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:
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:
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.