CPAG's Latest Report
A new report from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Left further Behind: how policies fail the poorest children in New Zealand, is an urgent call for policy changes that provide solutions to child poverty.
“At least one in five New Zealand children experience significant deprivation that compromises their health, their education, and their future” says co-editor Dr Claire Dale.
For example, families may be forced to move often, which impacts on children’s learning; they may live in cold and overcrowded housing; and be forced to balance competing basic needs such as paying the electricity bill or eating nutritious food. Stressful environments impact children’s immune systems and can lead to chronic illnesses. Ultimately, poverty makes many families easy prey for loan sharks as they struggle to provide basics for their children, thereby setting up a vicious downward cycle.
This report is written by leading experts in children’s policy, and is a unique contribution to the current debates on child poverty, with analysis on how current policies continue to fail the children in greatest need and by doing so leave them further behind their peers.
Current family and social policies, and the direction signaled by the work of the Welfare Working Group have put paid work at the centre of policy rather than the well-being of children. It is the very poorest children that have paid the price. Government commitment and investment is required now to repair the harm arising from current policies and to create a thriving future for the children who have been left behind.
CPAG argues that the facts of child poverty are well established so the debate should now shift to being about policy design. “It is past time for action. Only when the needs of children are put at the centre will we see the policy changes that are needed. The country has the means, we now just need the political will” says co-editor Associate Professor Mike O’Brien.
In 2008, Child Poverty Action Group produced Left Behind, which reflected the position of children in New Zealand. Three years later, the lack of substantial progress on so many issues facing children in this country leads us to rewrite and update that publication. In this report we reflect what is required to ensure all children have the resources and opportunities to grow and to develop their potential. Recent years and recent policy approaches have focused heavily on supporting, and sometimes forcing, parents (especially lone parents) into paid work. The needs and interests of children require a much broader approach. And in the interests of both children and parents, the work of caring for children needs to be given adequate recognition and support. Children’s wellbeing must be central, whether parents are in paid work or not.
The core message of this publication is simple: ALL children, irrespective of the status and position of their parent/carer, are entitled to the best possible support from their parent/s and all New Zealand society. Together, we share the responsibility of ensuring that children are given that support. While charity can make a useful contribution to assist and support children and families experiencing particular stresses, it cannot solve the problem of poverty, and poverty is the major problem facing around 200,000 New Zealand children. That solution requires collective action from families and communities; and it requires a commitment from the Government to make investing in our children the highest priority.
This publication traverses a wide range of issues affecting our children, including: incomes, health, housing, education, parental support, social hazards, and the lack of job opportunities for young people; and is built around the idea of putting children at the centre of policy decisions. None of the issues can be tackled in isolation. A concerted and coordinated approach to reducing child poverty and improving the wellbeing and opportunities for all children is required. Without such an approach, children will suffer unnecessarily and New Zealand will be poorer economically, culturally and socially.
While each chapter addresses specific issues and recommendations for change (collected as a Summary at the end of this publication), seven key recommendations emerge:
- Monitor all major indicators of child poverty and report these on a regular basis with specific target reductions to be met on the way to ending child poverty by 2020; and fund child-impact assessments of existing and future national and local policies;
- Create a senior Cabinet position with responsibility for children, such as a Minister for Children, to support the move toward a child-centred approach to policy and legislation;
- Remove work-based rules for child financial assistance and pay the equivalent of the In-Work Tax Credit to all low income families. Simplify the administration of tax credits;
- Acknowledge the vital social and economic contribution made by good parenting: ensure that affordable, appropriate childcare and early childhood education, including kohanga reo and playcentres, is available for all children; and ensure that training allowances support sole parents’ education where appropriate;
- Provide free access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to healthcare for all children under 6;
- The Government develops and funds a national housing plan to address the emerging housing shortages identified by the Department of Building. In the meantime, ensure that housing is affordable and appropriate (eg address overcrowding, dampness, cold);
- Provide adequate funding for low decile schools to ensure that all children have access to high quality education.