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Child poverty reduction

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, December 5th, 2018 - 65 comments
Categories: child abuse, child welfare, class, jacinda ardern, labour, poverty, wages - Tags:

It’s likely that the new Child Poverty Reduction Bill will get through its third reading by the end of this year. Here’s the text.

There’s a pretty good chance now that National will also support this bill. When it comes to the final vote on the floor, it would be good to see unanimity and ensure that this set of measures is carried forward into future budget frameworks for future governments. It’s helpful that in 2015 the previous government joined with all United Nations members to commit to the Sustainable Development Goals that include “halving poverty rates for all ages by 2030, based on national measures.”

You can see the full set of organisations who joined together to push this as a united front through the Select Committee stage.

Just to remind ourselves of the facts of the matter, between 150,000 and 290,000 children are currently living in poverty or hardship, with around 80,000 in more severe hardship.

Across their lives that means they are more likely to have a hard time at school, find it harder to get a job, earn less, and get sicker. Work is a great start to a cure – but if work was going to fix it we would have to ask why is poverty so persistent in children when unemployment is so low, and where there are good welfare supports in terms of subsidies for child services and direct transfers to working parents. Work isn’t enough to cure this.

New Zealand ranks poorly internationally when child hardship rates are compared with rates of our overall population; we’re worse than any European country.

Half of all children in poverty are Maori or Pasifika.

The big political test is that the Prime Minister herself has made herself accountable as a Minister for achieving the targets within the bill. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I will quite happily slag off this government for its deficiencies, but political courage in facing child poverty is now not one of them.

There are four primary measures:

  1. Low income before housing costs
  2. Low income after housing costs
  3. Material hardship
  4. Poverty persistence

There’s a whole bunch of subsidiary data to support that, but it will deliver robust, internationally comparable data to get a good picture of the impact of policy decisions on the lives of children.

The Bill also requires the Government to develop a comprehensive strategy that will set actions across Government that enhance and promote the wellbeing of children in New Zealand and deliver the outcomes to meet the child poverty targets.

Measures are but a part of it, because next comes the resources to do the actual job. That means targets. Those targets are:

  • Reduce the proportion of children in low income households (using the before housing measure) from roughly 15 percent of all children to 5 percent. This reduces the number by more than half from 160,000 to 60,000.
  • Reduce the proportion of children in low income households (using the after housing costs measure) from roughly 20 percent to 10 percent. This is a reduction of 90,000 children from 210,000 now to 120,000.
  • Reduce the proportion of children in material hardship from between 13 and 15 percent now to 7 percent. This reduces the number of children in this group from 150,000 to 80,000.

Now, sure, there are reasons to be cynical about overarching measures. Wellington is an elephant’s graveyard of dry bones from dead programmes, all of which claimed to be essentially across everything and were of course all the most important thing since the invention of the wheel. But this is a core Labour and coalition policy. This is bedrock Labour stuff.
Previous Minister of Finance and Prime Minister Bill English had his own framework ready to roll – and there’s still a residual sense of exactly how much better this framework will be compared to the wheel that was already invented. Hopefully they will just suck it up and vote.

I am sure there are a few of us who can regale of a New Zealand childhood when sections were large, society was cohesive, education and health were free, and unionised workers brought back wages that families could live by.

This is not that country any more.

So to address it we are getting leadership from the top.

To give a sense of the focus Prime Minister Ardern is bringing to our terrible child poverty statistics and how she is inviting the entire world to hold her government to account on them, here’s the text of her first major international speech:

Of course we have still to await the full framework of Minister Robertson’s new budget framework around wellbeing that will again focus on poverty reduction to see how all of these targets will get funded. Or indeed how they will all make sense to the different Departments and arms of government. But everyone has to wait for budget day. One further thing that helps tilt the field towards measuring the right things is the alterations to the purpose of the Reserve Bank, which Robertson is also guiding through the House at the moment.

What we will have is a full legislative framework to emphasise how important a goal this is for government, how it is holding itself to account over it, how important a priority it is for the government, and it will be one that is broadly accepted across Parliament. That is a great way to end the Parliamentary year.

