Anger builds over Budget's child poverty inaction

By Alexandra Newlove

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RESEARCH: Dr Nevil Pierse addresses a packed lunch discussing child poverty, with Mike O'Brien and Liz Cassidy-Nelson looking on. PHOTO/JOHN STONE
RESEARCH: Dr Nevil Pierse addresses a packed lunch discussing child poverty, with Mike O'Brien and Liz Cassidy-Nelson looking on. PHOTO/JOHN STONE

Children living in poverty is becoming the "new normal" for New Zealand, evidenced by the Government's lack of action to address the issue in this year's Budget, Northland social service groups say.

This was the message at a packed forum in Whangarei yesterday, hosted by the local branches of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Social Service Providers Aotearoa, which discussed the implications of the newly announced Budget from a child welfare perspective.

"This is the first time we've had this much interest," said event facilitator Ngaire Rae of Whangarei CPAG. "I think it is because people know how bad it is out there for our children and families."

Ms Rae said the 80 attendees left "disappointed and angry" at the lack of solutions in the Budget, which was analysed for the crowd by keynote speakers Dr Nevil Pierse, deputy director of He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, and Associate Professor Mike O'Brien, currently based at the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland.

"We've begun to tolerate poverty in a way we've never done before," Ms Rae said. "It is clear that the Government has no coherent strategy for eliminating or even reducing child poverty."

Mr Pierse described the Budget as "tragically disappointing" considering what is known about the impact of poor housing on children's health. He presented research which linked cold, damp, overcrowded, mouldy housing to 300 child deaths over the past 14 years.

He described New Zealand, and Northland, as having "three housing crises". "There are three overlapping - we have more people sleeping rough, when people are in housing it's poor quality, and, finally, we also have an affordability crisis."

Under the new Budget, Government spending on subsidised heating and insulation would reduce from $50,000 a year to $20,000 a year, Mr Pierse said.

He said he was investigating options via district council bylaws that would see the implementation of housing warrants of fitness - something central Government had dragged its heels on.

Mr O'Brien said while the Government had allocated $200 million over four years to reforming Child, Youth and Family, most of this was pre-existing funding that was essentially being shifted around.

"In terms of the really critical things, there's nothing there," he said. "Type 'child poverty' into a word search of the Budget. You'll get a blank."

The model for superannuation needed to be addressed urgently, as state sector funding had flatlined compared to GDP.

"[Superannuation] makes 42 per cent of the welfare budget. This will grow to 58 per cent by 2020. The implications for this in terms of child poverty are very clear."

- Northern Advocate

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