The Child Poverty Monitor Technical Report

A joint project between the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the University of Otago’s New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service (NZCYES) and the J R McKenzie Trust (a group in part pushed together by the Ministry of Social Development’s failure to fund studies into the problem of child poverty in New Zealand) released its report yesterday. It will take a while to get through it all, but there’s a dinky little summary that’s got some gems.

In 2012, 265,000 children aged 0–17 years lived in poverty (using the <60% contemporary median after housing costs measure). This equated to 25% of all New Zealand children.

25 percent of the children in my country live in poverty. Twenty-five percent. That’s insane. There will always be kids that are relatively not as well off, but these kids are not  going to be getting enough to live on with any standard of even basic comfort. And our beloved and benevolent Social Development minister says that it’s ok because it’s not getting any worse. She’s ok with the idea that a quarter of our children live in poverty, in a position where they struggle with everyday needs, and can forget everyday wants. She should be ashamed of herself, for failing the children she’s supposed to work for. And we should be ashamed that we do so little to lift people out of poverty

I know that there will always be people living on less than 60% of the median – that’s how statistics work. 60% of the current median income is just over $26,000. I don’t know what statistical magic they do with that to make it ‘after housing costs’, but there’s no kind of black magic that can make a number like that look good. It’s not enough money to raise a kid on – and that’s the ceiling number for these people. The actual amount can be very much lower.

How can we, in good conscience, allow it to be this bad? how can we talk about how the dole is too much and we should cut it back? How can we fail to implement a living wage, enough for poverty to be at least bearable? How do we forget these kids?

As a group, children experiencing material hardship were exposed to a range of economising behaviours including cutting back on fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, not replacing worn out clothes, not having at least two pairs of shoes in good repair, having to put up with feeling cold, and postponing doctor’s visits because of cost.

Living on tinned spaghetti and baked beans (there’s this mad idea with foodbank donors that spaghetti and baked beans are the staple food of poor people. It’s true, but mostly because that’s the primary foods handed out in food parcels), cheap white bread, rice and potatoes. It all gets a bit wearying after a while. No breakfast, no lunch, more often than not. Freezing all winter because there’s no heating, and learning to love school because it is heated. Not going to a doc until you’re sick enough that you can go to A&E because it’s free there. That’s the life that kids live when the family is poor. To anyone on a decent income, these things are unthinkable, but it’s real and it’s incredibly sad. We live in an affluent society and we allow kids to go around with no soles in their shoes. We have to set up charities to give kids jackets and shoes, and schools take donations to have a pantry of basics to feed the kids that come to school hungry.

Pay parents more. Whether they’re on a benefit or working a low-wage job, pay them better. It doesn’t matter whether you think they deserve it or not – it’s about the kids. The kids shouldn’t suffer for people’s prejudices against their parents.

  • In any one year, 60% of those in current poverty were also in persistent poverty (using the 50% gross median threshold). There was also a further group of children that, while not in poverty in the current year, were exposed to persistent poverty when averaged over the seven survey years.
  • These findings suggest that three out of five children currently living in poverty will remain this way for many years.

And children cannot pull themselves out of poverty until they’re older. It has to be the parents. But low-income families don’t really have a way to. Low-wage jobs tend to lead mostly to more low-wage jobs. More education and so on are possible, but it’s harder for poor kids, and they don’t have the same chances that rich kids do. Moving away from family to go to University has a couple of barriers. First, the family loses a laborer, someone who could work to help the family or take care of the kids while the parents work. Second, moving away is expensive, living costs can be high (often more than a student allowance can cover), and even if they graduate, they may or may not have the skills for a job, but they do have a massive loan that will follow them for years. For all we talk about education being open to all and equal opportunity, it’s just not true.

Next time, I’ll probably look at the next section on the wider economic situation. This is just an overview of several strands of one section of the report. There’s a lot in there.

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