Key Points:

Child poverty is finally on the way down in two of the three rich countries where it increased the most in the 1980s and 90s - Britain and New Zealand.

The chief executive of Britain's Child Poverty Action Group, Kate Green, says the number of British children living below the poverty line has dropped by 600,000 since former Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged in 1999 to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

But she says the Blair Government failed to meet its interim target of cutting child poverty by a quarter by 2004-05, and will need a "wholesale redistribution of income" to achieve its next targets of halving it by 2010 and eliminating it by 2020.

Ms Green has been brought to New Zealand by the local Child Poverty Action Group as part of a concerted campaign to put child poverty on the agenda for this year's election.

A report by Auckland University economist Susan St John and researcher Donna Wynd, to be published on April 28, will recommend specific British-style targets for New Zealand.

Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro will publish another major report in July, divided into a "head" component on policy issues and a "heart" report comprising creative work by children and young people on what they see as poverty.

And the Every Child Counts coalition, backed by Plunket, Barnardos and other family service agencies, is bringing the head of the British all-party parliamentary group for children, Labour peer Doreen Massey, to a conference in Wellington in September, just before the likely election date.

Helen Clark's Labour Government committed itself in 2002 to eliminating child poverty, but has never set any target dates. Its Working For Families package has lifted family assistance, accommodation supplements and childcare subsidies.

The Ministry of Social Development forecast in 2004 that the package would reduce the proportion of children living in homes earning under half the median household income, adjusting for family size, from 14.7 per cent in March 2005 to just 4.3 per cent by April 2007.

The first official update on the actual outcome is not due until June. But another ministry report last July warned the improvement might not be as big as forecast - ironically because the buoyant economy has lifted median incomes faster than expected.

A 2005 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the proportion of New Zealand children in homes below 50 per cent of the median income grew from 7.8 per cent in the mid-1980s to 13.6 per cent in 2000 - a bigger jump than in any other OECD country except Austria.

The increase in Britain was the next highest, up from 8.1 per cent to 13.6 per cent.

But Ms Green said the British figures since then made a good news story. "We were the worst in Europe in 1999. We are now the fourth-worst," she said.

"We have seen 600,000 children lifted out of poverty. That's a good fall. We would attribute that in no small measure to the fact that the Government set a target."

The Blair Government:

* Created an income-tested tax credit for all low income earners who work at least 30 hours a week, or at least 16 hours a week with children. Unlike New Zealand's version, this is also paid to low income earners without children.

* Created an income-tested child tax credit.

* Raised the universal child benefit.

* Created an extra childcare tax credit.

* Raised early childhood education subsidies to guarantee all 3- and 4-year-olds 15 hours of free education a week.

* Promised 3500 "Sure Start children's centres" by 2010 to provide all family support services in one place in each community, often in an existing school.

Annual updates by Britain's Department of Work and Pensions show that the changes cut the proportion of children below the 50 per cent poverty line from 13.6 per cent to 11 per cent by 2001-02, and have held it there up to the latest report for 2005-06.

Ms Green said the Government, now led by Gordon Brown, would still need to do more to achieve its targets for 2010 and 2020.

"They are going to have to spend more money. The only way they can do that is through redistribution," she said.

"This has been a redistributive Government, but it needs much more wholesale redistribution. I'm fearful that our politicians will not have the courage."

* Kate Green gives a public lecture at Auckland University's conference centre, 22 Symonds St, at 7 tonight. www.cpag.org.nz