by Holly Walker
The group is absolutely right that we need a multi-party agreement to end child poverty, and we need all parties, as well as iwi, hapu, community and business, to commit to a plan of action. Setting dates and targets that can be reviewed and measured is vital as well.
The British Act is a good example, although I note that it doesn’t actually set out the policies that will be enacted to end child poverty; it merely establishes the definition and measurement framework against which to assess progress. Governments are responsible for producing Child Poverty Strategies to achieve the targets set in the Act, and must refresh these every three years. Is this enough, or do we need all parties to agree on the actual strategies to end poverty?
As an example of what can be achieved when all political parties put their differences aside and reach consensus on a policy, consider this: we have a cross-party consensus on superannuation in New Zealand. We also have one of the lowest rates of elderly poverty in the OECD.
We have no such consensus on children, and we have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the OECD. Just imagine what we could do if we put our differences aside and got on with it.
So I welcome this idea from the Experts Advisory Group. However, merely halving child poverty in 10 years is not ambitious enough.
We know that the first three years is vital for every child, for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If we can guarantee the essentials to children in these crucial years, we guarantee them genuine opportunities for life.
The Every Child Counts Coalition is currently running a campaign entitled ‘1000 days to get it right for every child‘. 1000 days represents the first three years of a child’s life, but also three years of a Parliamentary term.
As of today there are 840 left for the 50th Parliament.
Merely halving child poverty by 2010 means those 1000 days will pass by for 10 years worth of children with no action for many. That’s not good enough.
Before the election, the Green Party developed solutions that could bring 100,000 children out of poverty in three years (there are an estimated 270,000 children living in poverty in New Zealand). They were costed, practical solutions, that could genuinely be achieved in three years:
- Make Working for Families work for every low-income family
- Provide better study support for sole parents and beneficiaries
- Raise the minimum wage to help working parents
- Make sure rental properties are warm and healthy for kids.
So why pussyfoot around? Let’s set the goal of halving child poverty in one Parliamentary term, and ending it in two. When we know thousands of children are living those crucial early years without adequate support, aren’t we morally obliged to act? I think we are.
And since we’ll save up to $6 billion per year by addressing the cost to our economy of allowing child poverty to go unsolved, I think we’re fiscally obliged to act too.
During June and July I’m holding screenings of Bryan Bruce’s now infamous Inside Child Poverty documentary, first screened in the week before last year’s election, at various locations around the country. I won’t just be pushing the Green Party barrow, but hope to engage in genuine discussion about what we need to do to achieve cross-party consensus on this most pressing issue.
I hope you can join me at a screening in your area. Details of the first three screenings in Whangarei, Lower Hutt, and Rotorua here (and check back as details of further screenings are added).