Experts: Restart universal child payment

By Kate Shuttleworth

The panel said a food in schools programme was a good interim measure. Photo / Richard Robinson
The panel said a food in schools programme was a good interim measure. Photo / Richard Robinson

An expert group appointed by the Children's Commissioner has released its findings on the best way to reduce child poverty in New Zealand.

The expert panel recommends raising the family tax credit, restarting the universal child payment, a warrant of fitness test for all rental housing in New Zealand and a food in schools programme.

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills released the paper on solutions to child poverty today in Wellington, with an expert panel led by Dr Tracey McIntosh of the University of Auckland and University of Victoria School of Government professor Jonathan Boston.

Dr Wills said it is unacceptable that 270,000 children are living in poverty in New Zealand.

He said there were many reports on why child poverty is a problem, but few evidence-based solutions.

Mr Boston said there were many proposals in the report but if he were to isolate the most important, healthy homes were vital and raising the level of income of families was paramount.

"Child poverty is unacceptably high in New Zealand - it has a cost for all of us," said Mr Boston.

Dr McIntosh said New Zealanders seem to tolerate a high level of child poverty.

"As a country we seem to have a higher tolerance for children living in poverty but not for elderly," she said.

The panel have recommended a universal child payment of between $125 and $150 should be paid per week for children in the first six years of life.

The panel said many OECD countries provide a universal child payment and New Zealand had ended the payment in the late 1990s.

Mr Boston said the proposals put forward by the panel aimed to reduce poverty by up to 40 per cent in the next 10 years and severe and persistent poverty by 50 per cent.

He said the Government was not doing enough to assist young children and larger families, and assistant packages were favouring smaller families.

"We have to address the reality of low incomes," said Dr McIntosh.

Mr Boston said children living in poverty would not be the only benefactors of the recommendations, as they would benefit the wider public.

The panel said a food in schools programme was a good interim measure to make sure children were fed until the income level of their families had been raised.

Mr Boston said the panel had already had constructive meetings with the Government.

"We know they are considering some of the options," he said.

Phillippa Howden-Chapman said the University of Otago had been working on how to access the suitability of rental housing.

"If you increase the quality of housing you reduce the cost to organisations like ACC," she said.

REACTION FROM LABOUR

The Government must stop making excuses and deal with child poverty urgently, Labour says.

"The Children's Commission report is the third report in as many weeks to state unequivocally that child poverty is an issue that we must address, and with urgency," Labour's social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said today.

Ms Ardern said it was no longer enough for Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to hedge around the issue with arguments about whether there was an official poverty line.

"The Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty points out 'the incidence of child poverty - at 25 per cent or 270,000 children - in New Zealand is unacceptably high'."

"It also notes it is costing the country billions of dollars. A key finding of the report is that early investment in young children will pay massive dividends. With Infometrics estimating that the cost of children having a poor start in life sitting at $6 billion, we can't afford not to act. And that means Ms Bennett has to stop making excuses," she said

At the very least, the Government should immediately accept the recommendation to reduce child poverty by at least 30 per cent and to halve severe and persistent child poverty within 10 years, Ms Ardern said.

REACTION FROM GREEN PARTY

Meanwhile, the Green Party will meet Housing Minister Phil Heatley this week to push for the home insulation and minimum standards for rental accommodation recommended in the report.

Co-leader Metiria Turei said the party wanted to renegotiate the housing component of its Memorandum of Understanding with the Government, particularly around minimum standards for rental accommodation and home insulation.

"Too many kids grow up in cold, damp homes. We think we can do something about that now, and are keen to work with the Government on this issue through our Memorandum of Understanding."

The warrant of fitness for minimum standards for rental accommodation idea makes up part of the Green Party's Warm Healthy Rentals Bill which is currently in the ballot.

"My Bill to extend the current child payment system to the kids of beneficiaries is consistent with the Commissioner's recommendation around changes to the child support system," said Ms Turei.

"It offers the Government a blueprint of actions it can take to end New Zealand's embarrassing record on child poverty," said Ms Turei.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 23 Nov 2014 17:55:21 Processing Time: 468ms