In Poverty Watch this week our final look at the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCCC) 2012 report “Child Poverty in New Zealand evidence for action“. Chapter 4 set out priority recommendations, Chapter 5 was the full list. The final Chapter 6 is short, I’m going to quote it in full because every word is worth reading:
New Zealand can be a great place for children – where all children can enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential and participate as equal members of our society. But to achieve this goal we must address the problem of child poverty. Moreover, unless a concerted effort is made now to reduce child poverty, the costs that it imposes today, both social and economic, are likely to be magnified in generations to come. Alleviating child poverty will also contribute to the success of other policy priorities, including reducing child abuse, increasing educational achievement, improving skills and raising productivity.
We have examined the available evidence to identify the most effective and efficient policies to reduce child poverty and mitigate its effects. From this it is clear that there is no magic answer or single solution to achieve our desired outcomes. But it is equally clear that child poverty can be substantially reduced.
Various promising government programmes and community-based initiatives are already in place to assist children living in poverty. However, there is no overarching strategy to co-ordinate these activities or monitor their effectiveness. And there are glaring gaps: for example, we urgently need a comprehensive housing strategy. Our first recommendation is that we need legislation to ensure that child poverty is properly measured and that ambitious, yet realistic, targets are set to reduce child poverty. A robust policy framework specified in legislation will help ensure sustained governmental action and leadership.
Child poverty is a complex social problem with multiple causes and consequences. For this reason, we need multiple solutions. We have, therefore, recommended a broad package of proposals that we believe will have the greatest effect. These include both practical recommendations that, in the short-term will assist children who are living in poverty today, and more ambitious long-term recommendations that will substantially reduce child poverty rates in the future.
It is clear that money matters. If material deprivation is to be minimised, families require a stable and adequate income. Children should not have to go to school hungry or live in cold, damp homes. Government policy choices also matter. The safety net provided by our system of income support (including tax credits) significantly affects the quality of family life. In our view, the income support system needs reform so that it has a greater focus on children. The changes we have proposed will not only reduce the level of material deprivation experienced by children in low-income families, but are also likely to enhance their educational attainment, thereby helping to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
The available evidence overwhelmingly supports greater investment in the early years of a child’s life. Supporting children living in poverty, for example through maternity and child health services and early childhood education, is investing in our future prosperity. We readily acknowledge that some of our proposals will entail significant fiscal costs, but we firmly believe that evidence-informed investments now can save money in the longer term. Moreover, the costs of doing nothing are high.
Children deserve the best possible start in life. The government has an important leadership role and must ensure that its policy levers are working in the best interests of our children and our most vulnerable families. But there are also important roles for business, non-government service providers, local communities and families. We fully support the many activities already underway in helping to alleviate child poverty, and urge everyone to consider how they can make a difference for children in their neighbourhoods and communities.
Finally, to improve the circumstances of our most deprived children we must be willing to experiment and implement innovative policy approaches, including pilots and small-scale initiatives from which we can learn more about what works – especially for the families who face the most difficult challenges. This requires boldness, imagination and a commitment to investing in proper, robust evaluation. Only in this way can we build a sound evidence base that is relevant to solving child poverty in New Zealand’s distinctive social, cultural and economic context.
Children do not choose to be poor. They do not select their parents. Even though they are citizens, they lack a democratic voice and the choices available to adults. Society has a responsibility to protect the powerless and vulnerable. Children, above all, deserve our collective protection and best endeavours.
… The report is just an icebreaker for hard conversation … addressing child poverty will be a long haul journey and doesn’t end in December.
A formal government response to this report is due at some point – a topic for a future edition of Poverty Watch.
In current news this week, Amnesty International shames our government for its lack of action on child poverty:
Child poverty ‘a stain on NZ’s human rights record’
The Government has been slammed for its track record on child poverty and violence against women following a critical report from an international human rights watchdog.
The Amnesty International Annual Report on the state of the world’s human rights highlighted New Zealand’s high levels of child poverty, violence against women and a proposed law affecting asylum-seekers.
Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sarah Thompson said the report’s findings came as no surprise. “It’s yet another report in a long line that highlights ongoing child poverty in New Zealand,” she said.
“That child poverty remains high is of no surprise when our Government continues to ignore research-based solutions, choosing instead to punish the poor via welfare reforms which do nothing but intimidate, control and sanction beneficiaries.”
Child Poverty Action Group co-director Mike O’Brien said there had been no significant Government response to the issue of child poverty. He said last week’s Budget had partly addressed some of the issues, such as home insulation and rheumatic fever, but there needed to be a broad and sustained response across health, education, housing and incomes.
The world is watching. After hyping a response to poverty in the budget, then failing to deliver, we will all be waiting to see what the government delivers in its response to the OCC report.
Here’s the standard footnote. Poverty (and inequality) were falling (albeit too slowly) under the last Labour government. Now they are on the rise again, in fact a Waikato University professor says that poverty is our biggest growth industry.
Before the last election Labour called for a cross party working group on poverty. Key turned the offer down. Report after report after report has condemned the rate of poverty in this country, and called on the government to act. Meanwhile 40,000 kids are fed by charities and up to 80,000 are going to school hungry. National has responded with complete denial of the issues, saying that the government is already doing enough to help families feed their kids. Organisations working with the poor say that Key is in poverty ‘la la land’.
The Nats refuse to even measure the problem (though they certainly believe in measurement and goals when it suits them to bash beneficiaries). In a 2012 summary of the government’s targets and goals John Armstrong wrote: “Glaringly absent is a target for reducing child poverty”…
The costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 Billion per year, but the Nats refuse to spend the $2 Billion that would be needed to really make a difference. Even in purely economic terms National’s attitude makes no sense.