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Church Leaders meeting with the PM

22 June 2004

Church Leaders meeting with the PM: welcomes progress on poverty but signals that there is more to be done

The leaders of the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army churches held a meeting with the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers yesterday. At this meeting the Church Leaders noted that there had been an improvement in the position of some New Zealand?s most vulnerable families, but counselled that the task of eradicating poverty and social disadvantage was not yet complete.

"The Church Leaders wanted to acknowledge the real progress that has been made in terms of housing affordability and levels of poverty amongst families with children," said Major Campbell Roberts, spokesperson for the Church Leaders group.

Recent data shows that the number of children living in households with incomes below the poverty line has dropped from 27% in 2001 to 21% in 2004. The proportion of households spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs has also fallen, from 42% in 2001 to 35% in 2004.

"This is real progress, and we are hopeful that Working for Families and other measures will see poverty amongst families continue to decline," said Major Roberts.

But information supplied by the social services associated with the churches warned that there were still many areas of social concern to be addressed.

"Single adults on low incomes do not benefit from the Working for Families package. Beneficiary families are still a disadvantaged group. Housing policy also needs to go further to enable more people to enter home ownership, and we urgently need to deal with problems of insecurity and poor quality in the private rental market," commented Major Roberts.

Church Leaders also expressed considerable concern about services for older people.

"Underfunding in both residential and home care could result in a real crisis in the future, with low income older people being especially vulnerable," said Major Roberts.

The Church Leaders also shared with the Prime Minister a paper prepared for church members, and for the leaders of all political parties, encouraging examination of what New Zealanders value and encourage in our communities.

"It is important in an election year for people to take a step back from the election rhetoric and ask some wider questions about what kind of society we want. Questions like; do we want a society based on selfishness and greed or on compassion and community," said Major Roberts.

The Church Leaders have met occasionally with successive Prime Ministers for over 15 years but Prime Minister Helen Clark has held a meeting with Church Leaders on a regular basis.

The Church Leaders have welcomed this openness to dialogue. Obviously we do not always agree, but it is an opportunity for government and church to connect and contribute to the shaping of social policy.


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