by Holly Walker
The evidence is in! A number of key reports have been released over the past week that provide us with some important pointers about what we need to be doing to address child poverty.
Firstly the Government released their summary of submissions on the Green Paper process on vulnerable children. As the government acknowledged in their summary, many of these submissions called on the government to address the root causes of child vulnerability by tackling child poverty.
Every Child Counts released ‘The Netherlands Study’ which investigated the Netherland’s relatively good record on the issue of child poverty, looking at the policies in place which contributed to these more positive outcomes. While the report acknowledged the importance of context for policy measures, its most important finding is directly applicable to a New Zealand context – and that is the need for an investment approach to our children. New Zealand chronically under invests in our children (we spend less than half of the OECD average on children under 6) and we pay for it dearly in longer term negative social outcomes (costing us approximately $8bn). Our health and justice bills to name but a few could be drastically reduced and our productivity increased in the longer term by investment in positive outcomes for our children.
The Ministry of Social Development’s last week released an updated Household Incomes Report. This report shows an increase in inequality since 2007 and little or no change in New Zealand’s very high child poverty rates (25%). The Government has refused to acknowledge the true meaning of this report and failing to grasp its findings. In the House yesterday the Prime Minister claimed the report showed an increase of medium incomes of 3%. In actual fact the report clearly shows that median household incomes decreased by 3% (see page 8). Meanwhile, despite the fact that there was a recession, the top decile actually managed an increase in income. This rise in inequality will have negative impacts on society as a whole, and particularly acute negative impacts on vulnerable populations such as children.
Yesterday the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Child Poverty released their excellent consultation paper “Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand”. This is an easy to read document based on the best national and international evidence that sets out straight forward and pragmatic solutions to child poverty. I encourage you to read it and to send the Group your feedback by the 12th of October 2012 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We were encouraged to hear Minister Bennett tell the House yesterday that she would be working with the Expert Advisory Group in preparing the White Paper. Perhaps if this is going to be a serious working relationship she should dissuade the Prime Minister from erroneously referring to the groups proposed or supported solutions as “dopey ideas”. In the House yesterday the Prime Minister seemed to mistake the purpose of the Income Tax (Universalisation of the In-Work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill as somehow “giving rich families even more money” – what the Bill actually does is extend the IWTC to families on the benefit. We are not sure if he just hasn’t read the Bill or he misspoke and meant to say he wouldn’t be supporting it because it doesn’t give rich families even more money.
There is now more than enough evidence that child poverty is a serious issue in New Zealand and that there are cost effective solutions that the Government could be implementing. I look forward to seeing this evidence reflected in the White Paper. I think the least we can expect is some action on the issue in line with what we now know. I will be watching closely over the next couple of months to see whether this eventuates.