Key Messages: Child Poverty Monitor

Topline messages

  1. The number of children experiencing poverty in this country is too high – no matter how you measure it.
  2. There are children who are doing it tough right now, whose health and education is suffering and whose choices in life will be limited in the future because of the impact of poverty.
  3. As a country we have to say child poverty is not choice.
  4. New Zealand as a country will suffer if we continue to see such high numbers of children doing poorly – economically and socially.
  5. Child poverty has not always been this bad – the child poverty rate in the New Zealand many of us raised children or grew up in 30 years ago was 15% (1984) compared to current levels of 29%.
  6. Children have no ability or power to change their circumstances. They have no choice but to live in poverty.
  7. The vast majority of parents are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have. There is no evidence that families with little money are making worse choices than wealthier people.
  8. We all have a choice in what we do to reduce the numbers of children living in poverty, and support them to have better lives.

General key messages

  1. There is a significant child poverty problem in New Zealand: More than 1 in 4 Kiwi kids are growing up in income poverty, nearly 1 in 10 are in severe poverty and many are in poverty for much of their childhood.
  2. Evidence shows that poverty has negative impacts on the individual child. It reduces opportunities, stifles educational achievement, reduces lifetime incomes, creates life-long health issues and can have a negative effect on brain development.
  3. There is plenty of concern amongst New Zealanders about poverty and much promising work going on to reduce the impact on children. Government can’t fix it alone– we all have a role, we make choices that will matter.
  4. The Child Poverty Monitor provides a benchmark to chart progress in reducing child poverty in New Zealand.
  5. The Partnership of JR McKenzie Trust, the Children’s Commissioner and the NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service of the University of Otago have the collective skills and resources to effectively monitor child poverty and share this information in a way all New Zealanders can understand.

Key messages – data

  1. There has been a significant increase in income poverty for children this reporting year (using the relative measure less than 60% of current median income, after housing costs) – up from 260,000 to 305,000 children. It is difficult to pinpoint why this is or whether it is a trend that will continue. Part of this is because the current median income increased, as more families moved into middle and high incomes, while the low income families did not shift. A small increase in the threshold means many families that had been just above the measure last year are now counted as being in poverty.
  2. However, other income poverty measures also show an increase in the past year, although not as dramatic as the relative measure. Using the fixed line measure of less than 60% of 2007 median income, after housing costs, rates increased from 235,000 (22%) to 245,000 (23%) This does suggest that inequalities are rising – with households at the poorer end of the income scale doing increasing worse than middle and high income households.
  3. About 14% of kiwi children regularly go without things most New Zealanders consider essential, like fruit and vegetables and good shoes. We cannot compare this rate to previous years as the method of measuring this data has changed. Next year we should be able to compare.
  4. About one in ten children are in severe poverty; that is, they are going without the things they need and their low family income means they don’t have much opportunity to change this.
  5. For many of the children living in poverty, this is a long-term problem and has a severe impact on the adults they grow up to be; 3 in 5 of the children in poverty will likely remain in poverty most of their childhood years.
  6. The number of times children go to hospital with conditions related to social disadvantage has increased since 2007.
  7. SUDI rates have been falling significantly over time. But rates are more than 6 times higher for infants in the most disadvantaged areas of New Zealand.
  8. Children fare much worse than all other age groups, both looking at income poverty and material hardship.
  9. Children are dependent on caregivers to provide basic essentials.
  10. Children growing up in disadvantaged areas have great risk of poor education outcomes. Children living in hardship can succeed and do very well – but it is a much harder road.
  11. There have been improvements in the percentage of students achieving NCEA level 2 or above across all levels of advantage and disadvantage – but the achievement gap between the most and least disadvantaged continues.

Key messages – choices

  1. It is a common myth that families in poverty are there by choice and continue to make bad choices that keep them there. This is not accurate or fair. While there are some making poor choices (and this is not unique to people on low incomes) – the vast majority want the best for their children and are budgeting as well as they can on limited resources.
  2. In fact, we’ve been told by charities and budget advisors that people on low incomes are often the most capable at managing a budget – often able to account for every dollar income they have.
  3. Many middle/middle-high income New Zealanders are not too many steps away from poverty themselves. Losing a job, suddenly become disabled or a relationship break down can quickly lead to a situation where money is tight and expenses cannot be covered. This is not about choice.
  4. There is also no evidence that people on low incomes are spending money on alcohol, drugs and other lifestyle ‘choices’ any more than those on higher incomes.
  5. Living on a low income restricts choices in many ways that make it harder to get ahead. For example, people are relying on loans with huge interest rates and getting trapped in a cycle of debt. And there are seemingly smaller budget choices that are limited and cost more; they can’t afford housing in convenient locations, so spend more on transport; they can’t afford insurance, so when they are burgled or have an accident, the impact is devastating.
  6. Children’s choices are limited, in general, by the parameters of the household they live in. They have no power or ability to lift themselves out of poverty.
  7. Simon Chapple and Jonathan Boston make several good points about choices: “…why are there so few people over age 65 in New Zealand in poverty? Do they stop making bad choices on turning 65, or is it that society chooses to provide them with NZ Super? And was there a sudden outbreak of bad choices in New Zealand in the 1990s after benefits levels were slashed and unemployment rose?”