Children's commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says he was "shaken" by the 2016 child
poverty monitor, the first to be issued since he took the advocacy role.

Produced by the University of Otago, the annual monitor, released today, shows child poverty rates are stable, with a slight decrease.

Judge Becroft told the Otago Daily Times he will ask new Prime Minister Bill English to set a poverty reduction target, a request that was knocked back by former prime minister John Key.

Judge Becroft, who has been in the role for five months, hopes to have more success with English.

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"Nothing ventured, nothing won," Judge Becroft said.

Key had said it was too difficult to set a specific target.

Judge Becroft said he would give the new leadership team time to settle in before making his request.

He hoped to avoid the "fire storm" that erupted when he requested targets as a new
commissioner.

"I'll be saying that to the new leadership team; absolutely, clearly.

"Frankly, I do not see how we could make any progress on it without a measurement,"
Judge Becroft said.

English has re-defined himself as a politician in recent years by talking about "social
investment", and one of his first press releases in the top job yesterday talked about helping the "most vulnerable".

Judge Becroft said that while "social investment" was a "buzz word", English was genuine about wanting to help people.

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"I know [English] takes these issues seriously."

As a Youth Court judge for 15 years, Judge Becroft was well aware of poverty, but reading the monitor was a shock.

"It's something that's really shaken me, in the best sense of the word.

"I knew that our child poverty situation was serious, but it's been something of a revelation to me in this role as to how serious it is, and how profound it is.

"I was deeply surprised and shaken by the extent and depth of the problem."

Judge Andrew Becroft said it had been
Judge Andrew Becroft said it had been "something of a revelation to me in this role as to how serious child poverty is". Photo / File

The report this year includes an expanded section on housing, the cost of which is a major contributor to poverty in New Zealand.

"What used to be 28% or 29% of a household's spend on housing is now closer to 50% [for the lowest income earners] so it's a significant issue and it's central."

The report uses 2015 data, and does not reflect the moderate increase to benefits that took effect in April.

The report shows 28% of children live in low income homes (295,000 children), defined as the proportion in households earning less than 60% of the median income, after housing costs. This is a slight reduction from the previous year, when it was 29%.

Another measure shows 14% of children lived in material hardship, going without seven or more necessary items.

For the first time, the researchers separately counted the children missing out on nine or
more items - 8% (85,000) were in this bracket.

The proportion of children deemed to be in "severe poverty" - both material and income
poverty - was more than 8% (90,000).

Otago University child youth epidemiology service director Dr Jean Simpson said the impact of poverty could be seen every day in hospitals and classrooms.

"Living in poverty has serious implications for children's health, wellbeing and life
outcomes.

"We know, for example, that children living in the lowest income households are far more
likely to be living in households that are crowded.

"They are much more likely to be in homes that have major damp and mould problems and where the family is struggling to pay to heat the home.

"That can lead to diseases that we simply shouldn't be seeing still happening in 21st century New Zealand, like chronic lung disease and rheumatic fever," Dr Simpson said.

Child poverty - the numbers

• 28% of children aged up to 17 live in households earning less than 60% of the median income

• 8% (90,000) are in severe poverty.

• 14% live without seven or more necessary items.

• 8% miss out on nine or more necessary items.

• The overall rate is double that of 1982, when was 14%.

Source: Child Poverty Monitor 2016

- Otago Daily Times