2019 Child Poverty Monitor: There's more to be done to help children in need

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welcomes the 2019 Child Poverty Monitor report, and says more can be done to help families who have need of welfare assistance.

Findings of the report include that 174,000 children in New Zealand live in households that aren’t always able to have enough healthy food, 148,000 children live in households experiencing material hardship, and 56% of children living in households who receive financial assistance don’t always have enough healthy food.

“There have been valuable initiatives to support children in low-income households, but for those worst-off, we can do much more,” says Professor Innes Asher, CPAG’s Health advisor. “We need an urgent plan to address the recommendations made by the Government-appointed Welfare Expert Advisory Group, to restore wellbeing and opportunity for the vast number of children who are living in deeply entrenched poverty, here in the land of plenty.

“Right now the Government’s books look very good. It is absolutely possible to transform our nation so that Aotearoa can be the best place to be a child and young person. In particular we need a strategy to address improving the lives of children whose families are struggling with such high housing costs that they cannot afford enough healthy food.”

“The figures in the report correlate to the number of children living in households who have less than 40% of the national equivalised median income - after housing costs have been accounted for,” says Professor Asher. “Many, if not all of those children will be living in households supported by a welfare benefit.” 

The Government’s Families Package will help an estimated 384,000 families by an average of $75 per week by 2021, however families on benefits need much more than this, says CPAG. 

“These families need anywhere between $100-$300 more each week, depending on their composition, just to make ends meet,” says Professor Asher.

“Their children are at risk of long-term physical and mental health problems, which can drastically affect their life chances,” says Professor Asher. “For these children to have good lives, we need to act now to ensure that they are healthy, their families aren’t impacted by the constant stress of just trying to survive, and that they can get the best out of their education.”

The Child Poverty Monitor reports that over 30% of families on the lowest incomes are spending more than half their incomes on housing.

“If we improve incomes and provide more affordable housing options, then we remove the constraints that keep parents from being able to make healthy choices. Their lives will be vastly better, and their children will do well,” says Asher. “When insecure and unsafe housing situations persist for children throughout childhood, their whole lives can be affected thereafter. We are hearing that many struggling young adults who don’t have a permanent address have never had one. Safe, secure housing is vital for children’s outcomes.”

The Government has promised to index benefits and thresholds for earned income in line with minimum wage inflation from next year. But CPAG says that benefit levels and thresholds must be lifted substantially for future indexation to make a real difference. Moreover all parts of Working for Families are not being indexed in this way, and they must be as well.

CPAG says that the Government could make every family living in hardship and receiving welfare assistance at least $72.50 better off each week if it removed the discriminatory in-work eligibility test. This could be enacted with minimal administrative change, and it is very affordable at a cost of around $0.5billion per year. 

“Taking away the hours of paid work eligibility test would make many more families able to put food on the table, and it would benefit children in sole parent households the way it currently benefits children in two-parent homes,” says Professor Asher.

CPAG says that the Government must urgently address housing need.

“We agree with the Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft that the Government must build and acquire many more houses into state and social housing programmes so that all children live in safe, healthy and long-term housing.”

These bold steps are needed to enable New Zealand to realise its vision to be the best place in the world for children and young people.

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