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Children need security of income, not cuts to welfare

Child Poverty Action Group welcomes the government’s new-found commitment to improving the lives of ‘vulnerable children’, as outlined in outlined in the Prime Minister’s speech to parliament, but is dismayed by the suggestion that work alone will make children better off.

CPAG says improving household incomes for families at the bottom must be a priority if all children are to have the opportunity to reach their potential, but that work alone is unlikely to do this. The government was advised by the Ministry of Social Development last year that the punitive 15 hours a week work test for some sole parents would not improve incomes. CPAG says there is no reason to suppose that further movement of sole parent beneficiaries into an extremely volatile labour market will result in any material improvement to the lives of vulnerable children.

Spokesperson Donna Wynd says the reforms are just the latest round in the government’s exclusionary approach to sole parents. “As any parent will tell you, caring for children is hard work. Sole parents do an incredibly difficult job on their own, but they are now being told yet again that whatever they do is insufficient, and they need to be in paid work as well. This not only demeans the work of sole parent beneficiaries, it demeans the work of all those in the community who care for children.”

CPAG also welcomes the new commitment to at-risk children, but is concerned that this is being used as a fig leaf for further cuts to social services.

“The OECD’s figures show that those countries that have the best outcome for children have the most universally available children’s support such as family assistance and early childhood education. However, when there are cuts to social services, the most economically marginalised are the first to suffer. New Zealand’s own experience shows that the more services are targeted at those arbitrarily classified as the genuinely needy, the more likely it is that that very group misses out,” says Ms Wynd.

If the government was truly interested in helping ‘vulnerable’ children, particularly the 220,000 in benefit-reliant households, it would raise benefit levels, make the In-Work Tax Credit available to all low-income families, and ensure all parents had the option of caring for their children in financial security and dignity. New Zealand cannot afford to lose another child to the ideology of austerity that underlies the government’s economic policies.”