Key Points:

The Government is being urged to do more to alleviate child poverty in New Zealand in the wake of a major report issued today.

Commissioned by Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro and Barnardos, the report shows that about 230,000 children, or 22 per cent, of New Zealand children are living in unacceptable poverty.

"There are too many poor children in New Zealand and ignoring them threatens our future economic prosperity and social well being," Dr Kiro said.

Barnardos New Zealand chief executive Murray Edridge said the report made it clear that the country could not afford to sacrifice the healthy "development of our children and therefore our productive human capital".

The Families Commission said families, communities, the business sector and government needed to work together to address poverty.

Chief commissioner Rajen Prasad welcomed the report, A Fair Go For Children - Actions to Address Child Poverty in New Zealand, and said it added to the growing understanding of poverty issues within New Zealand.

The Paediatric Society of New Zealand urged the Government to take seriously the policies proposed in the report, so that every child in New Zealand was able to grow up to reach their full potential.

Dr Kiro said 230,000 was a huge number of children whose lives were affected by something that could be fixed.

"Poverty has lifelong consequences for children.

"It impacts on their health, education and future productivity. It also affects their self-esteem and view of society," she said.

"Over the past few years there has been considerable improvement for children from a number of initiatives such as improved primary health funding, educational initiatives, Working for Families and income-related housing.

"However, firm commitments and targets for further reduction are needed," Dr Kiro said.

The report, written by Michael Fletcher and Maire Dwyer, found that paid work was the best way to lift families out of poverty.

It proposed actions to further reduce the number of children living in poverty including extra support for benefit dependent and low-income families, reform to the benefit system, and expansion of health, housing and education services.

Mr Edridge said that poverty led to developmental delay, lower educational attainment and ill health. It also put children at higher risk of physical abuse and neglect, and even death.

"It means missing out on many things considered to be basic to a good childhood, such as good nutrition, a warm home, stimulating experiences, family holidays, participation in sport and other pursuits, and school outings," he said.

"In the longer term, child poverty is associated with worse employment and earnings outcomes, alcohol and drug dependence, and poor health. Further, it leads to higher welfare, remedial adult education and other community costs."

Maori child advocacy agency Te Kahui Mana Ririki (TKMR) said that it supported the findings and plans contained in the report.

"The report shows that 27 per cent of Maori children live in poverty - and this must account, at least partially, for our disproportionately high rates of child maltreatment," TKMR chairman Dr Hone Kaa said.

"Addressing Maori child abuse means putting an end to Maori child poverty."

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) endorsed a call by Dr Kiro to set national targets to ensure progress. According to the report one in every five New Zealand children remained in poverty despite seven years of strong economic growth.

"This situation is unacceptable and unsustainable," said CPAG economics spokeswoman Dr Susan St John.

"The report's recommendations are responsible, and will go a long way to addressing this."

- NZPA