Monday, 10 December 2012

Telling it like it is Child Poverty

Report on Child Poverty released...
The group looking [yet again] into child poverty in NZ has now produced its final report. The National party has for four years suggested that they had no data on child poverty and that talk of two hundred and seventy thousand children living in poverty was simply a beat-up figure.

This latest report proves them wrong yet again and no doubt John Key will need to read this report while on holiday in his mansion in Hawaii or London or New York. While he sips on his wine and nibbles on a plate full of goodies he will need to consider the plight of those living in poverty in New Zealand.  

Russell Wills’ [Children’s Commissioner] final report into child poverty has thrown the ball back to the Government, recommending 78 changes, including enshrining child welfare in law.

He suggests that a $2 billion Government overhaul, including more state homes and universal child support, is needed to fight child poverty,

However, the Government has already poured cold water on the report, rejecting one big-ticket recommendation and emphasising tight finances. This is strange when you consider what the government paid to Warner Brothers and to Sky City along with the massive spending on roads to nowhere.

The report paints a bleak picture of the 270,000 children living in poverty, many of whom regularly go hungry, get sick and live in overcrowded homes.
It says the first step is to create a strategy to monitor child poverty and set ambitious targets for improvement.

Some recommendations are simple and cheap - with a few reflecting existing Government policy - but others could cost billions. They include:

  • Scrapping many benefits for parents and replacing them with a universal payment for every child under 5.
  • Building 2000 new state homes a year and requiring all rentals to pass a health and safety “warrant of fitness”.
  • Warrants of fitness for homes
  • Government to work with finance sector to provide zero-interest or cheap loans for struggling families:

  • An expanded food-in-schools programme for low-decile primary and immediate schools

  • Increased focus on keeping young parents in education

  • Create community hubs as a one-stop shop for support services.

Some recommendations would take longer, be harder and more expensive:

  • Review all child benefits and refocus them on child welfare.
  • Create a new universal child payment for all children under 5.
  • Support for older children would be targeted, based on income.
  • Increase the number of social houses by at least 2000 a year for the next eight years.
  • Extend free doctor visits over time to cover all children under 18.

The combined changes are estimated to cost the Government between $1.5b and $2b a year and reduce child poverty by up to 40 per cent. The report estimates the economic cost of child poverty to be between $6b and $8b a year.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett quickly rejected universal child payment, claiming it was too expensive.

“It is those on the lowest incomes who are in the greatest need, so any new spending needs to be tightly targeted,” she said. Warrants of fitness for homes, and community hubs, were ideas with “merit” and other suggestions were already being pursued by Government, she said.

Finance Minister Bill English said throwing more money at child poverty would not necessarily solve it.

 “Too often, governments have, for political reasons, persisted with programmes that have been ineffective and expensive.”

But others have a differing view, Professor Jonathan Boston, who co-chaired the group that wrote the report, said that, while the cheap options would help, costly and ambitious reform was required for deep and lasting change.

“Making a substantial dent in child poverty can’t be done on the smell of an oily rag.”

Some of the more costly projects could be shelved until the Government books were in better shape, he said. Others could be funded by diverting money from people who did not have dependent children.

“As resources become available, it is our most needy children that should have the first claim.”

Dr Wills said there had been a strong consensus about the best way forward.

Labour’s children’s spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern supported the report but was skeptical about how many of the changes would be adopted by the Government.

The report has also been endorsed by Every Child Counts, a coalition of child agencies including UNICEF, Plunket and Barnardos. Its manager, Deborah Morris-Travers, said the evidence was clear and the Government needed to act.

 This from Ian Ritchie:

Successive governments have indeed actively resisted addressing the issue of child poverty to the extent that different Prime Ministers have refused to say the noxious P word. As far back as Rob Muldoon who wanted to deregister CORSO for wanting to address poverty issues here.
In the UK, the Government several years ago adopted the goal of eliminating child poverty in a defined time frame.
Unless our government priorities change the downstream costs will continue to escalate for the whole of our society.
All power to the Commissioner’s Group of experts and their recommendations
Ian Ritchie

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