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'Now is the time to be bold and courageous' - Children's Commissioner calls on Govt to do more to lift benefits

New Zealand's Children's Commissioner is calling on the Government to be "bold and courageous" in lifting benefits.

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Andrew Becroft spoke to TVNZ1’s Breakfast ahead of data on child poverty in New Zealand being released today. Source: Breakfast

Yesterday, the Government announced benefits were set to rise by 3.1 per cent this April, with an increase of $10 on the way for some beneficiaries.

But Andrew Becroft this morning told TVNZ1's Breakfast more is needed.

"If we started with 20 per cent, bang, one big increase, that's bold, that's courageous. That'd be a fantastic next step on top of the indexation of benefits that we're now seeing," he said. "Twenty per cent would be a great start."

Government-collected data on child poverty will be released today, with hopes it will show what a difference and impact policies like the families package has had on low-income families.

However, Mr Becroft said he doesn't think it will be positive.

"I think they'll say pretty much the same, maybe even worse, but what's really frustrating is [the statistics released today] are 18 months old so half the families surveyed won't have even had the benefits of the new policy. So that's really annoying, to be honest."

Mr Becroft said the Government's policy changes were "fantastic" and should have been done years ago, but added they just didn't go far enough.

"We haven't been bold and courageous enough. Tinkering around the edges hasn't cut it. We've got to spend some money to lift benefits up. They were slashed in 1991 - we've never recovered.

"About seven per cent of beneficiaries lived in poverty in 1991, it's now over 70 per cent. The economy grew, wages grew but benefits didn't grow too. The growth of the country was on the backs of marginalised children."

Mr Becroft pleaded for the Government to spend its surplus on those marginalised children now.

"We've got a surplus, we're keeping it for a rainy day, well ask disadvantaged children - it's pouring down outside for them, we can spend it. 

"Can we fix it? We can. We've got the money we've got to spend it and we haven't been doing it."

Mr Becroft recommended 20 per cent as one big increase which would mean mothers could buy two pairs of shoes for their children, as well as raincoats, being able to let them play football, have breakfast at home and warm houses so children weren't going to the doctor regularly.

"There's probably a city the size of Dunedin of children who are really struggling and really doing it tough and for 30 years as a country, all of us, we've been asleep at the wheel in terms of our most marginalised children. We're waking up, I think. The whole country is waking up, but now is the time to be bold and courageous."