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Child poverty: High housing costs, poor quality continue as factors

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 13 May 2021, 5:39PM
(Photo / Getty)
(Photo / Getty)

Child poverty: High housing costs, poor quality continue as factors

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 13 May 2021, 5:39PM

New Zealand's housing crisis continues to stagnate efforts to slash child poverty, the latest data shows.

The Government today released two child wellbeing reports, holding it to account on measures introduced in 2018 to reduce child poverty.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, said the reports highlighted most children and young people in New Zealand were doing well, with many improvements in key measures.

"However, there is still a group of children for whom life at home is quite different.

"Too many children live in low-income households, or experience racism, bullying or violence. And overall, Māori, Pacific and disabled children and young people are more likely to experience worse outcomes."

The Government has to report annually on Child Poverty Related Indicators, which cover housing affordability, housing quality, food insecurity, school attedance and potentially avoidable hospitalisations.

They are related to but different to the 10-year child poverty targets the Government has set to hold itself accountable.

The indicators showed over 2019/20, 36 per cent of children and young people (ages 0–17) lived in households spending more than 30 per cent of their disposable income on housing - higher than the 2018/19 level of 35 per cent.

Housing quality also showed barely any movement from the previous year, with 7 per cent of children and young people remaining in homes reporting a major problem with dampness or mould, down from 8 per cent the year before. This nearly doubled to 13 per cent for low-income households.

Food insecurity continued to be a major factor in child poverty, with 20 per cent of children aged 0-15 lived in households reporting that food ran out often or sometimes.

The rates for Māori were 30 per cent and Pacific 46, however these have been trending downward.

School attendance showed an upward trend, and there was also a significant drop in potentially avoidable hospitalisations.

The rate in 0-15 year olds was 49 per 1000 - down from 67 per 1000 in 2014/15.

However, it remained higher for Māori and Pacific children at 56 and 72.1 respectively.

Although there had been a minor downward trend, the numbers of patients decreased significantly since March of 2020, likely because of the Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Ardern said many of the issues were "complex, stubborn and intergenerational".

"We know change will take time, and will require sustained action across government and across our communities."

Covid-19 was also likely to give major challenges in the lives of the most vulnerable, she said. This was why they had increased main benefits, rolled out the wage subsidy and expanded employment services.

"We will continue to take steps to ensure our recovery from Covid addresses inequality and doesn't leave our most vulnerable children behind," Ardern said.

"The results will take time, but we will continue to build on progress, putting children and young people first, so that New Zealand really can be the best place in the world for them to be."

Child Poverty Action Group's Professor Emeritus Innes Asher said the reports were "grim reading".

"When one out of five children don't have enough food to eat in Aotearoa New Zealand, that's a chronic, mass emergency. It's politically created distress."

Systemic discrimination was behind Māori and Pacific families and those with disabled members being more likely than others to face the "toxic stress of poverty", she said.

The Government's Ka Ora Ka Ako food in schools programme would assist, but familes simply needed more money to cover their essential costs, Asher said.

The report also used pre-Covid data, meaning the next report could show further impacts.

"We need to see urgent, robust measures such as liveable incomes, so we can all be secure in the knowledge we are supporting families, not making their lives impossible," Asher said.

Act Party leader David Seymour said the Government was letting Māori and Pacific children down, especially regarding school attendance.

In 2020, 48 per cent of Māori children and 51 per cent of Pacific children aged 6-16 attended school regularly, compared with an average across all students of 65 per cent.

Seymour said their charter schools proposal was designed to address the very children worse off now.

The Government also released today its first Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy Annual Report, which established baseline data for most of the 36 wellbeing indicators tracking progress towards achieving each of the six wellbeing outcomes for children and young people.

The reports today follow data released in February by Statistics NZ on the Government's separate child poverty reduction targets showing progress across all measures.

For the 2019/2020 period, about one in seven New Zealand children (167,100) lived in households with less than 50 per cent of the median disposable income before deducting household costs.

This was slightly down from one in six in the year to June 2018, but a slight increase from the year to June 2019.

Factoring in housing costs, 18.2 per cent of New Zealand children - 208,400 or about one in five - lived in households with less than 50 per cent of the median disposable household income - a reduction from 22.8 per cent in June 2018.

Material hardship affected about one in nine children in the latest data, compared to about one in eight as of June 2018 - a reduction of about 20,000 children.

Although there were mostly even drops across ethnicities, vast inequities persist.

For Pasifika, one in four children (25.4 per cent) were in households experiencing material hardship, and one in five for Māori (19 per cent). This was compared to about one in 11 Pākehā (8.6 per cent).

This year's data also included households with disabled children for the first time.

It found disabled children were more likely to be in low-income households than non-disabled children, and one in five (19.9 per cent) were experiencing material hardship - more than double the rate for non-disabled children.

Inequality was even more profound when looking at severe material hardship, defined as the proportion of children in households earning less than half the disposable income of the average household.

Overall this had dropped from 5.8 per cent of children (64,800) in the baseline year to 4.6 per cent in 2019/2020.

For Pasifika this had dropped from 14.3 per cent to 11.5 per cent from 2018/2019 to 2018/2019, and for Māori 11.1 per cent to 9.3 per cent.

For Pākehā it had dropped from 4.1 per cent to 3.3 per cent.

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