Small drop in Kiwi child poverty numbers leaves 'room for cautious optimism', says Children's Commissioner

The growth in child poverty has been halted and indicators of the problem are dropping, says the Children's Commissioner, upon the release of the latest Child Poverty Monitor data.

The 2017 Child Poverty Monitor shows 12 per cent, or 135,000 New Zealand children are living in material hardship, down from 14 per cent or 155,000 in 2016. 

It means 135,000 children are in households that are living without seven or more items from a list of 17 considered necessary for their wellbeing.

Twenty-seven per cent, or 290,000 children, are living in low income homes where money is tight and are considered to be in income poverty, down from 28 per cent, or 295,000, in 2016. 

We need to see changes like these every year to see a substantial long-term decrease in poverty - Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft

More than seven per cent, or 80,000 children, are in severe poverty, experiencing both material hardship and living in a low income household, and that's down from eight per cent or 90,000 in 2016. 

The number of children living in low income households has dropped by two per cent in the past year, but 12 per cent remain in poverty. Source: Breakfast

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says the small drop in children living in low income households or lacking the items they need for everyday living follows an increase in benefit levels in 2015 and other adjustments by the previous government.

While small, Judge Becroft says this drop is "absolutely" a good thing, leaving "room for cautious optimism".

"We're told that this Government as well are going to increase the Working for Families package, so it should be encouraging but we don't need just one-off initiatives, we need concerted, sustained, strategic commitment that lasts until we've at least halved child poverty, which is our United Nations goal, by 2030," Judge Becroft said on TVNZ 1's Breakfast this morning.

"I look forward to the day when we won't need an annual child poverty child poverty report."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised to personally end child poverty but she is being asked to listen to those on the front line. Source: Marae

But he says the 290,000 children in low income households, and up to 135,000 lacking basic items, "combines to produce a poverty of opportunity for children which we want to undo".

"These policies will make a real difference in reversing the trend," Judge Becroft said.

"But it is essential that we keep up this momentum. One small step will not be enough.

"We can see for the first time some real progress towards wiping out child poverty, but it will take many small steps to get there." 

Dr Mavis Duncanson, Director of the NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service at Otago University said all children need the same things to support their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, such as a warm, dry home, a sustaining meal with vegetables and protein regularly, clothes and shoes that fit properly, a place to study quietly, and the use of a computer and internet at home. 

Government committed to making significant progress

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the small drop in the number of children in low income households is welcome but there are still thousands of New Zealand children going without the basics they need and the Government is committed to making significant progress on lifting children out of poverty.

"Every child deserves the best start in life and to grow up and reach their potential free of the burden of poverty," Ms Ardern said. 

I am prepared to be held to account - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

"When I took on responsibility for child poverty reduction six weeks ago I committed to making substantial progress on lifting children out of poverty," she said.

"I am ambitious for all our children. They are relying on the Government to make real change, and I am prepared to be held to account for achieving it."

The Families Package, and her Child Poverty Reduction Bill, will have a significant impact on families who are struggling to pay for the basics for their children and will ensure the public can track the Government’s progress, Ms Ardern said.

Details of the package, targeted at those who need support the most, will be announced next week, she said. 

Child advocate Anton Blank said a 2011 report from the advocacy coalition Every Child Counts estimated 60 per cent of the children living below the poverty line were Maori and Pasifika and today's monitor shows some improvement for these groups, especially in education.

Judge Andrew Becroft said the fact 70,000 to 80,000 Kiwi children are living in "hardcore" poverty must change, but there is room for "cautious optimism". Source: Breakfast