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All poor families deserve equal support

Child Poverty Action Group
PO Box 56 150
Dominion Rd
Auckland
www.cpag.org.nz

1st April, 2005

All poor families deserve equal support say child advocates

Today sees a heartening reversal of the neglect of children’s income needs in the last two decades, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

At last many low family incomes get an inflation catch-up, in the form of a healthy boost to Family Support payments under the new Working for Families package. But there’s a catch. The poorest children will miss out on nearly half of this overdue top-up.

In a mean-spirited sleight-of-hand by the package’s designers, the entire child-related component of core benefits will actually be deducted from the increase. Those 175,000 children affected will fall even further behind. “We know that the first five years set the blueprint for the wellbeing of a child for his or her lifetime. Research shows that when families struggle on inadequate incomes for even a year or two their children’s life chances are often irrevocably damaged. Surely this is short-sighted penny pinching,” says CPAG’s Dr Nikki Turner. “A fairer, more visionary package would not have to cost more.”

Moreover the poorest children still miss out on the Child Tax Credit in the name of work incentives. “Income support for children must not drop when parents fall on hard times,” agrees family economist Dr Susan St John. “This package was clearly designed more to push parents into the workforce than to reduce child poverty. Why else would the poorest of the poor be left behind?” she asks.

Social Security spokesman Assoc-Prof Mike O’Brien concurs. “Research shows parents need no punitive, heavy-handed “incentives” to motivate them to provide for their children, he says. “Instead, what parents need are good opportunities and good back up supports. Children’s needs are clearly the same regardless of the source of their parents’ income. If a child’s needs total $25 per week that is what they should get; payments should not be cut to $7.50 just because a parent is on a benefit.”

Dr. St John highlights the fact that the design of the tough new “make work pay” measures means they spectacularly fail to reward extra hours worked by anyone on middle to low incomes. In fact, the well-funded but flawed and administratively-complex package needlessly entrenches disincentives to work,” she says. “This looks suspiciously like an attempt to prop up flagging pay rates at the bottom of the scale as soaring housing, schooling and other basic costs hit families hard despite the supposed economic good times.”

CPAG believes it is unacceptable to leave so many of the nation’s children behind. The group challenges political parties across the spectrum to front up to the problem with substantial policy initiatives. “It’s one thing to score pre-election brownie points paying lip service to how important families are,” says CPAG Director Janfrie Wakim. “But quite another to commit significant resources to a boldly articulated plan aimed at tipping the policy balance back in favour of the next generation as a whole. Where can concerned New Zealanders turn to make their vote count for children?”

ENDS

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