It is now some three months since the government's 2015 Budget which had as its centerpiece a push towards "compassionate conservatism".

While more compassion is indeed welcome, the end result is mere tokenism.

The Budget changes do little for children and young people living in poverty. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) calls on all political parties for a comprehensive and non-partisan approach that puts the best interests of the child at the centre.

The first action must be to remove the discriminatory aspects of Working for Families. Children should not be punished for their parents' inability to access the required number of hours per week of paid work.


The main culprit is the "In Work Tax Credit", set to be at least $72.50 a week by 2016 depending on being able to reach a certain level of paid work.

This so-called 'work incentive' ignores the realities of our over-casualised and precarious labour market where individuals cannot be assured of earning a regular 20 or 30 hours a week. The risk is too great. Three weeks down the track they might have no benefit, no work, no tax credits and no money to feed the kids.

And, when families lose hours of work, they may get a bill from IRD alleging overpayment of the In Work Tax Credit with demands for repayment. In hard times, when a family falls into debt through faulty design there is a silent class of victim - our children.

The In Work Tax Credit is not the only problem. The whole family income support system has lost its focus. It is irrational, unreasonable and unjust and fails to either meaningfully incentivise work or help those in the worst child poverty. It is so complicated that it is often beyond the comprehension of those it is meant to help and those who have to apply it.

How many of our MPs would pass a test on the distinctions between the Family Tax Credit, The Minimum Family Tax Credit, The In Work Tax Credit and the Parental Tax Credit?

So, what needs to change?

Specifically, we need to set the "best interests of the child" obligation enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the overriding principle for system design. It should be a mandatory obligation for government to consider the best interests of the child when developing any policy that will have an impact on children. That was not done for the In Work Tax Credit.

Policy that has the ultimate effect of punishing children and denying them additional resources offered to other children in similar circumstances cannot be in the child's best interests.

The removal of this discrimination is about creating a family income support system firmly targeted at improving the lives of children and their families while operating on a fair basis for all, not driven by ideology. This is a non-partisan issue with the goal being to assist all children in poverty so they can live fulfilling lives.


There is increased awareness of the impact of poverty on children and New Zealanders are sending a clear message to government that it simply is not good enough for our children and young people to live in poverty. We can all acknowledge children are not to blame.

CPAG is driving a discussion around a re-orientation of our welfare system to make New Zealand a global leader again on social policy. We need policy with clear goals, including the equal treatment of all low income children for social security payments. After all that is what our human rights obligations require of us.

To start this discussion, we are holding a summit at the University of Auckland on September 8 to look at our current policy direction, contrast that with international examples, and explore how our welfare state could achieve better, cost-effective outcomes. A fairer system will lead to better outcomes for children and the real beneficiaries will be all of us.

Michael Timmins is a member of the Child Poverty Action Group Management Committee. He has a background in international human rights law working at the United Nations and non-governmental organisations internationally.