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A fairer society where every child has enough to thrive

A fairer society where every child has enough to thrive


Metiria Turei, Green Party Co-leader


At the beginning of this year I stood on a windy Wellington foreshore, at the Greens annual picnic and I declared that inequality will be a defining issue this election.

I said politicians will be called to account this September for how they plan to restore the opportunities, freedoms and birth rights that go with being a child in a prosperous nation like Aotearoa New Zealand.

And now, with nine weeks till the election, just 61 days left to do right by our children, I think it’s about time to call us politicians to account.

It’s time to ask:

How will you ensure the half of all Kiwis who are missing out now, are included in your plans for the future?

How will you restore to every single child in New Zealand that most basic of rights, the right to have enough of what they need to thrive?

Because surely having enough food, enough warmth, and enough love is not too much to ask for any child living in our beautiful country?

Every child should have enough to thrive.

Any less is a failure of our society.

The rate of child poverty in New Zealand swelled from 11 percent in the late 1980s, to 30 percent of all New Zealand children by 1993.

Over the course of the last 30 years inequality increased faster here than anywhere else in the developed world.

The reforms of the 80s and 90s put New Zealand children way behind and National has done nothing to ensure they have ever been able to catch up. Indeed, they have made things even worse.

But just as political action dramatically changed the face of our nation in the 1980s and 1990s, political action can again change it – for the better.

So I’m telling you today we can eradicate child poverty in New Zealand.

We can reduce the growing inequality between the rich and the rest in our country.

We can ensure that New Zealand is a place where every child has enough to thrive.

THE PROBLEM

It’s easy to be confused about whether child poverty is getting worse. The Government’s spin machine has been on overdrive in recent months, trying to claim child poverty is nothing to worry about.

But here is the truth:

1 in 4 Kiwi kids live in poverty.

There are 35,000 more children in severe poverty in New Zealand than there were before National came to power.[1] That’s the equivalent of the city of Gisborne populated by additional kids living in severe poverty.

That makes a total of 205,000 New Zealand children living in severe poverty.

This is severe poverty, where families subsist on less than half the median income - in many cases paying more than half their earnings in rent, with barely enough left over to survive.

And under National, poverty in New Zealand is not limited just to the kids of parents on benefits. Last year, 34 percent of kids in poverty had parents in full time work.

The number of poor kids with working parents is increasing under National because wages are not keeping up with day to day costs like rent, food and power.

After six years under National, the poorest half of New Zealand has seen no real increase in their net income once housing costs are factored in. None.

Meanwhile the richest quarter’s income rose by thousands.

So any talk of things getting better under National is simply wrong.

Keeping kids poor doesn’t just hurt them, it hurts our economy.

Child poverty is estimated to cost New Zealand at least $8 billion a year in preventable medical, justice and social costs and lost productivity.

Imagine how much better it would be to spend that $8 billion on health and education and the support our kids needs at the top of the cliff, rather than pouring it into the ambulance at the bottom.

We can eliminate poverty. Let’s get on with the job.

We can do it

Today I am announcing that the Green Party’s social policy priority for this election is to ensure that every child has enough to thrive.

Imagine that. Every child with enough to thrive.

This is not an outrageous ambition. The Green Party believes every child in this rich nation has the right to be healthy, well fed, clothed, educated and to be included in society. Is that really too much to ask for our children?

We can eliminate child poverty in New Zealand.

In Government the Green Party will implement a plan to do just that.

The first of the Green solutions

Over the coming weeks we will announce the key components of our credible plan to tackle inequality and ensure every child has enough to thrive.

Today I can tell you about the first component of that plan that will transform life for many New Zealand families with young children.

In Government the Green Party will extend the 20 Hours early childcare subsidy to every two year old.

At the same time, we will embark on an ambitious plan to improve the quality of early childhood education for all our children.

For parents of the 40,000 children aged between two and three who currently miss out on the 20 Hours funding support, this will mean they could be up to $95 a week better off.

For couples who are both working full time, just to make ends meet, it may mean that one of you can go part-time and spend more time with your children.

For those thinking about going back to study, this may mean that you can afford to do that.

For those parents already in work, who would love to put your kids in a high quality centre with trained teachers but can’t afford to, this may mean you can.

For parents who think that their younger kids could do with a few hours a week of kindy, or playcentre, or kōhanga, that will now be affordable.

Of course we believe parents should also have the means to care, full time, for their young children at home too. Parenting is the most important job in the world.

But this policy addresses an immediate financial reality for many families.

New Zealand has some of the most expensive early childhood care and education in the developed world.

We know that two thirds of families with young children have two parents in work, and most single parents are also working and doing it really tough.

There are 40,000 kids between two and three years old currently enrolled in ECE. Till they turn three, their parents will often be paying the bulk of one parent’s salary in childcare costs.

The impact of this policy will vary depending on each family’s circumstances. All families with two year olds in ECE will be better off, and most families will be substantially better off.

The biggest benefit will obviously be for those who currently don’t get any assistance to help with the cost of ECE, and whose children use the most hours.

This policy recognises that young families are being squeezed on all sides these days, and it gives them more choice. Crucially for many parents, it also gives them more money.

Quality matters

Our policy also starts to undo the damage National has inflicted on the Early Childhood Sector.

Today I’m announcing we will restore funding to those centres who employ 100 percent trained teachers now and we will work in Government to lift the qualification rates across the sector.

Good quality ECE has profound, lifelong impacts on a child. It can mean starting school ready to learn and in a position to get the most out of education. It can make all the difference and qualified teachers are part of that.

Research shows that investing in early childhood education is one of the most effective investments a society can make. For every $1 spent on ECE, between $3 and $16 is returned.

That’s why, as part of our hubs policy we’ve previously announced we’ll build at least 20 additional ECE centres onsite at low decile schools where early childhood care and education is often in short supply.

To be effective, ECE must also be good quality. We’re heartened to hear Labour talk about restoring the requirement for all services to eventually have 100 percent qualified teachers. That is our policy too.

In Government we’ll develop a plan to achieve that goal, while also having a serious look at staff ratios and developing a network plan that expands the quality, non-profit ECE sector while ensuring other centres can only open if they’re needed.

Services whose primary focus is on profit now, at the expense of quality, should take note that under a progressive Government they will need to up their game.

It will take time to undo National’s damage. The quality early childhood sector is bruised and battered by National’s attempts to privatise and undermine quality, but we will undo the damage because investing in our children is the right thing to do.

By investing in our children again New Zealand can thrive.

Summary

It’s not commonly remembered that, shortly before he died, Martin Luther King was building a ‘poor persons movement’, drawing people of every race together to challenge what he described as one of the three great evils facing America at that time, poverty.

Tragically Martin Luther King was assassinated before his major anti-poverty campaign really got off the ground.

But one thing stood out for me in his final ever sermon, where he called on all poor Americans to march on Washington and confront politicians with the reality of their plight.

Poverty, King observed, was nothing new. “What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty.”

“The real question,” he said, “is whether we have the will.”

I believe New Zealanders have that will. It’s time to put that will into action.


ends

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