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The Scandal of Child Poverty

The Scandal of Child Poverty

Friday 12 March 2004

The Scandal of Child Poverty

The recent statements of Cindy Kiro, Children's Commissioner, are enough to make one weep. More than 20,000 children are living in dwellings without heating. Hospital admission rates for pneumonia are 10 times higher than those in comparable nations.

The UN has expressed concern about New Zealand's record for youth suicide, unplanned early pregnancy, youth alcohol use, and youth mental health. These are the symptoms of far too many demoralized homes whose children have lost hope for a good life.

About 16% of households with children have an annual income of $20,000 or less. The University of Otago's nutrition department says it takes $26 to $68 per week to feed someone - depending on whether you are an infant or teenager. Every budget survey shows that a family on the dole is lucky if it has half that for food - usually $15 to $20 per week per person. Because everything else comes first - housing, heating, clothes, school fees.

The result is that the mother often sets a target of going without food for one day a week - to feed the kids. You may say, 'Surely they are eligible for a special benefit.' In 2001, Dunedin Churches found that 1295 families were eligible for a special benefit - and that 65 actually got it.

You may want to know what it is like to ask for one. You bring in your shopping lists. One mother was asked why she had bought a box of muesli bars - she was close to despair. Think of what it is like to be asked that - think of what it is like to have to attack someone for that. WINZ employees say that they are told that they must be tough -- so WINZ can stay within the budget agreed with the Minister.

The Alliance still stands for the programmes that would help. How much sacrifice is needed? If we added 1.6% on everyone's tax, we would be able to afford a child benefit of $15 per week - and an extra $840 million to cure our health system.

We would not actually add 1.6% to everyone's tax. We believe in a progressive tax system where those of us with a decent income share with those without. These are good times. If we cannot afford to save our children now, let us have no hypocrisy about how much we care.

Prof. Jim Flynn - Alliance Finance Spokesperson jim.flynn@stonebow.otago.ac.nz www.alliance.org.nz

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