Advocacy groups slam 'racist', 'discriminatory' system after Government releases child poverty report

Advocacy groups have slammed the Government's Child Wellbeing Report as "grim reading" which shines a light on New Zealand's "racist, discriminatory and sexist system".

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Child Poverty Action Group's Janet McAllister and Save the Children's Jacqui Southey are calling for bold action in the upcoming Budget. Source: Breakfast

The report, released yesterday, highlights how Māori, Pasifika and disabled children and young people are more likely to experience worse outcomes across a range of indicators.

It revealed seven per cent of New Zealand kids live in households with major problems, including dampness or mould, with 11 per cent of Māori tamariki and 17 per cent of Pasifika children, living in those kinds of homes.

Twenty per cent of New Zealand children reported living in households where food runs out either sometimes or often. Again, the rates for Māori were higher at 30 per cent, then higher again for Pasifika children at 46 per cent. However the report noted these have been trending downward.

By her own admission, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said work in the child poverty sector was "far from done" and that there was a "need for ongoing action".

Ardern said that "whilst we have made some improvement and we are going in the right direction, there is still a lot to do".

"Too many children live in low-income households, or experience racism, bullying or violence," she said. 

"Many of the issues facing children, young people and their families are complex, stubborn and intergenerational, so we know change will take time, and will require sustained action across government and across our communities."

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Child poverty report 'grim reading', says action group

However, action groups have this morning criticised the Government for it's small steps to address these big issues.

"This is a politically created problem and it's a politically maintained one," Child Poverty Action Group's Janet McAllister this morning told TVNZ1's Breakfast.

"The Government has power to change this terrible situation we've been in for far too long.

"We should be angry about this."

She credited some government initiatives, including the food in schools programme and Best Start initiative. But added that they weren't a silver bullet.

"It's not okay to be a little bit better than four years ago."

McAllister said all New Zealanders need liveable incomes.

"We know that New Zealanders all care about each other and we care about our children and yet we have a chronic, massive emergency of food insecurity in this country," she said.

"When you look at the higher rates for Māori and Pasifika - can we let that sink in - New Zealand isn't giving tangata whenua or Pacific communities enough recourses to buy food, that is the effects of a racist and discriminatory system, and a sexist one.

"We know that wages of Pacific workers are too low, particularly for women and the Human Right Commission is starting an inquiry into that."

McAllister said the impact on children could last a lifetime, including on their health, education and their future income.

She said parents want their children to flourish, but they're battling "barriers in their way".

"It's not fair. We're telling people they're poor and it's their fault, and we're not giving them enough and telling them it's their fault and it's just not okay."

Also on Breakfast, Save the Children's Jacqui Southey agreed that parents inherently love their children and want the best for them, but that they needed the tools to do so.

"It's not acceptable that if you live in a sole parent home that you're going to do without food and warmth much more than somebody who is living in the highest income bracket, and it's certainly not acceptable that Māori, Pasifika and disabled families for too long have been forced to live on incomes that don't cover the basics," she said.

"The report makes for grim reading actually, it lays bare the complex issues that our tamariki and their whānua are facing, particularly for our Māori, Pasifika and disabled whānau," Southey says.

"The way that we are expecting our whānau in hardship to live is simply not sustainable and the report makes this clear."

Southey said housing costs were too high for both renting and buying.

"They're absolutely a train wreck when it comes to driving families into poverty," she said, adding it forced people to cut costs on other expenses like quality food, healthcare and education.

Southey also acknowledged the Government's work compared to previous government's, but again agreed with McAllister that without raising incomes it will never be enough.

"You can't give a little in some initiatives and some programmes and some regions, we need to see incomes lifted across the board for those with the lowest incomes."

Advocacy groups are calling for bold action to address these issues in next week's Budget.

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