65 comments on “Child poverty reduction ”

  1. Antoine 1

    Strategies and targets are all very well, but don’t feed or house kids. For that you need actual money in the families’ hands. If the goal was to put money in the families’ hands, this could have been done this year without bothering with the Bill.


    • Ad 1.1

      You treasure what you measure

      • Antoine 1.1.1

        (slightly underwhelmed look)


      • Drowsy M. Kram 1.1.2

        Compared to National’s ‘measure once, cut twice’ approach to feeding and housing kids; for nine years! How did we get to here?

        To be fair, just a year ago English was talking a big game on child poverty reduction (similar to Key’s 2007 warning about NZ’s housing crisis), so he knew what was going on. Wonder if any National party opposition MPs are paying lip service, or is their focus elsewhere?

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Just to remind ourselves of the facts of the matter, between 150,000 and 290,000 children are currently living in poverty or hardship, with around 80,000 in more severe hardship.

    The market is about resource distribution. Available resources go to where they can be afforded thus it can readily be seen that poverty is an inevitable result of the market working as designed.

    Poverty is not a ‘market failure’ but is inherent in a market system.

    If we want to cure poverty then we need to get rid of the market system for essential goods and services. Such would include all natural monopolies and at least a healthy basket of food to be freely available.

  3. Antoine 3

    Drowsy – how did we get to where??


    • Drowsy M. Kram 3.1

      How did we get to ‘our’ current levels of impoverished, hungry “kiwi kids”?

      After nine years of tax cuts for the rich, selling public assets including state houses, and generally running down the capacity of public services (health, education et al.), National apparently ‘awoke’ to the poverty problem a little over a year ago, when the former PM made some ‘serious’ commitments during the election campaign – better late than never?



      • millsy 3.1.1

        I really think you need to go back to the 1991 benefit cuts, market rents for state housing and the ECA for the root cause. Everything went to shit after that.

      • Antoine 3.1.2

        > National apparently ‘awoke’ to the poverty problem a little over a year ago, when the former PM made some ‘serious’ commitments during the election campaign

        I believe English was always more compassionate than Key


        • Antoine

          So, Drowsy, after a year of a Labour-led Government, how are “Kiwi kids” (as you describe them) better off?


          • lprent

            As Ad pointed out earlier…

            You treasure what you measure

            On of the major hassles with the existing system was that since 2008 the way the figures are calculated and the data collected has been regularly screwed with (in the Paula Bennett style) and gotten progressively slower to compile. At present I don’t think that what we know about last years figures has been released – you may have to wait

            So when we are looking at poverty based on “national measures”, then consider what Ad pointed out in the post (charatibly I’m only assuming you didn’t read it closely enough)

            Just to remind ourselves of the facts of the matter, between 150,000 and 290,000 children are currently living in poverty or hardship, with around 80,000 in more severe hardship.

            I think that one was the figures from somewhere in the government and the other was the Unicef estimates based on published data. Because we know that National likes to have fudge numbers to support their lack of effort (I think that lie about the numbers method that Nick Smith so loved is pretty well known). So a large part of whatever is done is to make sure that the calculation and the collection to produce a robust method to measure the performance of both this government and those of the future governments full of the same types of lying bastards who let this happen already.

            • Antoine

              > I think that one was the figures from somewhere in the government and the other was the Unicef estimates based on published data.

              The key point is that they are different measures of poverty. 150,000 is absolute poverty (‘material hardship’). 290,000 is relative poverty (below 60% of the median income, I think).

              By all means let’s have improved statistics, but let’s also remember that kids can’t eat statistics.


        • Drowsy M. Kram

          “Kiwi kids” – there’s a whole website! I did not claim that “kiwi kids” are better off.


          Compassion in action, or inaction?


          • Antoine

            > I did not claim that “kiwi kids” are better off.

            After a year and a bit of Labour-led Government, Kiwi kids are not better off?

            Is what you’re telling me.

            Ad, do you agree with Drowsy on this?


            • McFlock

              They might very well be a little bit better off now. Who knows – the data isn’t out yet.

              But making child poverty a measure of government performance, like GDP and unemployment? This will significantly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of kids within a few years.

              • Antoine

                Measures, targets and strategies leave no one better off except bureaucrats. Actual action on the ground helps people. My point is that the action could have been taken before (instead of?) passing the Bill.


