16 Dec 2019

Kids pension: how would it work

From The Panel, 4:13 pm on 16 December 2019

A pension for children is being floated as one way to address child poverty in New Zealand, following a report last week showing more than one in ten children are living in material hardship.

Data released last week by Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft showed 17 percent of New Zealand children now live in households existing on less than 50 percent of the median household income.

No caption

Photo: 123RF

Becroft told The Panel that the universality of the superannuation scheme should be applied to the under 18s.

“I was brought up in fact, and experienced the benefits of, the family benefit that mum would get every week or two weeks in the post office account, it helped me enormously it helped a whole generation of children growing up who got a huge great start from that.”

The “mother of all budgets” in 1991 finally killed off universal child benefit in New Zealand, he says.

“I’m often criticised for simply preaching benefit increases but what we’ve got to do instead is make up the loss.

“In 1991 about 40 percent more beneficiaries suddenly, in one fell swoop, came within the income poverty definition of under half the median income, and that I don’t think is well understood by New Zealanders.”

Research from overseas showed that money directed to poor families was invariably spent on children, Becroft says.

“During the [Tony] Blair government when benefits were increased the money invariably found its way to supermarket spending for children. Invariably cash-strapped parents spend it on their kids.”

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Media commentator Ben Thomas agreed that the cuts to benefits made in 1991 had never been reversed but said the idea of a pension for children was “nonsense”

“It is a nonsense idea for superannuants that somehow we’ve allowed to take root. There should absolutely not be universal superannuation at the rate that we currently set them which is about 66 percent of the average wage.

And certainly middle class parents and thus their children already get massive subsidies through working for families payments.”

Thomas says increased payments to poor families should be targeted.

Lawyer Mamari Stephens says universal benefits are effective at poverty alleviation.

“Universalism enables picking up people who fall between the cracks, because in a targeted system like ours is there are always people who fall between the cracks and superannuation is one of the very few situations where more or less those people will get picked up.

“Our poverty rate for the over 65s is something like 2 percent which is very low compared to far higher 27 percent in regards to children.”