The Child Poverty Action Group has released a report [PDF, 400k] showing there were 185,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand in 2004. That’s a big number but it is out of date and already well down from the dark days of the 1990s.
It is estimated that higher employment, higher wages, paid paternal leave, and Working of Families have combined to reduce child poverty by 70% since 2004. On top of that, improved public services, free early childhood education, subsidised doctors’ visits, and cheaper medicine have improved the lives of all children but aren’t caught by the poverty line measure, which only counts income, not the social wage. Moreover, it should be remembered that the poverty line is a moving target; it is 60% of the median household income. Since real incomes are up 15% since National was booted out, even someone living on the poverty line is 15% better off than in 1999.
Notwithstanding all that, more can be done to reduce child poverty. After nine years of centre-left government, the only children still living in poverty are those living in beneficiary households, who can’t get Working for Families. Something can be done for these families. One option would be to restore benefit levels to what they were before Ruth Richardson slashed them in the 1991 â€˜Mother of All Budgets’. Another option would be to increase the child tax credit portion of Working for Families, which goes to beneficiary as well as working families. Both these measures would have the added benefit of putting more money into the pockets of people who are hardest hit by the slowing economy, which would create demand and stimulate their local economies.
That child poverty has been reduced 70% is of great credit to Labour but there shouldn’t be any child poverty in a nation as wealthy as New Zealand. It’s good to see the Minister agrees. The only way to get there is with better assistance to families in need. Tax cuts alone won’t cut it.