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

Govt defends child poverty moves

PM says National cares about the problem but expert panel head says key proposals in report ignored.

Prime Minister John Key has had to defend National against criticism that the Government's response to a child poverty report fell short, despite adding a sweetener by announcing $9.5 million towards a breakfast in schools programme.

The Government provided its formal response to the Child Poverty Expert Advisory Panel report yesterday, listing a series of measures it had taken in health, education and welfare as well as the announcement of $9.5 million over five years to expand the KickStart breakfast in schools programme run by Sanitarium and Fonterra.

The companies will match that figure by adding in about $4.5 million each to expand the Weet-Bix and milk programme from two to five days a week, and to include more schools.

Most welcomed that initiative, but there was criticism that the long-awaited response failed to address the key recommendations in the panel's report.

Panel co-chairman Professor Jonathan Boston said it was disappointing the Government ignored key proposals to measure child poverty and set targets to improve it, and to address the issue of low incomes by providing extra financial support such as through a child payment for those on benefits.

He said recommendations the Government had picked up were welcome, such as microfinancing.

"All of that is very positive but very little of what the Government has done to date directly addresses the challenges of low incomes. Government initiatives are all well and good, but we have a situation where hundreds of thousands of children are experiencing material deprivation. So in many ways this is dealing primarily with mitigating the consequences of poverty rather than reducing the nature of the problem."

Mr Key listed a range of measures from increased funding for rheumatic fever, home insulation and free doctors' visits for young children, to revamping state homes and projects to reduce truancy.

"And we've gone through the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes. So no one is going to convince me that this Government does not care about low-income people. We do."

Labour's Jacinda Ardern said the response was a disgrace in which National claimed low interest rates and tax cuts had solved the problem but did nothing to address the main push by the expert panel.

Social advocacy and children groups welcomed the announcement that the breakfast in schools programme would expand, but also noted that much of the report was not addressed.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said relying on corporates was not a sustainable way of addressing child poverty.

The scheme currently offers breakfast twice a week to about 570 schools.

- NZ Herald

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