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Child poverty – fixing NZ’s multi-billion dollar problem

Child poverty – fixing New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar problem

New Zealand has a wide range of plausible options for immediately addressing the significant rates of child poverty and hardship in this country, according to a new book by Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple.

The book, Child Poverty in New Zealand, provides an opportunity to take the election year debate beyond measuring the problem to discussing the solutions.

Two of several options outlined in the book include better balancing expenditure between the elderly and children, or making better use of the savings that are forecast as welfare spending drops as a proportion of GDP.

In the book published by Bridget Williams Books, Boston and Chapple argue there is a strong and urgent case for addressing child poverty in New Zealand because the evidence shows this will deliver long-term social and economic dividends. Benefits would include reduced unemployment, better health status and faster economic growth. The authors draw on a wide range of national and international evidence, and advance various solutions with the aim of engaging policy makers and opinion leaders across the political spectrum.

Between 130,000 and 285,000 New Zealand children live in poverty, depending on the measure used. The authors suggest that last year child poverty cost New Zealand between $2.1 and $8.5 billion.

‘Children growing up poor are likely to be less productive in later life. Lower productivity means lower future wages and a higher chance of ending up dependent on a benefit in the welfare system.’

‘In a developed economy like New Zealand, the problem of child poverty is fundamentally about political power and incentives – or, more accurately, the lack thereof,’ Boston and Chapple write.

One of several options they suggest is to redistribute government support so that children are on an equal footing with the elderly – with all generations treated fairly.

‘If children had the same electoral punch as senior citizens, the rate of childhood poverty in New Zealand ... would almost certainly be lower,’ the book argues.

The book’s proposals for improving the lives of disadvantaged children deserve wide public debate and make this a vitally important book for all New Zealanders.

Key points
• Child poverty is one of the most pressing issues facing New Zealand.
• The authors are non-partisan, speaking to readers across the political spectrum.
• The authors draw on the best available New Zealand and international evidence, and seek to distinguish the many myths about child poverty from the real issues.
• The book presents a range of options for reducing child poverty, alongside candid discussion of their strengths and limitations.

Child Poverty in New Zealand by Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple publishes on Monday 16 June with public events being held in Auckland and Wellington. Jonathan Boston is giving a public lecture at the University of Otago on 12 June; a panel discussion will be held at the University of Auckland on 17 June; and the book will be launched in Wellington on 20 June. See www.bwb.co.nz for more details.

About the book
'Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple have written the definitive book on child poverty in New Zealand.' Dr Russell Wills, Children’s Commissioner.

Between 130,000 and 285,000 New Zealand children live in poverty, depending on the measure used. These disturbing figures are widely discussed, yet often poorly understood. If New Zealand does not have ‘third-world poverty’, what are these children actually experiencing? Is the real problem not poverty but simply poor parenting? What are the consequences of this poverty for children, their families and society? Can we afford to reduce child poverty and, if we can, how?

Jonathan Boston and Simon Chapple look hard at these questions, drawing on the latest evidence and speaking to an audience across the political spectrum. Their analysis highlights the urgent case for addressing child poverty in New Zealand. Crucially, the book goes beyond illustrating the scale of this challenge to identify real options for reducing child poverty. These proposals deserve wide public debate and make this a vitally important book for all New Zealanders.

Author information

Jonathan Boston is the Director of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington. Professor Boston is a leading contributor to policy debate in New Zealand on a range of issues, and was the co-chair of the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty in 2012. The author of numerous books and articles, he contributed to Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis (Bridget Williams Books, 2013), and chaired the book’s advisory group.

Simon Chapple is a Senior Research Fellow in the Dunedin Multi-disciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Department of Preventative and Social Medicine, University of Otago. Dr Chapple has held senior economist and public policy roles in New Zealand and abroad, spanning the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Social Development, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.


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