Make eliminating child poverty New Zealand’s No.1 priority

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key, said as he was knighted for service to New Zealand, that the only regret he had from his ten years in office was not eliminating child poverty.

During those ten years, housing became tragically unaffordable for many while Working for Families (WFF), the incomes policy tool to address child poverty, was deliberately run down.

“Poor housing and lack of income for basics has blighted the lives of many young people who are our future,” says Janfrie Wakim, CPAG Co-convenor.

“The high price is evident in poor educational outcomes, serious child health conditions, malnutrition, poor dental health and loss of productive contributions from these future adults and their parents.”

As a member of the United Nations (UN), New Zealand has committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of halving child poverty by 2030.

“But the lack of affordable housing and insufficient income support make this goal a distant dream,” says Wakim.

WFF tax credits are supposed to reduce poverty among families with children. However, from the outset the scheme deliberately bypassed 230,000 children in the poorest families who didn’t meet specific ‘hours of paid work’ and ‘off benefit’ criteria. The latest household incomes report, shows that families who were missed out of a vital part of WFF have not seen any significant reduction in their poverty.

The scheme itself has been deliberately and seriously eroded over the past seven years, due to policy changes, so that it is also failing low-income working families.

“A fundamental step to reducing child poverty is to extend the $72.50 of the In-Work Tax Credit to all low-income families irrespective of their hours of work or whether supported by a benefit,” says Associate Professor Susan St John, spokesperson for CPAG’s Fix Working for Families campaign.

“This would cost around $500 million. The damage of neglect and actual reductions in the spending on WFF in the last seven years must be reversed. That cost is around $700 million.”

WFF must then be properly indexed to stop its slow erosion.

CPAG urges all major political parties to agree to reform Working for Families as matter of top priority. Other vital cross-party commitments are needed around social and affordable housing, higher minimum wages and better, more secure, benefits.