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New research shows New Zealanders' views on child poverty

5 September 2014: News from CPAG

Child poverty: the views of New Zealanders

The findings of a survey into what New Zealanders think about child poverty in our country have been released today. Child Poverty Action Group commissioned MMResearch, in association with Research Now to conduct an online survey sampling 1013 members of the New Zealand public in order to more fully understand people's attitudes and perceptions about child poverty. The survey was designed to be representative of the New Zealand public aged 18 years and over. The results have been post weighted by region, gender and age.

Download New Zealanders' Attitudes to Child Poverty here.

The Problem
80% of people surveyed agreed that child poverty is an important problem in New Zealand. Spokesperson for Child Poverty Action Group, Dr Nikki Turner says this is a strong response acknowledging an issue that is now of grave concern in our society.

However New Zealanders generally underestimate how bad the problem is. While there are actually around 260,000 (24%) children living in poverty today, only eight percent surveyed thought the number of children living in poverty was between 200,000 - 300 000 and half thought it was less than 100,000.

The Causes
Opinion was evenly divided on the primary cause of child poverty in New Zealand.
Forty percent said it was due to economic factors including unemployment, low wages and rising living costs while another forty percent thought child poverty was caused by bad parenting choices; neglect, lack of budgeting, and not prioritising children ahead of spending on alcohol, smokes, drugs etc.
Twelve percent attributed poverty to systemic failures and lack of government policies and support and nine percent blamed lack of education and uneducated parents.

"These figures reflect an attitudinal divide in our country between whether poverty is our shared responsibility as a society or the responsibility of individuals, in particular. parents. However, the fact that people mentioned many things indicates some understanding that poverty stems from multiple causes," says Dr Turner.

The Consequences
New Zealanders surveyed also mentioned multiple consequences of child poverty, highlighting we recognise the complexity of the issue.

The standout consequence for children living in poverty was seen as poor health. Almost half (48%) mentioned poor health and sickness as an impact of poverty and two fifths (43%) noted poorer educational achievement. A quarter (27%) thought poverty could lead to antisocial behaviour like violence and crime and a fifth (20%) were concerned that poverty can lead to hungry children and malnutrition.

Respondents were also asked about the signs of poverty. The overwhelming majority, 97%, recognised signs as going without basic essentials like food and adequate clothing. Similarly high numbers also recognised children going to school without breakfast or lunch (93%) parents or caregivers who can't afford to take them to the doctor when they are sick or buy them medicines (92%) and living in cold and damp housing (92%).

The Solutions
Public awareness was highest for practical interventions including free milk in schools (82%) and free doctor visits (80%) for children.
More than two-thirds (69%) were aware of the KidsCan programmes and (58%) had heard of improvements to housing like subsidised insulation.
Women were more likely than men to be aware of these programmes. Policy interventions were less well known with less than half (42%) having heard about increasing tax credits for families with young children or the Children's Commissioners recommendations (10%). Only six percent had not heard of any of the programmes.

What solutions are effective?
In terms of very effective solutions, free doctor visits for children stood out again. While for the majority, all the programmes and interventions listed were somewhat effective at reducing child poverty. 92% said that free doctor visits for children under 6 years of age(increasing to 13 from July 2015) were effective at reducing child poverty, and over half (52%) thought free doctor visits were "very effective". Most people who were aware of the Kids Can programmes donating shoes and raincoats thought they were 'somewhat effective' (55%) rather than 'very effective' (33%).

Government and Media Attention On Child Poverty
Opinion was divided 50/50 between those who thought the current government was doing enough to address the issue and those who thought it was not. Nearly half (46%) agreed that child poverty in New Zealand is getting plenty of media attention, and two-fifths agreed what they have seen and heard in the media has greatly influenced their thinking about child poverty (39%).

Universal Access
Respondents were asked whether four specific programmes (free milk, free doctor visits, subsidised insulation, and tax credits) should be universally applicable to all children in New Zealand or only to certain defined target groups.
The majority thought the two related to health and nutrition should be universally applicable to all children: free doctor visits for children under 18 (77%) and free milk in schools (74%).

Should we pay more tax?
Opinion was split in terms of whether we should pay more tax to help reduce child poverty. Over a third agreed that we should pay more tax (36%), slightly more disagreed (38%), and a quarter were undecided neutral or don't know (26%).
Men (42%) were more likely than women to agree (or strongly agree) we all need to pay more tax as well as people aged 18 to 24 years (51%) .

Nikki Turner says, "The survey highlights that New Zealanders understand that child poverty is a real issue - and a complex problem - involving multiple causes and consequences and that further action is needed. People recognise there are some practical solutions underway but they believe more can be done. Child Poverty Action Group wants to see all parties committing to a comprehensive plan to reduce or eliminate child poverty with targets and measures included."

CPAG intends to use the base line data from this survey to enable attitudes and trends to be measured over time. It aims to use the findings to further identify areas where there is aclear lack of awareness about poverty issues to help guide education and awareness raising initiatives.

Download New Zealanders' Attitudes to Child Poverty here.


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