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Government committed to children and families

Government committed to children and families

Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey has reaffirmed the government’s intention to improve support for children and families over the next three years – and he says criticism a report out today about the position of New Zealand children fails to take into account the large strides made since 1999 to improve the lives of low income families.

The report by the Child Poverty Action Group mirrors official advice that specific policies are needed to improve the social and economic position of children and low income families. Both the Labour and Progressive parties made specific commitments to low income families during the 2002 general election and concrete work is underway to address these issues.

Steve Maharey said National neglected low income families during the 1990s, creating a serious problem which the current government has been left to address.

“Raising children and making sure they get the best possible start in life was a key focus for the government in its first term – and was signaled out in our social security policies as a key priority for this three year term.

“During the 1990s families were forced to cope with high unemployment, benefit cuts, the cancellation or withdrawal of basic health and social services. There is a big agenda for change and a real ambition on the part of the current government to address these issues as quickly as we can afford to.

“Considerable new spending has been invested over the last three years to improve the material position of low income families.

“We have adopted a whole-of-government approach to dealing with child poverty so that attack both its causes and symptoms simultaneously. For example: within housing the government has reintroduced income related rents for state houses which has helped over 50,000 families. As well as leaving more money in a family’s budget, secure and affordable housing increases children’s’ chances of better health and better educational outcomes, giving them greater opportunities as they grow up;

. . / 2 within health we have increased funding for free GP care for children, we have introduced new primary health inititiaves like the $200m meningitis vaccine campaign and the introduction of Primary Health Organisations which provide subsidised care to low income communities; within education we have increased investment in early childhood education quality and access ensuring children have a good educational start in life, and improved funding for low decile schools; within employment, we have increased in the minimum wage each year and we focussed on job-rich growth which has seen 123,000 new jobs created since the change of government in 1999; within social services we have improved the abatement rate for part-time income earned by sole parent beneficiaries so they can keep more of what they earn, we have improved access to hardship assistance from Work and Income and we have changed the debt recovery regime to make it less of a burden on low income families; and, within the community sector we have provided more funding for community-based social and support services, as well as supporting new and exisiting organisations to grow so that they can provide additional services.

“These investments stand beside significant policy developments like the Agenda for Children and Te Rito – the New Zealand Family Violence Strategy which we also developed with a wide range of community organisations and ordinary New Zealanders during our first term.

“We have been very clear that we will continue to address these issues as quickly as we can. The Child Poverty Action Group explicitly makes the link between much higher taxation rates – approaching 50 percent in the nations they single out for mention – and higher levels of social assistance. The government has been very clear that we do not support raising taxes to these levels.

“What we have indicated is that we will continue to invest in low income families as resources become available. The Finance Minister has already signalled his intention to invest the government’s surplus on improvements to family income assistance for low-income families in the 2004 budget. Other policy pledges made during the election will also be honoured.

“Our vision is simple: we want New Zealand to regain its status as a great place to bring up children once again. We will continue to back that ambition with the resources necessary to realise it,” Steve Maharey said.

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