13 Feb 2013

Hardship report shows 'bleak' picture

8:32 pm on 13 February 2013

The Salvation Army says its latest report on poverty in New Zealand paints an increasingly bleak picture of how the country is failing in providing for those on the lower rungs of society.

Its annual State of the Nation report released on Wednesday finds the rate of child poverty remains at 22%, unemployment has doubled in the past five years and there is a severe shortage of safe affordable houses to rent or own.

National policy director Campbell Roberts says none of the country's politicians are doing enough to address the hardship which an increasing number of people are facing each day.

Mr Roberts says leaders are far too cautious and too slow and is calling on them to be courageous and creative, and to tackle issues long term instead of tinkering around the edges.

The report shows an improvement on last year from 2011 in 13 indicators, including child poverty and housing availability. But nine indicators have got worse, including child violence, unemployment, incomes and food poverty.

Support agencies say getting beneficiaries such as sole parents into a job is the main way to lift children out of poverty, but the extra costs of going to work remain a barrier.

Wellington City Mission chief executive Michelle Branney says a fulltime job is the main way to get children out of poverty, but some parents cannot afford childcare.

The Federation of Family Budgeting Services says the report mirrors what the organisation is experiencing as it helps record numbers of low and middle income earners who cannot cope financially.

Chief executive Raewyn Fox says more people are asking for help, including many who do not have enough income to meet basic needs such as food and power.

Ms Fox says there are other extra costs, including transport and suitable clothing. Many beneficiaries need continuing assistance and some aren't aware that financial help is available.

The Salvation Army report gives the Government a D for its handling of child poverty and another D for its handling of unemployment.

Improvements shown - English

The Government says 13 of 22 of the Salvation Army's measures on poverty have revealed improvements.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, who chairs the Ministerial Committee on Poverty, says the public service has reorganised itself around issues such as social housing and child abuse, and results have started to show.

Mr English told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme says it will take five to seven years for significant change in areas such as housing.

Acting Social Development Minister Tony Ryall disagrees with some of the Salvation Army's analysis.

He says the Government has borrowed billions of dollars to help protect the country's most vulnerable people, and there is a huge amount of work under way to improve the welfare of needy families.

The Labour Party says the report is an indictment on the performance of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett while the Green Party says it outlines the Government's repeated failures.

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills says the Government is making progress in dealing with poverty but he wants to see more action this year.