by the high number of children living in poverty.

Its spokesperson on children, Jacinda Ardern, said child poverty had gone down because of the end of the global recession, not policy.

"I don't think the government could name one thing that they have done to reduce child poverty."

Ms Ardern said the government had had plenty of time to implement changes, but had failed to do so.

A 'matter of urgency'

The report, released today by Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, found that of the 260,000 found to be in poverty, 37 percent came from working families.

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills.

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills. Photo: SUPPLIED

Dr Wills said while the fall in the numbers since the last report was encouraging he was worried that more than 110,000 children were living in the hardest end of poverty.

"Any action to reduce child poverty needs to focus on these children as a matter of urgency," he said.

The report also found 180,000 children were going without basics such as fresh fruit and vegetables, a warm house or decent clothing.

Three out of five children living in poverty will live this way for much of their childhood, it said.

The report also showed 43 percent of children in the poorest areas of New Zealand were living in a crowded home, and that children in poor communities were three times more likely to end up in hospital.

Prime Minister John Key has made a commitment to make child poverty a priority this government term and Dr Wills hoped the Child Poverty Monitor may help with policy.

"Children are not statistics. We know that. But when you want to track progress on child poverty over time, you have to use numbers," he said.

Dr Wills told Morning Report the "ad hoc, piecemeal' approach should end and the government needed a plan in which the youngest, most vulnerable children are prioritised. The tax and benefit system should be looked at as one way to increase incomes.

Critical to improving population's health

Dr Jean Simpson, director of Otago University's New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service (NZCYES) said child poverty had negative health consequences.

"We know children in our most deprived communities are more likely to die before they turn one year old than children from wealthier communities," he said.

"The negative health outcomes associated with child poverty are also starkly apparent in our high rates of hospital admissions for infectious and respiratory diseases."

Dr Simpson said reducing the number of young children living in poverty was critical to improving the health of the whole population.

The Child Poverty Monitor is a joint project by Dr Wills, the J R McKenzie Trust and NZCYES.

It monitors trends in four measures of child poverty: income poverty, material hardship, severe poverty and persistent poverty.

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