A brave and bold Budget 2021 is needed

4:25 pm on 13 May 2021

By Dr Claire Achmad*

Opinion - With Budget day around the corner, the focus is zooming in on the choices the government will make about how to spend public money.

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Prime Minister and Child Poverty Reduction Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

In Aotearoa New Zealand, children are a quarter of our population. While most children and tamariki are doing well and growing up with what they need to thrive, this is not the reality for all of our youngest generation.

The choices the government makes in this year's Budget could change this, it and needs to.

The government has set a vision of New Zealand being the best place in the world to be a child, and says that poverty reduction is a priority, placing its key focus on children.

This ongoing commitment is something to be welcomed - it is rare to have a government commit so explicitly to these things.

But the government's child poverty indicators report published today highlights again how far we have to go, so we do not have children growing up in families whose everyday experience is a struggle.

The report is stark: in 2019/20, 36 percent of households with children spent more than 30 percent of their disposable income on housing, and 7 percent of children are living in homes with a major problem of dampness or mould - these can lead to preventable childhood illnesses, which in some cases can stretch on for a lifetime.

The indicators report shows alongside this, 20 percent of children report experiencing food insecurity, and in 2020 only 65 percent of students aged six to 16 regularly attended school.

It is important that we recognise that these problems being experienced on a daily basis by children and tamariki in Aotearoa aren't happening in isolation. They are inextricably linked, and in many instances underpinned by a common factor: poverty.

Official child poverty statistics published earlier this year (for the year ending June 2020) show 18.4 percent of children live in households with less than 50 percent of the median equivalised disposable household income after housing costs are paid for. In practical terms, that's Eden Park at full capacity, times four.

Material hardship, where children live in homes going without six or more 17 essential items, is affecting 11.3 percent of Aotearoa's children. For tamariki Māori, this is much higher at 22.6 percent, and for Pacific children, even higher at 28.2 percent.

So, what do we need to see on Budget day for children and tamariki to experience basic human rights and move closer to wellbeing?

A brave and bold Budget.

One that invests in increasing income support in line with the welfare expert advisory group's recommendations, so that families and whānau have liveable incomes and hope for a fairer future.

A Budget that invests to ensure that all children can grow up in a healthy, warm and safe home, without the housing insecurity that negatively affects so many parts of their lives.

The brave and bold Budget needs to invest, too, in the community organisations that are there for children and whānau in their time of need - our NGO social services.

Aotearoa's response to Covid-19 has highlighted that our NGO social services are integral to getting children and whānau through the toughest times. The estimated $630 million funding gap facing NGO social services is unsustainable.

Budget 2021 could helpfully step in to address this through fair funding and fair pay. Such investment is directly linked to ensuring better child and whānau wellbeing because these are the organisations working at flax roots every day in communities throughout the motu when children and whānau need help the most, and which prevent crisis occurring in the first place.

As Aotearoa continues to grapple with the pandemic's impact, a brave and bold Budget focused on children, whānau and those who support them is needed, as an ingredient to get us to a more equitable, inclusive and fair future for generations to come.

*Dr Claire Achmad is chief executive of Social Service Providers Aotearoa, a membership-based organisation representing over 200 NGO social service organisations throughout New Zealand.

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