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CPAG: Budget expectations 2006

Press release: Budget expectations 2006

18 May, 2006

Our children are the heart of our nation’s future: if we are to prosper we must leave none of them behind. Will this guiding principle, quoted so often, be reflected in Budget ‘06?

New Zealand’s income gap has continued to grow. Many of the poorest in NZ today are children, and they have been getting relatively poorer. Across-the-board tax cuts would only have worsened this by taking no account of the costs of raising the next generation.

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has advocated for central government action against child poverty since 1994, aiming to ensure children are protected from the massive socio-economic forces confronting families every day, such as labour market upheaval and rising fuel and energy costs.

“Our social structures, like good parents, need to make sure these forces do not hit our most vulnerable children hardest. Yet around one in five kiwi children is now growing up without the basics necessary to keep pace with their peers and a changing world. It hasn’t always been this way – and the costs of neglect of the poorest are huge, both to those affected and society at large,” says CPAG social security spokesperson Associate-Professor Michael O’Brien.

Are we neglecting our children? “When it comes to the neediest of them, we are. The recent Working for Families package has been very selective about which children it helps out of poverty. Roughly 175,000 of our very poorest children will miss out because their parents cannot work the required number of hours weekly, or receive a benefit,” says Assoc-Prof O’Brien.

“The income safety net which used to safeguard children’s development, regardless of parents’ situations, has been removed, and child poverty is deepening among those growing up in families where parents are unable to earn enough money by working enough hours to qualify for the new and significant In-Work Payment,” he says.

The majority of poor children have traditionally been Pakeha, however over half of the children left out of this most recent generous family tax boost are of Maori or Pasifika descent. Tamariki Maori and Pasifika are over-represented among those on low incomes, and are more likely to be in families reliant on insecure jobs, insecure working hours and benefit income. As a result, they are more likely to miss out on the new, long-delayed assistance, he says, and so their existing disadvantage will only worsen.

Every Budget matters for children, across a range of areas like housing, health and education. “Research – including much done by government – has shown a clear link between socio-economic disadvantage and negative effects on children’s life chances including their health, education and work prospects. We need to be protecting children from poverty, in good and bad economic times alike. With every year of inaction that goes by a precious window of opportunity is lost,” says O’Brien.

Research by the Ministry of Health has shown 40.5% of households can only sometimes afford to eat properly. “Hungry children do not learn, and are an indictment on our economic and social policies,” CPAG health spokesperson Dr Nikki Turner says. “But food insecurity also means kids are more likely to be overweight or obese, with all the attendant health problems. Current obesity rates reflect increases over the last few decades in the relative deprivation of low-income groups.”

The worse off a family becomes, financially, the more likely it is that children’s health will suffer. Costs for primary health care are still a barrier for the neediest, despite recent improvements. After-hours costs are particularly a problem for families. These costs are of grave concern given that it is the poorest children who frequently need medical services the most, Dr Turner explains.

CPAG says raising children, whether as a parent, grandparent or caregiver, needs to be recognised as a valid contribution to society in its own right. While this activity does not earn a market income, and is not measurable in terms of GDP, it provides a social benefit, both now and into the future. By contrast, insufficient investment in children runs up a social debt. That’s food for thought, on any budget.

Summary of recommendations:

1. Reconsider Working for Families’ In-Work Payment and treat every child as deserving of support.

2. Reconsider the Temporary Additional Support Regulations (replacing Special Benefit) and ensure that supplementary assistance is fair, effective and adequate.

3. Recognise that parenting is work in its own right and provides an important social benefit.

4. Provide free primary health care for under-18s, at all hours

5. Ensure free, good quality breakfasts for children in decile one and two schools

6. Abolish NCEA fees.

ENDS

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