The 2022 Child Poverty Monitor, a joint project run by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, Otago University and The JR McKenzie Trust, finds Māori, Pacific and disabled children are disproportionately impacted by poverty in Aotearoa.
The Children’s Commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers, said today (6 Dec 2022) that while there was some improvement overall, specific groups of children and their families were still being left behind.
She said, “Government has taken welcome steps to reduce material hardship, such as the changes to the minimum wage and the lift to benefits, but if we want to meet the Government’s own poverty targets, we need a concerted and continued effort to achieve better outcomes for a number of groups.”
“Mokopuna Māori and disabled children are two times more likely than Pākehā and non-disabled children to be living with material hardship, and about one in four Pacific children live in households which are in material hardship. Also, sole parent families and households dependent on benefits are most likely to be in the most severe forms of poverty.
“Good work has been done, but we cannot afford to take our foot off the accelerator. Instinctively we know the causes of hardship. Throughout New Zealand rentals are getting more and more scarce, more and more expensive. We are seeing now that even working families are struggling to meet their accommodation costs, feed their family, and heat their homes. The concept of saving for a rainy day or a better future is out the window for a whole section of society. A single health problem, or a car repair that can’t be paid for, can change the trajectory of a family and plunge them into crisis.
“On average 6% of children live in mouldy or damp homes (down from 9% last year) but for Pacific mokopuna it was 12% and for tamariki Māori 10%. Māori (26%) and Pacific (37%) whānau are most likely to sometimes, or often, run out of food, compared with European children (11%).”
“The impact of poverty on children is often underestimated. Insecurity and stress, hunger and lack of heating, stigma and shame, difficulty accessing education and health services can all affect a child’s development, emotional resilience, and the ability to navigate relationships and build trust.
“Without making significant change, we are currently forcing the next generation to pick up the pieces left by our policy choices – limiting their opportunities to thrive and perpetuating poverty in Aotearoa NZ. This is not fair and New Zealand must do better.”
JR McKenzie Trust CE Robyn Scott said while Government targets are useful to keep things on track, all New Zealanders need to be part of the solution to child poverty.
“We all have a role to play. Businesses need to ensure they are paying people fairly and creating the kind of conditions where parents and caregivers can manage the pressures of work and family,” Ms Scott says.
Judge Eivers agrees, “There is a lot of great work in communities that mitigates the serious and long-term impacts of poverty for children and their whānau.”
“People helping people is a theme in this year’s Child Poverty Monitor technical report. We tell the stories of some community organisations and young people who are making lives better for those living with low incomes and hardship and, in the process, developing their own skills and abilities.”
Nevertheless, Otago University’s Mavis Duncanson says the disparities between groups of children are concerning, and that the health system needs to rethink the way it’s working currently.
Dr Duncanson said, “We should all be concerned that immunisation rates have fallen so low that mokopuna are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. Current systems have left pēpi Māori even further behind with just 72% fully vaccinated at age 8 months (down from 77%).
“Access to health care is often an unseen impact of living in poverty. For example, while the service is free, getting there isn’t. It can be hard to get a timely appointment. Nor is it necessarily easy to organise childcare for other children while you take one to the doctor.
“We need to look at how we can better support all whānau because currently services aren’t reaching them”.
For more information visit Tracking progress on reducing child poverty in New Zealand | Child Poverty
For the full technical report visit Child Poverty Monitor: Technical Report (nzchildren.co.nz)
† Low income is defined as living on less than 50% of the 2017/18 median income, after housing costs. This measure is useful to see changes over the short to medium term, irrespective of other households’ incomes.
*Material hardship is defined as being unable to afford six or more defined essentials such as sufficient quality food, warm clothes and sturdy shoes. It indicates financial stress by capturing the high level of economising or not having enough money to pay for essential services such as heating, healthcare and healthy food.