Jacinda Ardern: Govt must improve the lot of our children

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Bill English. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Bill English. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Thursday's Budget needs to be a turning point for our next generation. It needs to be about people, and it needs to start with children.

The Children's Commissioner puts the number of children living in poverty at 270,000. In recent times, the number growing up without what are considered the basic necessities has gone from 15 to 21 per cent.

The presence of Third World diseases and preventable hospitalisations exacerbated by damp and overcrowded housing shows we don't need a fragmented approach, but one that all of government gets behind.

That's why this Budget needs to be bold.

On Thursday, I want Bill English to announce he will establish a Minister for Children to co-ordinate the Government's approach. And because what gets measured gets done, I want him to finally announce targets to reduce child poverty and its effects, and report on progress as part of future Budgets. Not just because child poverty is a moral issue, but because inaction is costing us an estimated $6 billion a year - in increased health, welfare, remedial education, crime and lower productivity - and we simply can't afford that.

I want to hear the Government acknowledge the cost of a low-wage economy on children, and start to turn that situation around by flagging an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and throwing its support behind a living wage.

I want the Government to offer hope to families struggling pay day to pay day to provide for their children by being willing to intervene when the market is failing them.

I want Thursday to be the day the Government announces it will put food in schools. It's not the answer to the systemic drivers of poverty that also have to be addressed, but it is the answer for the tens of thousands of children who are going hungry today.

I want it to acknowledge some families have reached crisis point, and are turning to dodgy lenders for the basics such as a washing machine or to fix a broken car. Initiatives such as social lending are necessary, but will continue to be a stop gap until we address this country's low-wage economy.

Ultimately, I want this Budget to be about the group who don't get to have a say, who can't vote, but who represent whether New Zealand succeeds or fails - the children.

Jacinda Ardern is Labour's social development spokeswoman.

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