Children's Commissioner Russell Wills says he feels proud to be a New Zealander after an "overwhelming" public response to his new social media campaign to promote actions tackling child poverty.
The hashtag #itsnotchoice, hitting back at a common belief once expressed by Prime Minister John Key that "anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice", was the top trending hashtag on Twitter in New Zealand early yesterday.
Dr Wills said he had also received numerous messages of support from businesses and the public after the campaign was launched along with his annual Child Poverty Monitor showing that 29 per cent of children now live in households earning below 60 per cent of the median income after allowing for housing costs.
"We can't escape the fact that the number of children living in poverty has risen."
He said however, there had also been a huge increase in public concern.
"I have been overwhelmed with the support from the New Zealand public today [in response] to the results of the monitor," he said.
"I think this shows that we are a country that loves its children and believes that all children should have a fair go, recognising a level of concern that they don't."
He said he had received "encouraging responses from businesspeople looking to see where they can make a difference".
"Countdown for example now have free fruit for children when entering the store. They also contribute 3.5 million of product into foodbanks nationally."
He said those businesses made enormous contributions without the recognition.
"A lot of businesses do it not for the marketing, but simply because it's the right thing to do."
Dr Wills said the country needed an overall plan to tackle child poverty. "Plans matter, they make ministers and ministries accountable."
Flaxmere councillor Henare O'Keefe said the public was well aware of the social illness that permeated through our country.
"Poverty is an injustice," he said.
Mr O'Keefe said that if you wanted to know the calibre of any leadership you only needed to look at how they treated the poor and impoverished.
"For goodness sake, $26 million on a flag, what sort of message does that send to those very children who, as we speak, have rumbling tummies."
Mr O'Keefe suggested an incentive initiative for parents who properly treat, educate, feed and house their children.
"We need to be willing to go where angels fear to tread to break the cycle of child poverty."
He said the time for talk was over.
"We need to fix the community from the inside out. It is as simple as loving and caring for one another, and you can't legislate that," Mr O'Keefe said.
Dr Caroline McElnay at the Hawke's Bay District Health Board said you could argue about the levels of child poverty in New Zealand but that did not change the fact that it was real.
"It's great to see this report trying to quantify this," she said.
"I think something society and government as a whole need to do is have a conversation about what is an acceptable level of child poverty and how much are we willing to accept."
She said things could be done around economic policies, taxation and benefits but what she was seeing locally was the health issues of children in poverty.
"We are still working downstream picking up the pieces."
She said the government needed to do something about the economic drivers of child poverty.
Dr McElnay hopes to release an update on her last report at Easter.
Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri said the statistics were upsetting but not surprising.
He believed lack of affordable housing is a huge contributor to child poverty.
"I have met a number of proud people living in cars, too afraid to rock the system."
She said the right people needed to sit around the table and discuss the issue.
"We need to do more."