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"Shocking, Disappointing" Child Poverty Statistics Show Incrementalism Isn’t Working

Incrementalism isn’t working: Child Poverty Action Group says that’s the lesson from the latest child poverty statistics released today.

"Although not surprising, these pre-Covid statistics overall are deeply disappointing. For families with disabilities, they’re absolutely shocking," says CPAG spokesperson Innes Asher, Professor Emeritus.

Most of the nine measures showed no statistical change over the 21 months to March 2020.

"We’ve long said that poverty for children is a huge problem and doing just a little bit will not be enough," says Professor Asher. "We urgently need the government to raise income support significantly for our children in families receiving benefits, and the government needs to use a multi-pronged approach to tackling the housing crisis.

"Incrementalism isn’t working. Persistently delaying implementing the bulk of the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group isn’t working."

"We’re particularly worried as we know child poverty will have increased due to COVID-19. This data was collected before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Nearly one out of every five families living with disabilities live in material hardship, more than double the rate of families with no disabled members.

"Discrimination is the reason why children who are disabled, or who have a disabled caregiver or sibling, are more likely to go without," says Professor Asher. "It doesn’t have to be this way, and it absolutely should not be this way. Other countries such as the UK acknowledge families with disabilities have greater expenses, and they support those families so they are no more likely to live in material hardship than others."

Of the nine measures, the one bright note is that material hardship has definitely reduced overall (in a statistically significant way) from 13.2% to 11%, a reduction of around 24,000 children, and is likely (although not definitely) to have reduced somewhat for tamariki Māori, from around 22.6% to 19% - around 11,000 tamariki Māori may no longer live in material hardship.

"We expect that we’re probably seeing the effects of the Winter Energy Payment, the extension of free doctors visits to all those aged 13 and under, but also the mushrooming of private charity - food bank numbers have increased massively over the last few years," says Professor Asher.

However, material hardship rates for Māori and especially Pacific children are still far above national rates overall: nearly one in five Māori children (19%) live in material hardship (around 54,000 children), and more than 1 in four Pacific children (25.4% or around 37,000 children) compared to just over 1 in ten children overall (11% or 125,000 children).

"These statistics show entrenched, compounding inequities, with our tamariki Māori and Pacific children bearing the brunt of racial discrimination," says Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho, commenting from a Māori perspective for CPAG. "In order to meet its Tiriti o Waitangi obligations, the Government must re-prioritise, and have the reduction of poverty for tamariki Māori at the core of all its policies."

Overall, 168,000 children are still in the severest income poverty, below the 40% income poverty line. "The Government needs to change its policy so that all low-income families with children are allowed to access all family assistance - currently our children in severest poverty are denied full access to key family assistance because their caregivers receive a benefit," says Professor Asher. "Benefits also need to be raised, and allowances for whānau with disabilities to be raised so that they’re no more likely to live in poverty than anyone else.

"Seven out of every ten New Zealanders want the Government to increase income support - these statistics show a significant increase is necessary in order to reduce child poverty."

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