Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Kiwis want more action on child poverty - but not higher taxes

File photo / Michael Cunningham
File photo / Michael Cunningham

Most New Zealanders want more done to fix child poverty - but not if it means higher taxes to pay for it.

A poll of 1013 people for the Child Poverty Action Group has found that 51 per cent of New Zealanders believe the current Government is not doing enough to address child poverty. Only 19 per cent believe it is doing enough.

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But only 36 per cent would be willing to pay higher taxes if that was necessary to reduce child poverty. A slightly higher number, 38 per cent, would not be willing to pay higher taxes if necessary, and 26 per cent were unsure.

The poll was conducted by MMResearch from June 10-16 using an online panel designed to be representative of all adults aged 18-plus and has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.

It was released today coinciding with "Lunchbox Day", an appeal by the KidsCan charity backed by TV3's Campbell Live to raise money for KidsCan's programmes providing food, shoes and raincoats in low-decile schools.

Child Poverty Action is also organising a march against child poverty at 11am tomorrow from Auckland's Britomart railway station to Aotea Square. Spokeswoman Gretchen Leuthart said "a huge crowd" was expected.

The group's health spokeswoman Dr Nikki Turner said the survey showed that New Zealanders "understand that child poverty is a real issue, and a complex problem involving multiple causes and consequences, and that further action is needed".

"Child Poverty Action Group wants to see all parties committing to a comprehensive plan to reduce or eliminate child poverty with targets and measures included," she said.

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, who is campaigning for more action to reduce child poverty, said: "New Zealanders clearly care deeply about children in poverty and want to see more done. We don't yet agree what the solutions are, which makes it difficult for any Government to know if the public will support new policy, even if well-evidenced."


Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"Legislation requiring governments to set targets and monitor progress will hold future governments to account to reduce child poverty, while allowing them the freedom to choose policies that suit their values," he said.

The poll found that 80 per cent of people agreed that child poverty is a problem in New Zealand. Only 13 per cent disagreed.

They were then asked to write, unprompted, what they believed was the primary cause of child poverty. Answers were split evenly: 40 per cent listed economic factors such as low wages, unemployment and the widening gap between rich and poor; but another 40 per cent blamed the parents, listing factors such as neglect, not prioritising children, not budgeting, and spending too much on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.

Other suggestions included welfare, housing and political issues (12 per cent), uneducated parents (9 per cent) and having too many children (8 per cent).

There was a clear age divide, with the numbers blaming parents rising from 29 per cent in the youngest age group (18-24) to 50 per cent in the oldest group (55-plus).

There was also a clear north-south divide, with Aucklanders much less likely to think child poverty was a problem at all - only 73 per cent of Aucklanders agreed, compared with 79 per cent in the rest of the northern North Island, 84 per cent in the lower North Island and 85 per cent in the South Island.

Only 18 per cent of Aucklanders said they personally knew any child living in poverty, compared with 23 per cent in the rest of the northern North Island, 28 per cent in the lower North Island and 30 per cent in the South Island.

More than a quarter of Aucklanders (27 per cent) had "full trust and confidence in this Government reducing child poverty", compared with 22 per cent in the rest of the upper north, 17 per cent in the lower North Island and 20 per cent in the South Island.

Asked about the effectiveness of 11 suggested actions to reduce child poverty, there was most agreement (92 per cent) with the effectiveness of the Government's policy of free doctors' visits for children under 6, increasing to children under 13 from July 2015. The Labour Party also proposes free doctors' visits for children under 13, while the Greens propose free visits until children turn 18.

Other actions judged to be effective were: KidsCan's programmes donating shoes and raincoats to children in low-decile schools (88 per cent), volunteers helping in schools and communities (88 per cent), targeting businesses to provide food (83 per cent), improvements to housing such as subsidised insulation (82 per cent) and Fonterra's free milk in schools programme (79 per cent).

None of these would require more taxpayer funding.

Asked specifically whether four programmes should be available universally or only to a defined target group, 77 per cent supported universal free doctors' visits for all children under 18 (19 per cent opposed), and 74 per cent supported Fonterra's programme of universal free milk in schools (also 19 per cent opposed).

But people were split 46 per cent each way on whether improvements to housing such as subsidised insulation should be available universally, as the Greens advocate, or only to a targeted group, as at present.

Only 41 per cent supported Child Poverty Action's key policy of universal tax credits for all children with young children, with 46 per cent supporting credits only for a targeted low-income group as at present.

Asked, "If reducing child poverty in New Zealand means that we all need to pay more tax, to what extent would you agree/disagree with this?" only 36 per cent agreed compared with 38 per cent who disagreed, with 26 per cent neutral or uncertain.

Oddly, women were more likely than men to believe child poverty was a problem (81 per cent of women, 78 per cent of men), to personally know a child living in poverty (28 per cent of women, 20 per cent of men), to believe that the current Government was not doing enough to address child poverty (54 per cent of women, 47 per cent of men) and to support universal tax credits for all children (44 per cent of women, 36 per cent of men), but they were also much less likely to be willing to pay higher taxes if necessary to reduce child poverty (31 per cent of women, 42 per cent of men).

There were actually more men willing to pay higher taxes to reduce child poverty (42 per cent) than opposing it (33 per cent), while the number of women willing to pay higher taxes (31 per cent) was much lower than the number unwilling to do so (42 per cent).

View the research report here:

- NZ Herald

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