Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Nats fail to stop growth of 'underclass'

There are almost 34,000 more children dependent on beneficiary parents than there were in 2008. Photo / Getty Images
There are almost 34,000 more children dependent on beneficiary parents than there were in 2008. Photo / Getty Images

The National Government's commitment to halt the growth of the "underclass" is patchy - with statistics showing many areas the party focused on in Opposition have worsened.

This month, Prime Minister John Key said it depended which measures were looked at - so the Herald compared statistics National cited while in Opposition with those from this year.

While a couple of areas have improved, such as the murder rate, most have got worse - especially benefit numbers and the plight of children.

There are now almost 34,000 more children dependent on beneficiary parents - one indicator of child poverty - than in 2008 when National came to power.

Substantiated cases of child abuse have also increased - although the Ministry of Social Development attributed that partly to increased reporting of child abuse because of heightened awareness.

The number of long-term beneficiaries is up by 8000 and those on sickness and invalids' benefits have increased by 13,700.

Apprehensions for violent crimes by 14- to 16-year-olds have increased, although overall crime in that age-group has dropped slightly.

On the positive side of the ledger, the number of murders have dropped significantly. And the number of students from low-decile schools who left with no qualifications has dropped slightly since Labour left office in 2008 - but the most marked improvement happened in the previous three years on Labour's watch.

Asked if he believed sufficient progress has been made on the underclass, Mr Key said his Government had done a lot in its three years, and he pointed to its home insulation scheme and an increase in immunisation rates.

National had also tried to buffer those on low incomes from the global economic crisis by maintaining benefit levels and other entitlements. However, the downturn had taken itstoll, the Prime Minister said.

Mr Key denied National had abandoned its commitment, but said it would take time to make the changes and see the impact of initiatives.

"If we have a second term in government and economic conditions are better, we are ever hopeful that we will see better results. But we are going to stay focused on things we think will make a difference."

National also pointed to upcoming and ongoing changes aimed at addressing the "underclass". They included possible changes from the green paper on vulnerable children, looming welfare reforms, increased numbers of social workers for schools and teams at Child, Youth and Family to combat child abuse.

There was a recent improvement in overall numbers on benefits - the latest statistics to the end of September showed 10,000 fewer people were on a benefit over the past year, part of which was attributed to the introduction of tougher work-testing requirements and the need for those on the dole to reapply after 12 months.

For some of the indicators National used in 2007, there were no comparable or recent statistics. This includes truancy rates, which are not due out until early next year.

Another focus of Mr Key's 2007 speech was getting young people into sport - a Sparc survey to measure this is also due out early next year.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 27 Dec 2014 19:04:46 Processing Time: 459ms