26 Oct 2017

Poverty portfolio 'gives children a voice'

12:06 pm on 26 October 2017

Children's advocates are excited to see the new government's plans to reduce child poverty but question how quickly things can improve.

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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The most recent Child Poverty Monitor report said three in 10 New Zealand children lived in households earning less than 60 percent of the median income.

During the election campaign Labour said it would lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020.

The new government's Cabinet appointments have made children a policy priority - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken on the role of Minister for Child Poverty Reduction and New Zealand First's Tracey Martin is the new Minister of Children and will oversee Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said Ms Ardern's new portfolio was needed as the situation had been ignored for too long.

"If you take the income-related poverty measurement, which is 60 per cent or less of the median income, that's 295,000 children living in families that don't earn enough money for basic life essentials. I would describe the situation as serious."

Mr Becroft hoped within Labour's three-year term there would be a significant drop in income-related poverty.

The new government should increase the eligibility threshold for Working for Families, increase the accommodation supplement and make changes to benefit eligibility, he said.

While it was the government's job to provide a safety net, others needed to step in too.

"It's a whole community responsibility - we need NGOs, community groups and businesses to be committed as well, because it's not just something that can be solved overnight or just with government intervention," Judge Becroft said.

Child Poverty Action Group economic spokesperson Susan St John said having a Minister for Child Poverty Reduction was the best news low income families have had for a long time.

"Child poverty is such a serious problem and [Ms Ardern] has recognised that - she is elevating the issue so people can actually see it," she said.

"Children don't vote, they don't have a voice, but she is giving them that voice."

The new government needed to think hard about how Working for Families should be restructured, Ms St John said.

"Money actually matters ... Working for Families [has] been neglected over the past nine years."

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