                • McFlock

                  Yeah, I call bullshit on that.

                  Action without a strategy is fine if you’re thinking about tomorrow’s headlines.
                  Action without targets is fine if you don’t care whether your action actually achieves anything.

                  If you want a long term achievement rather than a quick nibble around the edges, you make a plan and you assess the effectiveness of the actions you take as part of that plan.

                  • Antoine

                    But you can hardly expect people to be super impressed until you actually start implementing the plan.


                    • McFlock

                      Are you concerned about actually eliminating child poverty, or do you just want to “super impress” people?

                      Joyce promising off the cuff in an election debate to halve child poverty was the latter.

                      Putting child poverty targets into law is the former.

                      It’s the beginning, nowhere near job done. But at least a government has finally addressed the actual job to do, rather than farting around for twenty or thirty years.

                    • Antoine


                      You are saying that “putting child poverty targets into law” is “actually eliminating child poverty”??


                    • McFlock

                      Fair call, I spoke imprecisely.

                      It’s part of the process of achieving actual change and ensuring that change is sustained.

                      Let me put it this way: if Labour fail to report, or fudge the targets, or fail dismally, even the current opposition could fucking nuke Ardern for a half-arsed job. It’s like last year’s goals listing in this year’s employee performance appraisal: it’s right there for everyone to see whether the goal has been achieved. No need for lobbyists and activists to follow up about when the poverty data will be released so they can publicise it.

                      Accountability is the first step to a competent job.

                    • Antoine

                      This seems reasonable.


                  • Antoine

                    For another example, see e.g. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/109102908/mental-health-and-addiction-inquiry-vague-in-parts-and-needed-to-deliver-more-to-provide-meaningful-help

                    “In 2017, Mental Health Commissioner Kevin Allen appeared before a select committee stating an “urgent need for action” rather than another costly review. We already know the solutions, he said.

                    In a letter backing up his submission he said: “Funded treatment and care options for the approximately 17 per cent of people with mental health needs who do not qualify for specialist services are limited.”

                    An inquiry is an easy promise because it stalls time – it will be 17 months since Labour came into power by the time the Government formally responds in March.

                    While we waited for the results of the inquiry, it would have been useful to increase funding to Mental Health and Addiction Services, but the Government opted to wait until the inquiry was released. It would have been useful to test out pilots programmes.”


                  • David Mac

                    To stand the best chance of success, any goal, regardless of what it is, must be SMART.

                    • Antoine

                      My view is that the three goals Ad quotes have the S, M and T but fail on the A and the R.

                      What time frame are they for, by the way? By 2019, by 2025, by 2050…? Ad doesn’t say.


            • Drowsy M. Kram

              For the benefit of A., who seems selectively hard of reading, I made no claims as to whether or not “Kiwi kids” are better off now than they were a year ago.

              After a year and a bit of Labour-led Government, Kiwi kids are not better off [Drowsy]?

              Is what you’re telling me [Drowsy].

              A., you left the question mark off the end of your second question, but my answer to that question is ‘No‘.

              Could you clarify the problem that you have with (understanding) my comments?

  4. Kay 4

    Benefit levels across the board HAVE to be raised, no arguments, no working groups, opinion polls, being more freaked out about potential vote losses at the next election.
    As an additional bonus it will also make a significant difference to the lives of seriously ill and disabled, and anyone who needs social welfare support even short term.
    Anyone who wants to argue with this, then perhaps undertake a cost benefit analysis of how much poverty contributes to avoidable hospitalisations and run-ins with the justice system and work out which will cost “the hardworking taxpayer” less. (Big hint- it’s the raise)

  5. Michael 5

    Increase core welfare benefits; cap rent; make GP visits free of charge by prohibiting top ups; provide breakfasts in schools; increase minimum wages – and do it before Christmas. Otherwise, this government’s as full of shit as the last.

    • Antoine 5.1

      Before this Christmas??

