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Challenges ahead for Govt regarding child poverty

Friday 28 May 2004

Challenges ahead for Government to deliver on child poverty

The following is an extract from Barnardos Chief Executive Murray Edridge’s speech delivered at the Post-Budget breakfast in Wellington this morning.

Campaigning for the elimination of child poverty has been one of the key objectives of Barnardos child advocacy programme for several years. We have determined this position as a consequence of our work with thousands of children, young people and families in our community. We have concluded that family and child poverty was the primary cause of so many of the problems and circumstances we encounter.

In evaluating this budget we have looked specifically for several things – A commitment to address child poverty as a continuing policy priority Initiatives to provide immediate relief for children and families Policy development and implementation which actively seeks to prevent the re-emergence of poverty.

Commitment to address child poverty The Government declared it’s commitment to ending child poverty in its 2002 Agenda for Children. This is the first Budget which has made it clear that the Government means business. So congratulations for that. We would all have wanted to see improvements earlier but we are pleased to see real action being proposed at last.

The commitment given for “an end to child poverty” however is always only ever going to be a vision unless it also supported by some key deliverables.

There needs to be a target date for achievement of this outcome. The Child Poverty Action Group proposed a 50% reduction by the year 2010 and elimination in the period 2015-2020. In 1999 Tony Blair in the UK committed himself and his government to this achievement by 2020.

Although we haven’t seen specific time commitments from the current Government, we note that the budget package has been projected by 2007 to be able to reduce child poverty by 30 percent. The measurement base used to determine this objective is a definition of child poverty as a family income threshold below 60 percent of median household income. This is a measure that is internationally recognised and we would encourage the Government to continue to utilise these empirical tools. I guess we would give the budget a cautious thumbs-up for commitment.

Initiatives to provide immediate relief for children and families Along with other members of CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) Barnardos has been looking for – An increase in benefits for families with dependent children A focus on the poorest families in the government measures Elimination of the first income tax threshold ($20,000) and the extension of the second (currently $38,000) to a higher level Inflation indexation of all family payments including income levels at which family support is reduced. A restoration of the inflationary erosion of the value of family support over the past decade Elimination of the discretionary nature of the present Child Tax Credit An implementation of policy to make all medical and dental care free for those aged under 18.

A number of these key requirements were not touched on in the budget but there were some positive movements in some areas, and the minister’s assurance of the positive benefits accruing to nearly 300,000 families must be source of some encouragement.

Our assessment of the assistance for families – we are delighted with the financial commitment, but have concerns around targeting and timing.

Ongoing Prevention of child poverty This budget should reduce child poverty in New Zealand. Further measures in subsequent budgets will hopefully reduce it even further. Eventually we hope to see it eliminated. The much more difficult task however will be to prevent families slipping back into poverty.

However, there are a number of measures which will assist in preventing poverty in the longer term. These include: Continued growth in job creation Significant investment in economic development and knowledge enhancement Improving access to high quality, affordable child care Appropriate and accessible health services Quality educational services and relevant transition mechanisms into the work force.

Barnardos is therefore sending a challenge to Steve Maharey, your fellow ministers and your officials to do three really fundamental things – In the implementation of this budget and the development of its programmes, reaffirm your commitment to eradicate child poverty In the commitment to having people in work, don’t lose sight of the poverty dilemma facing those who aren’t. Make it a policy priority to have measures in place to prevent families slipping back into poverty.


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