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More Action On Child Poverty Needed Says Children's Commissioner

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

7 AUGUST 2008 - There are too many poor children in New Zealand and ignoring them threatens our future economic prosperity and social well being, Children's Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro said today. "Latest figures show us about 230,000, or 22 percent, of our children are living in unacceptable poverty. This is more than the entire population of North Shore City (205,605) or the Manawatu-Wanganui region (222,423)," Dr Kiro said at the release of a report for the Children's Commissioner and Barnardos, A Fair go for all children, Actions to address child poverty. "That is a huge number of children whose lives are affected by something we can fix. Poverty has lifelong consequences for children. It impacts on their health, education and future productivity. It also affects their self-esteem and view of society.

"Over the past few years there has been considerable improvement for children from a number of initiatives such as improved primary health funding, educational initiatives, Working for Families and income-related housing. However, firm commitments and targets for further reduction are needed." The report, written by Michael Fletcher and Mire Dwyer, finds that paid work is the best way to lift families out of poverty. It proposes actions to further reduce the number of children living in poverty including extra support for benefit dependent and low-income families, reform to the benefit system, and expansion of health, housing and education services. "New Zealand is looking at a growing aging population that will stretch health and welfare resources for many years to come. Child poverty adds to the stress on these resources and limits the productivity of the potential workforce that will be required to pay for that aging population," Dr Kiro said. "The 'costs' of child poverty include that children born into poor households are more likely to have poorer educational outcomes, a higher risk of dying during childhood, they are more likely to be sick, they face higher risks of physical abuse and neglect and children born into poverty are more likely to be poor themselves. "The proposals in this report are directed at politicians and policy makers because what they do makes a difference to child poverty. Children need to be considered when we make economic and social policy. "While assessing child poverty, my office worked with children and young people in low socio-economic communities throughout New Zealand. Recurring themes came through their descriptions of poverty; missing educational opportunities, social marginalisation and no prospects for the future feature strongly (some of their descriptions in words and pictures can be viewed at an online gallery: www.occ.org.nz/childpoverty ) "There is considerable stigma around being a beneficiary and being poor and core benefit rates and the minimum wage are too low for many families. The report shows we have families of one adult and one child trying to survive on between $305 and $430 per week, before housing costs. The child support system needs to work better to provide an adequate safety net for children. "People need to be careful about passing judgment. Anyone can lose their job or be in a situation where their health, or someone they are responsible for, means they cannot work. Disabled children, for example, are more likely to live in poverty than able-bodied children. "New Zealand needs to plan and implement a programme to eliminate child poverty within a set timeframe. Lasting solutions require action on many fronts including economic management, taxation, labour market, education, health, welfare and housing policies, as well as business and community support to help families facing difficulties. "There is a cost. But the question should not be can we afford it, but can we afford not to do something about it?"

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