      You’re a bit hopeful


      PS This is not the kind of Government that would cap rents on private rentals

  6. Puckish Rogue 6

    I’m assuming child poverty and such like has improved, I mean in the run up to the last election you were getting plenty of stories in the media about kids going to school with no breakfast and families living in cars but now, a year on, and those types of stories are only occasionally seen so it must be sorted

    *No sarcasm was used in the making of this post

  7. patricia bremner 7

    With all that has begun in one year, it is sad that this is not more acceptable to you all.
    Personally I thought getting this legislation across the line would assist in meeting other goals, as children benefit when the adults do
    Why the degree of disenchantment is so marked when PM Ardern has put her reputation on achieving these goals, I’m not sure.
    Perhaps some want revolution, forgetting that the children would hardly gain from that scenario.
    Thanks Ad for this, I think it is a great end to the year. The Coalition has done well.
    There will always be more to be done but this has been a year of improvements. imo.
    To make that plain I have doubled my regular contribution to the Labour Party, and have sent gifts to both the Greens and NZFirst .I hope others do the same. We do not want National in.

    • Antoine 7.1

      > Why the degree of disenchantment is so marked when PM Ardern has put her reputation on achieving these goals, I’m not sure.

      Goals are no guarantee of performance. Look at how Kiwibuild is going.


    • Antoine 7.2

      (Afterthought:) Patricia, do you actually believe that this Govt will achieve any of the three targets Ad lists above? If so, which one and how will they do it??


      • patricia bremner 7.2.1

        I think that once this is passed into law, the budget will have practical measures in place to achieve it. How? Well we await that don’t we? I trust the PM and the team.

        • Antoine

          > I trust the PM and the team

          Can’t imagine why, at this point.

          Do you wanna make a wager? Say, if 2 or more of the targets are achieved you win, if none then I win, otherwise it’s a draw?


  8. patricia bremner 8

    Antoine one hitch in Wanaka is hardly a fail.

  9. In February 2016, 44% of Accommodation Supplement (AS) recipients were receiving the maximum payment, up from 25% in February 2007.

    ·In June 2016, almost all renters receiving the AS spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs, three in four spent more than 40% and half spent more than 50%

    Now I know that’s not ‘The Children‘, its pesky ‘adult’ poverty, and politicians consider that a hard sell, but still, unless we agree to slash rents for the lowest end of the market, we will still have POVERTY.
    We can increase benefits and child payments*, and Accommodation Allowances and Minimum Wage all we like; as anyone who has rented for any length of time knows, those increases are simply taken away by almost perfectly matched increases in rent.

    So if this aim is serious, lets break the news to the population that house values and rent increases need to not only stop, but be scaled back, and that from now on fair livable wages (and benefits) will be the way to maintain our life styles.

    * I was once tersely informed by Susan St John that “Working for families is a payment for children”, NOT for covering the rent, but meantime, back in the real world, for the poorest rent comes first..


    • McFlock 9.1

      Yeah, housing costs are a major problem.

      The other issue is how we halve child poverty (because that will address a lot of adult poverty, too). We need to get the poorest out of poverty, not just nudge 100,000 kids over an arbitrary line by giving their families another $20/week, leaving the most disadvantaged still in abject levels of poverty.

      • David Mac 9.1.1

        Yep, we don’t send kids to work, it’s entirely parental or care-giver poverty.

      • Antoine 9.1.2

        > nudge 100,000 kids over an arbitrary line by giving their families another $20/week

        WHich probably wouldn’t even work, as when you give the $20/week, the arbitrary line moves upwards


        • McFlock

          Not if it’s a proportion of the median.

          • Antoine

            Depends on how you give it, and how it flows on to other households. For instance if you increase the minimum wage and benefits, then other wages and salaries will also move up, etc etc.


            • McFlock

              Except that any subsequent movement would have elasticity issues. And the entire proportionality thing: at the simplest level an increase for <0.5 of the population will not increase the incomes for the majority by the same amount. Mathematically impossible.

              • Antoine

                Yes, these are the kinds of issues that arise.

                Anyway, I agree with your original point that giving a small amount of money (each) to a large amount of people is not going to be transformational. You need to be focused.

                I also suspect that providing better public services (particularly education) is more likely to be transformational than just handing out cash.


    • Kay 9.2

      +1000 Siobahn. Containing rental costs would be half the battle won but a significant raise in benefits and minimum wage still has to happen. Might I also suggest that, since it’s obvious no government seems to have the guts to reign in/regulate the power companies that instead they remove the GST from all power bills. 15% of an average bill can buy a fair bit of food (or go straight into the rent).

