Child Poverty Action Group applauds the Government for the skilful way it has led our country through this COVID-19 health crisis, inspiring an unprecedented cohesion not seen from Kiwis in many generations.
Clearly, many New Zealanders have become emboldened by working for the collective good and there now seems to be a growing desire to extend kindness to each other across our society.
CPAG would like the Government to take this opportunity and deliver a budget that extends that kindness to all, but primarily to our children who are at most risk from an economic downturn.
CPAG executive officer Georgie Craw says the existing high levels of child poverty are distressing, as we know they are to the Prime Minister and her cabinet.
"What is even more concerning is the impact of a COVID-19 related recession could have on swelling these numbers and further entrench those living in poverty," she says.
"To date we have been underwhelmed by aspects of the Government’s response when it comes to what will be most effective for supporting children."
Susan St John, economics spokesperson for CPAG says there are clear choices in this budget and the measures made to ensure the recovery of the economy must be carefully designed to also reduce inequality and poverty.
"The budget offers a unique opportunity to make long-lasting beneficial reforms that reflect sound principles which ensure all families and their children are adequately supported throughout this crisis and beyond," she says.
"The aim should be to have benefits high enough that supplementary payments are rarely necessary, and penalties for additional earnings are greatly reduced. The current penal treatment of relationship status in the benefit system must be removed. CPAG would like to see all married person rates lifted to the single rate, and all benefits given on an individual basis.
"In a world of great uncertainty about employment, the discrimination in Working for Families that denies the full package to the worst-off children in families with benefit income makes no sense."
CPAG urges the government to immediately implement policy that allows all low-income families to have the full Working for Families support. It would deliver at least another $72.50 a week to the very worst-off children in low-income families to help parents keep their children safe and well at an annual cost of around $450 million.
"This change would accord with the principle of valuing the activities of caregiving and volunteering as work, greatly simplifying child payments, and reducing the worst child poverty in a highly cost-effective way," St John says.
"It would also reduce the risk of low income families having to rely on predatory lenders."
CPAG notes these recommendations are in line with many community groups and the recommendations of the Government's own Welfare Expert Advisory Group.
Professor Innes Asher, a paediatrician and Health spokesperson for CPAG, says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a number of vulnerabilities in our healthcare system but these issues can be remedied.
"Currently, children living in poverty are more likely to get sick. Therefore we would like to see free healthcare, including dentistry, prescriptions and specialist hearing and vision care for all children and adolescents under 18 years of age. It is vital that all our teenagers can easily access appropriate and timely primary healthcare. Their health and futures should not have to rely on their families’ ability to afford healthcare, as is currently the case."
COVID-19 has highlighted existing educational inequalities, most obviously in the digital divide between those students who have been able to continue their learning from home, and those who are severely restricted by the lack of access to devices.
"CPAG has long called for the removal of the hidden costs of a so-called ‘free’ public education, which many families struggle to afford." says Professor Peter O’Connor, CPAG Education spokesperson.
"The economic impacts of COVID-19 will impact on the mental health of children and young people disproportionately in existing areas of social deprivation. In recognising the vital role that schools will have in meeting the ongoing mental health needs of children post-COVID, increasing investment in support systems in schools will become even more critical."
He says, it will also be vital to ensure greater investment in funding for public education to ensure that expenditure on education becomes less of a household burden, and introduces systems to ensure that a genuinely free public education in New Zealand can be guaranteed.
Frank Hogan, spokesperson on Housing for CPAG says part of valuing the wellbeing of our children is to also have good housing policy.
"A greater emphasis must be placed on building additional public housing, with less emphasis on the Accommodation Supplement and more government involvement to reduce rents in the rental market."
Craw says some children will be severely impacted by this crisis, but this challenging time has also shown us what’s possible when a nation unites.
"The social changes we have committed to in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in our community is impressive. What else do we value enough to change? What about a world with better income support so all families can retain financial independence for themselves and fully participate in our society."
* Child Poverty Action Group’s annual Post Budget event will be held at 11am, May 15.
In fitting with the new normal we find ourselves in, our budget analysis will be showcased live and online, hosted on the NZPTV.org.nz website. To register to go to:www.cpag.org.nz/the-latest/upcoming-events/