20 May 2015

'We can't afford large-scale programme'

8:54 am on 20 May 2015

The Government has pulled back from earlier hints of new Budget initiatives tomorrow to deal with child poverty.

Child Poverty Action Group's economics spokesperson Susan St John.

The Child Poverty Action Group's Susan St John is calling for an extension of in-work tax credits to beneficiary families. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Late last year, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley told Radio New Zealand ministers were working on a package of measures for tomorrow's Budget to address child poverty.

Finance Minister Bill English talks about rising house prices in Auckland.

Bill English - pictured speaking to reporters at Parliament (file) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mrs Tolley's remarks followed on from Prime Minister John Key promising to make the issue a priority in this parliamentary term.

But Finance Minister Bill English now says, while there will be some money, people shouldn't expect major new spending.

"There'll be a continuation of the Government's approach, which is to focus on those families in persistent deprivation.," Mr English said yesterday.

"Often in Budgets, there's a focus on quite large-scale, expensive programmes - or has been in the past. We can't afford large-scale, expensive programmes."

But the Child Poverty Action Group's economics spokesperson, Susan St John, said if the Government was serious about the issue, it would extend in-work tax credits to beneficiary families.

"What they really need to do is to take a hard look at the way in which the family incomes policies work, and recognise that Working For Families ... has got some major flaws that manage to exclude more than 200,000 of the poorest children from its full benefits."

The Government seemed to think getting people into work was a cure-all, Ms St John said.

Children's charity UNICEF estimates 260,000 children are living in poverty - and 110,000 in what it calls severe poverty - and says the government was failing them.

National advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers told Morning Report the government could make an immediate difference by increasing benefits and fixing tax credits.

"We're talking here about very small children in New Zealand living in inadequate housing without nutritious food.

"This is the land of milk and honey, and quite frankly the government is failing to ensure that these small children have got what they need."

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