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Government Policy Impacting Child Poverty Levels

UNICEF Report - Government Policy Impacting Child Poverty Levels
Report Card 10: Measuring Child Poverty


While world leaders debate austerity measures and cuts to social spending, a new UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) report released today shows the extent of child poverty and deprivation in the world’s richest countries, including New Zealand. Report Card 10: Measuring Child Poverty reveals that 30 million children - across 35 countries with developed economies – are living in poverty.

The report, from UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre, brings together the latest data on child poverty and deprivation across the world’s advanced industrial economies. It uses the measure of a poverty line as a household receiving less than 50% of median disposable household income. On this basis, New Zealand comes in at number 20 of 35 countries. New Zealand is above the UK and Japan but below Australia, Ireland, Hungary and Slovakia[i].

The report maintains that poverty is not an inevitable situation but is susceptible to government policy. Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director at UNICEF NZ, said, “The Government needs to do a lot better for our children in New Zealand. As this report shows, policy choices have a significant impact on the lives of our young people. The right choices give young people the opportunity for a good start in life and have the ability to solve some of our most serious social problems.”

New Zealand’s spending on children and families is relatively high on the league table at 3% of GDP[ii]. McKinlay added, “It could be said that a good proportion of that spending is in remedial services, to counter the effect of low spending in the early years of a child’s life, which is less than half of the OECD average.

“UNICEF NZ, along with Every Child Counts, has been advocating for many years that increased investment in the early years of a child’s life is both socially and economically beneficial.”

Report Card 10 is also significant for its new direction in measuring child well-being through two dimensions – child poverty and deprivation. Poverty refers to the income status of a household, while deprivation refers to possessions, services and opportunities which are considered normal for a child growing up in a wealthy country today.

The deprivation tables in Report Card 10 do not include New Zealand, but work done by New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development in 2008 show that children in New Zealand have high rates of deprivation - 18% against 15% in the UK and 14% in Ireland.

McKinlay noted that New Zealand’s inclusion in this report is vital, yet also called for more up to date data. He said, “It’s imperative that we have more immediate data to measure deprivation in New Zealand. We need to know how we compare in the international setting so that we can find ways to do better for children who are missing out on some of their basic rights.

“A crucial next step would be for New Zealand to align our deprivation index with the current European Union standard index to show how children here are faring in relation to their counterparts in Europe.”

The report also points out that the full impact of the recession on children is yet to be measured. It is unlikely that the situation for children in New Zealand today is any more promising, as Report Card 10 observes that children are disproportionately impacted by the global recession.

The report also identifies that the consequences of poor decision making regarding support and services for children during difficult economic times won’t be evident until much later. Some developed countries have policies to protect children from the worst aspects of the 2008 financial crisis. Finland, Iceland and the Netherlands are noted in this context.

McKinlay said, “There is no better investment, in good times or bad, that a nation can make than in its children. This is essential to ensure that each and every one of our children has the start in life that will help them achieve their potential and grow to become engaged, well-educated and productive citizens.

“This report sounds a warning that failure to protect our children from today’s economic crisis is one of the most costly mistakes that a society can make. This is not new thinking but successive New Zealand governments have failed to respond to the urgent message to address the needs of children adequately. The truth is that there is only one chance to get it right for each child.”

McKinlay warned of the dangers in storing up intractable social and economic problems for the years ahead if we fail to maintain our commitment to children to act in the early years of their lives. He said, “It is imperative that our level of investment matches our commitment to the rights of children. This policy benefits the whole of society through savings in remedial spending and is the key to an economically and socially stronger society,” he concluded.

-ends-

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