Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

United Nations child committee wants Government to set definition of poverty

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says the UN committee appeared to have ignored MSD's work. Photo/ Mark Mitchell
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says the UN committee appeared to have ignored MSD's work. Photo/ Mark Mitchell

The Government is on the defensive over child poverty after a United Nations monitoring group called on it to introduce "a systemic approach" to addressing child poverty, implying it doesn't have one.

And it wants New Zealand to establish a national definition of poverty.

The recommendations released at the weekend are from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNROC) which reviews progress of 195-member countries every years.

It follows a call by Children's Commission Andrew Becroft for the Government to set specific targets for the reduction of poverty.

The Government says there are many measures for poverty and it refuses to have just one official measure.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) appeared to have ignored detailed analysis from her ministry- and apparently her - when she appeared before it in Geneva last month.

"New Zealand is among the best in the world at monitoring and analysing long-term data and I also explained to the committee that child poverty is too complex and multi-faceted to use just one simplistic measure," she said.

"It's disappointing that the committee appear to have ignored this detailed analysis carried out by MSD."

She said that out of 250 questions asked by the committee, only one had been about child poverty.

"I then took the time to go through the findings of MSD's recent Household Incomes Report which showed the income poverty is either flat or falling and that there had been no rise in poverty or material hardship trends for children, which the report says are either flat of falling depending on the measure used."

Tolley said she had highlighted the progress New Zealand was making, including the overhaul of care and protection.

Labour's Jacinda Ardern says the consensus in Parliament around child poverty has not extended to the Government. Photo/ Brett Phibbs
Labour's Jacinda Ardern says the consensus in Parliament around child poverty has not extended to the Government. Photo/ Brett Phibbs


She had pointed to the $750 million child hardship package in which social welfare benefits had raised for the first time in 43 years, free doctors' visits for children up to 13, Children's Teams and welfare reforms which had led to more than 40,000 fewer children in benefit-dependent households.

UNCROC said that while it welcomed attention given to the prevalence of child poverty in New Zealand including through the appointment of an expert advisory group on solutions to child poverty "the committee is deeply concerned about the enduring high prevalence of poverty among children, and the effect of deprivation on children's rights to an adequate standard of living and access to adequate housing, with its negative impact on health, survival and development, and education.

The challenge is not legislating to say you'll get rid of it. That's just comfort blanket stuff.
Bill English

"It is particularly concerned about the disparities faced by Maori and Pasifika children with regard to the enjoyment of these rights."

One of its recommendations was to strengthen the independence of and funding for the Office of the Children's Commissioner.

Bill English says the Government's approach is to work on the drivers of persistent deprivation. Photo/ Doug Sherring
Bill English says the Government's approach is to work on the drivers of persistent deprivation. Photo/ Doug Sherring

Becroft recently called for political parties to agree to set a target to reduce by 5 - 10 per cent numbers of children in the material deprivation index.

It is measure with 17 criteria and children which meet at least six of them are deemed to be materially deprived.

Asked why the Government couldn't do that and make it part of its Better Public Services targets, Finance Minister Bill English told the Herald: "It is not a matter of cant. There's a whole lot of measures. We are not short of measures."

"The challenge is not legislating to say you'll get rid of it. That's just comfort blanket stuff."

The challenge was to change the system to actually support families through intractable social problems.

"Which is why we have put a lot of focus on the drivers of persistent deprivation which is not just low income. "

He cited the Government new policy on family violence, on recidivist offending and long-term welfare dependency.

"That stuff is covered in so many bloody targets you don't need more."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says John Key is showing a failure of leadership.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says John Key is showing a failure of leadership.


Labour's spokeswoman for children, Jacinda Ardern, said the Government had to do more to help babies living in horrible and unacceptable conditions.

"A proper discussion that includes establishing a national definition of child poverty while setting bold targets would be a great start and is long overdue.

"There's a huge amount of consensus in Parliament around the need to take more decisive action on child poverty, though sadly that consensus hasn't quite extended to the Government yet."

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said a refusal by Prime Minister John Key to have a measure for poverty appeared to be because he did not want to be judged on his failures.

"None of us want to live in a country where child poverty is considered normal. But John Key continues to say it's too hard to measure - and that's simply a failure of leadership."

- NZ Herald

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