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Entrenched child poverty no cause for celebration

Entrenched child poverty no cause for celebration

Child Poverty Action Group says high child poverty rates have become normalised and New Zealand's poorest children should expect a far greater level of ambition for their well-being.

Spokesperson Assoc Prof Michael O'Brien said, "We are living in an era of severely diminished expectations if a small reduction in child poverty, back to 2008/9 levels, is hailed as progress. These numbers have been around now for the best part of two decades and give no cause for celebration. In effect we have accepted a terrible situation, which affects the lives of one in four children, as the 'new normal'. Clearly, child poverty is too big to be dealt with by the Government's current piecemeal approach. This problem requires an immediate and substantive response from government, especially around income improvements for our most vulnerable citizens."

Michael O'Brien said new data released by the Ministry of Social Development indicates those living below the poverty line are worse off than before, and that children in beneficiary households are in a desperate position due to the inadequacy of benefits.

"Government spending on income support for families under Working for Families is gradually falling over time and many parts of it are not properly adjusted for inflation. Poorly designed children's income support is a major factor perpetuating child poverty. Removing the discrimination of the In Work Tax Credit would significantly reduce poverty."

The MSD's Household Incomes report says, "there is evidence here that there is a growing gap between the incomes of those heavily reliant on the safety net provided by main working-age benefits, and the rest." Michael O'Brien said, "Given there was a rise of 4% in median real income for households between 2011 and 2013 it is clear that beneficiary incomes are falling behind wages at an even faster rate than previously.

"The Minister has said the government recognises more needs to be done to support our most vulnerable families. Acknowledging that child poverty is a problem for New Zealand is an important first step to finding effective solutions."

Michael O'Brien said government needs to take a comprehensive strategic approach to child poverty, to address the issues effectively. This requires having an official measure of child poverty and targets to reduce it. "While child poverty is already monitored and measured by the Ministry of Social Development in these comprehensive annual reports, what is missing is the commitment to achieving improvements in a meaningful way."

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