'Disheartening' new report reveals children with disabilities more likely to live in poverty

Children with a disability are more likely to live in poverty than other children, according to a new report.

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Jane Lee discusses a report released by the Child Poverty Action Group. Source: Breakfast

The Living Well? report, released today by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), has revealed the lack of support that families of disabled people receive.

Massey University's Jane Lee, one of the report's co-authors, told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning the "juggle is very real of the single mother".

The social worker, who tutors at Massey, said she is struggling to raise her four children - one of whom is on the autism spectrum - despite coming from a position of privilege as an employed and well-educated Pākehā.

"My son with autism needs an extra level of care, day-to-day care, extra level of emotional support and an extra level of financial support compared to my neurotypical children so it is very challenging and there is very little support out there for families with disabled children," Lee said.

She said the report highlights the reality that many families are unaware of what support is available to them.

"Their day-to-day struggles are similar to mine in that we have disabled children but the difference with these families that I'm working with - they don't know how to access the services that are out there and this is absolutely through no fault of theirs.

"Parents don't know what they don't know. They're not told what's out there for them or how they can access this support and even when they are told how to access the support, it's still quite confusing systems and they need to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get to the support that they need.

"We can do differently as a country; we can provide some navigation services; say, 'Actually, this is important for us, our children are important - especially our disabled children - we can provide them tge support we need and make these services readily available to these families.'"

Lee said families that are unaware of the support services available to them are just looking to survive, which she called "so disheartening for these people".

"A lot of families with disabled children are living in poverty. They've got no way of accessing the support they can for their children. They're struggling to keep a roof over their heads, keep food on their table and seeing their children - their disabled children - they now need this extra support, but not having the financial ability to access the support that they need."

"They want what's best for their children ... we're caring, we're courageous but the support is just not available for us."

A 2016 CPAG report on the child disability allowance in Ōtara found that four out of five families were unaware that they could access the allowance.

Lee said they are now calling for more promotion of the allowance and for its base rate to increase from its current flat level of just under $50 per week which fails to take into account the different levels of severity in impairment in children.

The group made 11 recommendations, including the collection of quality data on children affected by disabilities and establishing a minimum income standard for the cost of raising children with disabilities. 

"I'm always hopeful. I think any change, anything that's going to lead us in the right direction is great ... to be able to raise awareness of issues and to get the conversation started and to get people to realise we do want what's best for our children.

"We're hopeful - we're always hopeful."