Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) welcomes the The Salvation Army’s annual State of the Nation report “Are You Well? Are We Safe?” released today, which provides an overview of how New Zealand is doing for the wellbeing of its citizens. The report has a particular focus on children, including comments on child poverty, care and protection as well as educational achievement.
The latest report shows incremental policy changes over the past few years have done little toward providing the substantial improvements which current and future generations of children need, to have equitable opportunities and to sustain good outcomes. In particular there are still large gaps for Māori children who are disproportionately represented across multiple statistics, including youth offending, education, and those in state care, compared to non-Māori.
CPAG Co-Convenor Janfrie Wakim says, “It seems clear that there have been no real successes in ameliorating the social inequities and associated health issues that are experienced by families and whānau, and it is critical that a more radical approach is needed to address reform of welfare and justice systems as well as education in Aotearoa.
“Changes need to be robust enough to have longevity, or they risk fragility and failure.”
CPAG says it is vastly concerning to see there been little in the way of change over the past four years in the nature and extent of adult violence toward children, while the number of children in state care has reached the highest ever recorded.
The increased number of children in care is only partially explained by the extension of the age of care from 17 to 18 years.
“It’s critical that we hear from Oranga Tamariki why there should be such an increase,” says Wakim.
“Is it due to changing operational priorities or increased levels of neglect and abuse of children, and are there sufficient resources within the service providers to meet the need?”
The Salvation Army report highlights consistently wide gaps between Maori and non-Maori in terms of social outcomes, a concern highlighted by the United Nations in the recent Universal Periodic Review of how New Zealand is performing on human rights issues. The UN draft outcomes report included a recommendation that New Zealand should “continue to work to enhance the rights of Māori and other indigenous minority groups in New Zealand, and provide increased rehabilitative support for Māori prisoners”.
CPAG says that as a Nation, Aotearoa should be working hard to close these gaps completely over the next 10 years.
New minimum wage legislation, the Winter Energy Payment and the Families Package have been helpful to many who have low incomes, and the report notes a slight reduction in income inequality. However, the picture is uneven, as the reduced food bank demand outcome reported is for the Salvation Army alone while other charities, such as the Auckland City Mission, report figures that show demand increasing.
“While things may have improved for those on low incomes in paid work, little has changed for people who have need of a benefit, or for their children,” says Wakim.
“The Government has placed a commendable focus on the interests of low-income working families, through recent increases to the Working for Families maximum payment threshold and the minimum wage. But many of our very worst-off children – those in families whose income is primarily from benefits, remain in severe hardship.”
CPAG believes a meaningful reduction in child poverty rates is not attainable unless the harmful inadequacy of benefit levels is addressed, and the application of harmful sanctions is abolished.
“Budget 2019 should prioritise at least a 20 per cent increase in all core benefits, and a removal of the paid work criteria from the portion of Working for Families that children supported by benefits are currently denied,” says Wakim.