A new report which paints a bleak picture of child poverty in New Zealand has been applauded by groups who have criticised the Government for failing to thoroughly monitor the issue itself.

The Child Poverty Monitor report, released today by Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, shows child poverty has fallen little since almost doubling in the early 1990s.

It said a quarter of New Zealand children were under the standard 60 per cent income poverty line and, of those, 10 per cent were in severe and persistent poverty.

Poverty related illnesses had risen since the global recession hit in 2007 and reached record highs last year, with the biggest increases being in respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis.


An expert group appointed by Dr Wills last year made 78 recommendations, including annual monitoring of five official poverty measures.

The Government has picked up some recommendations, such as a housing quality "warrant of fitness" initially for state houses.

But it refused to adopt official poverty measures or targets, so Dr Wills has used J R McKenzie Trust charitable funding and Otago University experts to monitor his own measures.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said health officials had urged the Government to measure and target child poverty since 2009, but it had ignored repeated requests and kept its head in the sand.

He said that denial was harming New Zealand children who were staying in poverty and deprivation for much of their childhood.

Unicef NZ advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers said the report contained some deeply concerning figures, but it would ensure a good understanding of whether government policies and community responses were improving the lives of vulnerable children.

"Data is critical for government to develop policy and initiatives that will address disparities."

Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the report showed the Government's failure to get a grip on the housing crisis was the main reason child poverty rates had not come down.

Public Health Association chief executive Warren Lindberg said regular, high quality reporting like the poverty monitor was needed to know whether investment in reducing child poverty was being used well.

The Child Poverty Action Group said the report was another reminder of New Zealand's "scandalous treatment" of the nation's poorest children.

Prime Minister John Key told TVNZ's Breakfast programme today he did not believe poverty was getting worse under his Government's watch.

"I don't think it's actually increasing at the moment. I think what happened was because of the global financial crisis and all the different things that went on there are more people that went onto the unemployment benefit for a period time. So we had much higher levels, then it went down, then it went back up a bit," he said.