    • A 9.3

      +what she said.

      Poverty isn’t limited by age. If anything children in need are supported better because parents sacrifice food for themselves, and charities step in.

    • RedLogix 9.4

      So if this aim is serious, lets break the news to the population that house values and rent increases need to not only stop, but be scaled back

      Totally. House prices and incomes have become badly misaligned. This is a problem for both renters and homeowners alike. (If your mortgage free it’s been a windfall, but this was only a question of timing, who was in or out of the market before prices began rising.)

      Buying a home was never easy. My father worked three jobs (one full-time, another doing part-time auditing and another working the totes at Greenlane) , my mother full-time teaching for many decades. It took them a long time to pay off what these days would look like a trivial mortgage; I still recall the party they had when they finally discharged it.

      Yet I know for a fact that the home they purchased when I was ten years old, recently sold for about 140 times (that 14,000%) more than what they paid for it. That’s fucking insane.

      The problem for NZ is that we are a safe and desirable place to own property, and unlike Australia we don’t have limitless amounts of land. We also have a messed up tax system. As a result of a complex mix of factors we find ourselves in this mess. Over the years we’ve discussed here many, many aspects of this problem. Many people have made insightful and useful contributions.

      In my view Morgan and the TOP party’s Capital Asset Tax (and other reforms) would have gone a long way toward repairing the govt policy distortions that have played their part in this mix. However most people couldn’t see the message for the messenger and that was that.

      Sure a real-estate collapse would be satisfying for a while, but eventually the same toxic mix of underlying factors would kick back in. It’s my opinion that while we like to moan about the housing price problem, we don’t actually want to do anything to fix it.

      • Antoine 9.4.1

        We need to go to the fundamentals. We need to reduce the demand for housing and/or get better at delivering it (as a package – land, permits, construction and infrastructure to serve). Anything short of that is just rearranging deckchairs.

        Part of this may be an attitudinal change about what kind of housing people seek. I am not sure that the fixation with the standalone house with section is particularly helpful.


  10. Cynical Jester 10

    National being open to supporting it tells us everything.

    Labour needs to increase pensions and benefits. They won’t because theybelieve in everything national believes in but with a nicer smile.

    All we are gonna get is the same kinda statistical musical chairs bs labour and national have done over and over again like with unemployment levels (both parties tell us they’ve lowered the unemployment rate when in reality they’ve just put people on different benefits) they will find a way to change the criteria of what poverty means.

    The little bits they do will be about as successful as changing the culture of WINZ staff has been and or they will simply teach kids how to be more competitive so they can adapt to neoliberal society and if they are lucky they might get a banana.

    No money will go to the parents to feed these kids because that’s not the neoliberal way and meanwhile while labour is afraid to mention poverty that doesn’t have the word child before poverty our fellow kiwis will continue to starve and freeze to death on our streets. Our mental health departments will continue to be underfunded and our men will continue to kill themselves at the highest rates in the world.

    The first labour govt gave every kiwi during the depression an Xmas bonus Jacinda would have to hold a few working groups and committees.

    This govt isn’t remotely different than the previous one which again wasn’t remotely different than the previous one

    The rich get rich. The poor starve and the media tell us how happy we should be for the rich.

    Also ….when is Labour/NZF going to keep their promises to cut immigration. I don’t see how continuing to flood the country with National supporters helps Labour’s reelection chances. I didn’t support this policy but labour made a big song and dance and a lot of labour leaning people are waiting for numbers to start being reduced and they haven’t

    • Antoine 10.1

      > when is Labour/NZF going to keep their promises to cut immigration. I don’t see how continuing to flood the country with National supporters helps Labour’s reelection chances

      What is with that? I thought if there was one thing that Labour, NZF and Greens all agreed on it was cutting immigration – and yet here we are.


  11. Chris T 11

    “This govt isn’t remotely different than the previous one which again wasn’t remotely different than the previous one”

    Pretty much

    • Antoine 11.1

      And this will continue in the future, I think, until we have some kind of fairly enormous crisis.

      Both sides know they have to court the centre to get re-elected.


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