Children fall further behind as transformational change is yet to come

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is heartened by the commentary from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in conversation with Jack Tame on TVNZ’s Q&A this past Monday.

“It’s good to hear the Prime Minister acknowledge what a huge job it is to reduce poverty and provide the housing infrastructure families need,” says Janfrie Wakim, CPAG Co-Convenor.

“We trust that this means the Government will ramp up its efforts to reverse three decades of neglect, by adopting many of the urgent recommendations made by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.”

We agree that the Government’s goals for child poverty reduction are ambitious, but CPAG is very concerned about the delays in providing meaningful change to the 174,000 children living in households where income falls below the lowest, 40% after housing costs (AHC) poverty measure.

“While household income for some families will be lifted over the 50% line through the Government’s Families Package, the children living in the hardest of situations just fall further behind,” says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG’s Economics Advisor. 

“The lift in threshold for maximum Working for Families tax credits will have greatly helped families earning close to or above the new threshold of $42,700, but families on very low incomes are not so lucky," says St John.

“Families whose primary income is from a main benefit are still denied $72.50 per week of Working for Families for their children. Other low-income families may also miss out because they fail the strict hours of paid work test. This $72.50 per week extra could make all the difference to their children.

“As rent prices increase, and other costs of living surge, these families are at risk of falling further and further behind and amassing more debt just to survive. Core benefits have become out of touch with real living costs. Indexing benefits to wages in the future maybe a good policy in itself, but does nothing to restore adequacy."

The Prime Minister has indicated that child well-being is a foremost priority for her Government, but the transformational change that is needed to achieve it for New Zealand’s worst-off children is yet to be seen.

CPAG says to address urgent need, all low-income families must be given immediate access to the full Working for Families tax credits. Work-based criteria are discriminatory and harmful to children.

This would cost one-tenth of the cost of all the WEAG recommendations and should be seen as the critical first step to provide families the emergency support they desperately need.

The next step should be to increase all benefits substantially.

“CPAG would love the opportunity to discuss these policies with the Prime Minister prior to the release of the very important Cabinet Paper on welfare reforms to be released soon,” says Wakim.

CPAG has joined with ActionStation Aotearoa calling on the Government to urgently implement the WEAG recommendations. View and sign the petition here, supporting welfare reforms that will assure well-being for all children and whānau.