More is needed to be done to fix New Zealand's "broken safety net" if the country is to halve child poverty by 2028, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft says.
Judge Becroft told Breakfast yesterday’s Budget 2021 announcement is a “very solid, continuing step on our journey of halving child poverty by 2028”.
“We’re on track - that’s really reassuring and make no mistake, these main benefit increases, they are important and they’re significant and the sweep of history, probably unparalleled,” he said.
However, he expressed a desire for the Government’s announced benefit increases to “start tomorrow” and “remember that the main benefit increases are, as it were, the first leg of the double”.
As part of Budget 2021, Finance Minister Grant Robertson yesterday announced increases in benefits for families with children ranging from $36 to $55 per week.
All benefits will get a $20 per week top up from July. A further boost is expected in April 2022, in line with the Welfare Advisory Group recommendations.
From April 1 next year, adults with children will also receive an additional $15 a week each.
Becroft also called for a review into the Working for Families and family tax credit system as it was “always envisaged to be the way children would most benefit”.
“I’m pleased we’ve made the progress, I’m pleased there’s a commitment to review the family credit system - that was a vehicle for $50 to $70 more per week for solo parents - now that’s what I look forward to seeing and we want to hold the Government to account for that.”
He also praised the allocation of $3.8 billion into a housing acceleration fund, but said it “won’t get us houses tomorrow”.
Becroft called for an increase to the accommodation supplement “at its maximum level” to “index the housing cost” but with rules and regulations in place to prevent landlords from “gobbl[ing] it all up" but instead go towards “mothers, fathers and their family to get into good, warm housing”.
Assistant Māori Commissioner for Children Glenis Philip-Barbara told Breakfast Budget 2021 is “an indication that we’re moving in the right direction” through its targeted support in relation to the housing and health announcements.
Budget 2021 saw $4.7 billion allocated to health, including $98.1 million to establish the Māori Health Authority, and $380 million for Māori housing, with 1000 new homes for Māori.
“We have 125,000 children - mostly Pacific, disabled and Māori - living in grinding material hardship so I worry about the children we’ve left behind,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s a single New Zealander who wants to live in a country where children are going hungry; where children are living in cold, damp houses; where children don’t have shoes, don’t have a warm jacket and can’t get to the doctor - that’s not the kind of New Zealand that we want to leave for our children and grandchildren.”
Becroft agreed, adding that he believes it's “one of our great birthrights in New Zealand to have a safety net that protects us all but the safety net’s broken at the moment”.
“Yesterday was a good step but we still want to be sure that all our children are looked after and I think that’s the narrative shift - it’s terrific,” he said.
“Most New Zealanders want benefits increased - that’s good - it’s there to provide that safety and I welcome that but we’ve got more to do.”
Philip-Barbara said if we're "supporting children, we have to support whānau".
"There’s no longer a tolerance for talking about children as individuals - people really want families in this country to flourish and we are looking for all of the ways that can happen,” she said.
She said the stress of child poverty “is enormous”.
“The stress of never having enough; the stress of always being cold, of wondering where your next meal’s coming from; knowing that mum and dad are doing it tough, that there’s never enough.
"It’s an awful, awful way to spend your childhood and I worry that we’ll leave too many behind and actually, they’ll have another 10 years of this to cope with and grow to adulthood having never experienced having their needs met.
“That’s not the Aotearoa that I want.”
Becroft said if we "want a welfare state that really works, that we believe in, that’s morally and actually providing the security, then more’s required”.
“Mokopuna deserve it,” Philip-Barbara added.