Call for 'significant' benefit increases after jump in kids living in poor households

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Apr 2019, 6:56am
The number of children living in poor households rose slightly last year. Photo / Getty Images.

Call for 'significant' benefit increases after jump in kids living in poor households

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Apr 2019, 6:56am

The number of children living in poor households has increased slightly since the last survey, according to the latest figures from Statistics NZ.

The number had been decreasing since 2015 but rose in 2018, leaving about 254,000 children in low-income homes after housing costs were deducted - up 0.4 per cent from the previous year. Meanwhile, 183,000 children live in low-income homes before housing costs were deducted.

This was a 2.3 per cent jump on the previous year. With about 148,000 children living in material hardship.

Child Poverty Action Group spokesperson, Susan St John, told Kate Hawkesby things like the Government's Families Package will help, but the full effects won't be seen until 2020.

When the Government introduced the package, it estimated that by 2020/21, when the package is fully rolled out, some 384,000 families with children will be better off by about $75 a week. It is projected to lift the number of children living out of poverty by 64,000, or about 41 per cent, by 2020.

However, St John said in the meantime families are struggling to make ends meet.

"The baseline figures...do not include any of the effects of what the Government has been doing with the Families Package."

She said the figures focus on three different markers of poverty, two of which are income based and the other is material hardship.

"Those families simply don't have enough money...so they obviously need more money and that's what the government has tried to deliver with the Families Package, but the Families Package didn't start until July last year and we are not going to pick up the effects of that in full until 2020."

St John believes the government is genuine in their desire to help children out of poverty, but she says there is still more that needs to be done.

"The Families Package was absolutely necessary because ether was such neglect for so long...so the Families Package needed to happen but it was just the start."

"If you look at the figures that have just been produced, there are 170,000 children underneath the 40 per cent poverty line, which is extraordinarily low and really worrying," she said.

"The problem with the Families Package, is that it lifted those children a bit but not nearly enough, so it will take some children who are pretty close to the 50 or 60 per cent poverty line above those lines, but the families that are struggling the most are the ones that desperately need help."

Susan St John said what is needed is significant increases in benefits, more increases for housing assistance and Working for Families tax credit.

"The Government will seriously have to look at making sure the low income families get the full Working for Families. Currently, because of its design the worst of children miss out of $72.50 a week."

Other Families Package measures include:

•An increase in paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks, and a further increase to 26 weeks on July 1, 2020

•A rise in the Family Tax Credit and Working for Families abatement threshold, making 26,000 more families eligible, rising to 39,000 by 2020/2021

•An automatic winter energy payment for beneficiaries, superannuitants and veterans pension beneficiaries. Those who don't want it can opt out

•An increase in the orphans benefit, unsupported child benefit and foster care allowance by $20.31 a week.

•Increases in accommodation supplement and benefits, announced by the previous National government.

To check what you're eligible for, go to check.msd.govt.nz and www.ird.govt.nz