This week's Budget will do little to address Northland's appalling child poverty problem, an expert in the field says.
Associate Professor Mike O'Brien, Social Security Spokesman for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), made the claim during his post-Budget analysis meeting for Northland social service agencies and Whangarei CPAG members yesterday.
CPAG says nationally 22 per cent of children were living in poverty, but the figure was even higher for Northland, where 49 per cent of children were identified as being born in the bottom two most-deprived deciles - the highest child poverty rate in the country.
Mr O'Brien, who was speaking at the first Whangarei Youth Space event in the new Cafler Park centre, said the only Budget item that he could see that would directly affect poverty was extending free doctors' visits and prescriptions to all children under 13. Previously it was limited to children under 6 and the announcement is expected to benefit about 400,000 children nationally - more than 13,000 in Northland - when introduced from July, next year.
But Mr O'Brien said in an area like Northland with its huge geographical issues, for poor people living in isolated rural communities, free doctors' visits were no use if you could not access them because of distance or inability to afford to get there.
"It's $90 million (for that policy) over three years from next April and based on (the Government's) somewhat optimistic projected growth rates of 3.4 per cent and 3.9 per cent over two years," he said.
Mr O'Brien said the Budget was presented in an environment of economic recovery and growing optimism but the social settings remained "very disturbing" and there was little evidence that much would change for those living in poverty. He said the Government was focusing on achieving a surplus and reducing debt, but figures showed that the New Zealand Government had the fourth lowest level of debt in developed countries so it was not as big an issue as the National Party made it out to be.
Mr O'Brien said other "family friendly" items in the Budget, such as extending paid parental leave from the current 14 to 16 weeks on April 1 next year, rising to 18 weeks 12 months later and increasing the parental tax credit for working families not on a benefit and not receiving paid parental leave, would not help those in poverty. He wanted the Government to focus on a specific strategy to deal with child poverty, but it appeared that the Government would not acknowledge that the issue even existed.
Prime Minister John Key said the Budget was "a reflection of the fact that the Government has worked hard with the people of New Zealand to get back into surplus, and it does give us some room".