Child poverty is not worsening and some indicators are improving, according to the latest Child Poverty Monitor data, but 27 per cent of children still live in poor households and poverty-related hospitalisations are unchanged.
Judge Andrew Becroft, the Children’s Commissioner, said following an increase in benefit levels in 2015 – and other adjustments by the previous Government – there had been a “small drop” in the number of children living in households on low incomes or lacking the things they need for everyday living.
The statistics show that in 2016 290,000 (27%) of children were living in low-income households* where money was tight – down from 295,00 (28%) the previous year. Up to 80,000 children (7%) were living in severe poverty as they were experiencing both greater material hardship* and living in a low-income household – this is one per cent less than the previous year meaning 10,000 less children were living in severe poverty.
The Child Poverty Monitor report also looks at hospitalisation rates for medical conditions known to be much higher for children living in socio-economic deprivation – like respiratory diseases and infections – and found there has been little to no change in hospitalisation rates per 1000 children between 2012 to 2016, with on average more than 40,000 hospitalisations a year.
Dr Amanda D’Souza, College of Public Health Medicine spokesperson said despite some recent improvement in child poverty levels, the rate of poverty was still unacceptable as poverty was an “overwhelming and pervasive factor in preventable diseases, injuries, disability, and death for children in New Zealand”.
Becroft said his office was “very encouraged” to see the commitment to putting child poverty measures, and an obligation on governments to set regular targets, into legislation. “As well as the number of Government initiatives signalled in the ‘first 100 days’ work programme, including the proposed Families Package, Best Start and increases to Paid Parental Leave.
“But it is essential that we keep up this momentum. One small step will not be enough. We need to see changes like these every year to see a substantial long-term decrease in poverty, and ensure these gains are not cancelled out by increases in the cost of living. We can see for the first time some real progress towards wiping out child poverty, but it will take many small steps to get there.”
Dr Mavis Duncanson, the Director of the NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service at Otago University said all children needed the same things to support their physical, mental and emotional well-being. “Such as a warm, dry home, a sustaining meal with vegetables and protein regularly, clothes and shoes that fit properly, a place to study quietly, and the use of a computer and internet at home,” she said. “They gain enormous benefit from going on school trips, and joining in activities such as sports or kapa haka.”
D’Souza said the College commended the government on its commitment to reduce child poverty but also called for specific targets and robust definitions and measures of child poverty – particularly for Māori, Pacific and refugee children, and children with disabilities.
The Monitor is now in its fifth year of tracking various measures of child poverty and reporting on the impacts of poverty on children’s health, education and housing.
The annual report is a project by the Children’s Commissioner, J R McKenzie Trust and Otago University’s NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service (NZCYES) and draws on various government data sources, including the Ministry of Social Development’s Household Incomes in New Zealand report.
The report notes that child poverty has been reasonably stable for a number of years but remains significantly worse than in the 1980s as in 1982, the percentage of children in families experiencing income poverty was 14%, compared to 27% now.
The Child Poverty Monitor and the Child Poverty Monitor: 2017 Technical Report are available at www.childpoverty.co.nz
- Low-income household = households with equivalised income below 60% of the contemporary median (income) after housing costs
- Material hardship (lesser) = living in household without 7 or more items from a set list of 17 items considered necessary for their wellbeing.
- Material hardship (greater) = living in household without 9 or more items from a set list of 17 items considered necessary for their wellbeing.
- Severe poverty = experiencing both greater material hardship and living in a low-income household