13 Sep 2011

Minister dismisses child poverty report as political

6:13 pm on 13 September 2011

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has dismissed a report on child poverty as a political document and a rehash of work the authors have already done.

The report, by the Child Poverty Action Group, says the Government needs to make urgent policy changes to help 200,000 children who are living in poverty.

It makes seven key recommendations, including that Working for Families tax credits should be made available to beneficiary families as well.

Ms Bennett says she is wary about that recommendation, which she says the group has put forward before. The minister added she was not able to make much comment as the matter is before the courts.

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says the report can not be ignored, and supports measures such as lifting the minimum wage and ensuring early childhood education is not cut.

But Labour, too, does not yet appear ready to give family tax credits to those receiving a benefit.

Both Mr Goff and Ms Bennett say their parties will release more policy aimed at alleviating child poverty closer to the election.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says some parts of the report are heartbreaking, and agrees that changes need to be made.

His co-leader Metiria Turei says Prime Minister John Key, in particular, doesn't seem to care about child poverty.

But in Parliament, Mr Key rejected claims he was not worried about child poverty.

Report's conclusions

The report said at least one in five children experience severe hardship that compromises their health, education and future.

Among other recommendations, the group wants to see the creation of a Minister for Children and called for free healthcare for children aged under six, and more money for lower decile schools.

One of the authors, Nikki Turner, says child poverty is not inevitable, and much is driven by Government policy, so the the report calls for policies that are more child-centred.

The group's economic spokesperson, Susan St John, says the problem has been growing worse and worse over the past 20 years and successive Governments have failed to deal with it.

"Take Working for Families, for example, which is a major social assistance programme which was designed to reduce child poverty.

"Well, yes it did, and we celebrate that, but it did so by selectively assisting a subset of poor children and leaving the rest behind."

She said some 230,000 children are excluded from Working for Families.