by Catherine Delahunty
This week a Bill in my name which would help end child poverty was drawn from the Members’ Ballot.
The purpose of the Bill is to extend the In Work Tax Credit to all low income families. The issue is urgent because one quarter of all children are growing up in poverty. As a country are we comfortable with that level of deprivation?
Are we relaxed that the Human Rights Tribunal agreed with “Child Poverty Action Group” that the current tax credit regime is discriminatory against at least 270,000 children?
The Greens have long been committed to changing this policy so that the tax credit will be an extra $60.00 per week for families where the parents are students, working less than 2o hours, or on a benefit. We think this support should go to children who need it most, irrespective of the nature of their parents’ income.
Investing in the most disadvantaged children is saving everyone money in the long term as well as being fair. International research puts the economic cost of not acting to address child poverty at three percent of GDP, or 6 billion dollars a year.
It is not rocket science that all children need enough food, adequate clothing, housing and health care, but the Bill is already under attack by those with punitive instincts towards people not able to find a job or enough work to afford these things.
The myth is that people have to be incentivised to work and that living on the minimum which the benefits amount to is somehow a comfortable option. At a recent presentation to MPs the leaders of the “Kids Can” charity who provide food, raincoats and shoes to schools told us they had yet to meet parents who didn’t want the best for their children or wouldn’t like to provide that.
However, the deep and easily manipulated contempt for people without sufficient income may mean the Bill will receive more attacks. The evidence is clear that the best way to help the children is to raise the income of the parents, rather than punish them in a flat job market.
We have calculated the policy change will cost about $300 million per year but the pay back will huge. If we prioritise the children who need it through a targeted tax mechanism that doesn’t discriminate we will all be better off.
Maybe it is more important than roads of national insignificance or tax cuts to the top 10 percent of people who are very comfortable already. Will all political parties be prepared to stop hand wringing over child poverty and support the Green Bill? Watch this space.