our work in nz

Ending Child Poverty in NZ

How we can reduce the rates of child poverty in our country?

When we talk children living in poverty, we are not talking about rates or definitions.

We are talking about our children.

We are talking about some of the most vulnerable members of our society growing up without basic things they need to grow and thrive.

Poverty is about household resources being too low to meet basic needs — it is about “not having enough” when assessed against a benchmark of “minimum acceptable standards”.*(5)

To find out how many children are in that camp, we have to measure them. That is where the problem has always been. Kiwi kids living in poverty have become a ball to be tossed around in an endless debate about how to measure it. Last nights political leaders debate marked the moment to move from debate, to commitment and action.

UNICEF is a politically neutral organisation that works with all governments. But we are here to represent children. And we will fight for them.

Last night was a great win for children.

After nine years of being unwilling to set a measure or a target for child poverty, National has committed to doing so. This is fantastic news.

At issue is how we measure child poverty, set targets to reduce the number of children living in low income households or experience material hardship, and then commit to a timeframe for action.

This debate has gone on too long, because it keeps being railroaded by arguments about how poverty is measured.

It seems National may be using a measure called material hardship, which is defined by the Child Poverty Monitor. Based on that measure, 14% of New Zealand children are missing out on seven or more things from a list of 17 essential items — that’s 155,000 children.

National leader Bill English said last night he wants his government to pull 100,000 children out of child poverty within the next three years.

According to the Child Poverty Monitor, however, there are 295,000 children living in households with relative income poverty. This means their household earns less than 60% of the national average.

See? It gets tricky. So, the question becomes what is the minimum acceptable standard of living for children in New Zealand.

We need to measure both income and material deprivation to make a lasting difference for New Zealand’s children, and we must be ambitious on their behalf.

This multidimensional measure is what Labour are using. Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern indicated that her government would put a child poverty reduction target into law, so that every budget would include a child poverty measurement. She has since committed to at least matching National’s target.

This approach would solve the challenge we have had in NZ — moving us from debating the definition of poverty, to targeted reduction and a time frame for action. We recommend that the government sets both long and short term targets for reducing poverty.

Whoever is in government, they will have to focus on issues that affect poverty — and free public education is just one of them. More needs to be done such as lifting household incomes for families with children under three, preventing family violence, creating more affordable housing and fixing current housing stock, and funding our public health system so it is free and accessible for every child under 18.

The United Nations Children’s Committee recommended that New Zealand’s government take specific and particular action to reduce inequalities between Maori and Pasifika children and other children. If the government were to take up that challenge, it’d need to reduce poverty in these groups at a faster rate than the national average.

See how complicated this is? That’s why we’re happy to help. It’s our job.

We want every voter to be thinking about how we can reduce the rates of child poverty in our country, and we want every party to be discussing this.

UNICEF will work with whoever is in office after September 23rd to ensure NZ children get the start in life that is their right.

This debate has gone on too long, because it keeps being railroaded by arguments about how poverty is measured.

The measure matters, but equally important is the commitment to action and the timeframe set to deliver a reduction in child poverty.

While we are heartened that child poverty is being discussed, it hurts that this subject is still one that has to be addressed.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key said his biggest regret from his time in office was not doing more to bring children out of poverty.

We don’t want any more Prime Ministers to look back on their time and have those regrets. We want every voter to be thinking about how we can reduce the rates of child poverty in our country, and we want every party to be discussing this.

We applaud both major parties for pushing this issue to the fore last night.

Now lets agree the measure, build targets into law, commit to a timeframe and report on it at every government budget.

With ambitious targets and timeframes, and a government that makes a priority of ending child poverty in New Zealand, UNICEF suggests it would be possible to achieve across two financial years.

How could we do any less for our children?

By Vivien Maidaborn, UNICEF NZ Executive Director, September 2017